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BY PAUL BUFANO | Hundreds of children and adults wearing bright orange shirts and jerseys chanted, “Save Pier 40!” Saturday morning as they marched alongside baseball mascots and drummers to celebrate the Greenwich Village Little League season opener.
The march through the Village section of Hudson River Park was also intended to address the looming financial problem facing Pier 40. The huge Houston St. pier is in disrepair and in dire need of money for a fix-up. As a result, the local youth leagues had proposed building a pair of 22-story luxury residential towers at the foot of the pier to finance its maintenance and development.
However, the leagues, as a coalition called Pier 40 Champions, recently failed to gain the necessary political support in order to proceed with the plan. So now the question is, Where does the money come from?
Tobi Bergman, president of P3 (Pier Park & Playground Association) — a member of the Pier 40 Champions coalition of youth leagues — said that all possibilities have to be explored now that housing isn’t an option anymore.
“Just eight years ago this spot was used as a parking lot for trucks. But some families said they knew of a better use for it and that’s how these beautiful fields came about,” Bergman said. “But sadly these fields won’t be here forever unless changes are made and something gets done to bring in more money.”
The Hudson River Park Trust, which operates the park, says it needs more funds and is starting to operate at a deficit. A notice the Champions recently sent local youth league parents said that $25 million is needed now “to complete essential repairs this year to keep the pier open,” and that another $25 million is needed “to add more fields next year to respond to the overcrowding crisis caused by the Lower Manhattan population boom.”
Noted Bergman, “There are a variety of limitations with what can be built, as well as what the community wants — so hopefully we don’t end up with a low-end compromise in the end. We live in an environment that is entirely built up and commercialized, so if we can’t find a great solution for Pier 40, then we as a community have failed.”
The Trust has rebuilt several other Hudson River Park piers for recreational use, but Pier 40 is different because of its massive size. The Trust wants a private developer to come in and redevelop it, add some commercial uses and repair a roof that is partially crumbling and fix up the pier’s corroding metal support piles.
Local politicians, including Assemblymember Deborah Glick, state Senators Brad Hoylman and Daniel Squadron and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, have publicly opposed housing at Pier 40. But, by the same token, all the local politicians, including Glick, are committed to the key pier’s restoration and preservation.
Glick said that because there are very few places for youths to play team sports on the Lower West Side, she’s going to work to keep the fields at Pier 40 and to build more fields throughout the 5-mile-long Hudson River Park.
“There are many ways that Pier 40 can bring in money, some of which include art or cultural institutions, restaurants and even office space,” Glick said in a phone interview earlier this week. “Those are some of the things that could enhance the park and could generate the $10 million for the field to be maintained. In the end, we are dealing with a park, and the notion that parks can always be self-supporting is a wrong notion.”
Glick didn’t attend last Saturday’s Pier 40 march.
Borough President Scott Stringer, who was at the event, said that while he’s also against housing at Pier 40, he’s not going to rest until Pier 40 is stabilized for the community.
“This is a place for the community where you can walk in and realize how truly amazing it is,” Stringer said. “Today is about enjoying baseball and the season to come, but also about knowing that work is being done to make sure this tradition continues for years to come. It’s critical for our children to have this area for sports, so I’m going to work to make sure it’s preserved forever.”
George Vamvoukakis has two sons who play in G.V.L.L., and said with the housing option out, organizers are going to have to be creative to raise the necessary money.
“I never really thought about what could be done to bring in money, but I do think about how much my boys love playing here,” Vamvoukakis said on Saturday morning. “They just have so much fun here, and whenever they’re heading over, they just smile the whole way. Having a place where children can enjoy baseball and play competitively is great, and I know it’s not just my kids who feel that way.”
James Dinh, 15, a sophomore at Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, said it would be terrible to lose Pier 40 because countless kids depend on it.
“When I was younger my middle school would come here, and then after school it was a place that we all came to hang out,” Dinh said. “It’s such a popular spot because there really aren’t many places to hold a baseball league in Manhattan. This is where I’ve always had fun, this is where I’ve met my friends and this is where I want to be. I really do have so many memories here, and I’ll do anything to keep it from going away.”