Volume 74, Number 48 | April 06 - 12 , 2005


Pier 57 process raises same questions of Trust

In a highly politically charged process, the Hudson River Park Trust last week selected the Witkoff/Cipriani team to redevelop Pier 57, a former marine and aviation pier, into a new event space and destination spot on the Chelsea waterfront.

As the process boiled down to Witkoff/Cipriani versus Chelsea Piers as finalists, it was clear major political forces were pulling for either plan. However, the deciding factor may have been the desire of the Trust, the community and local politicians to not extend Chelsea Piers’ reach along the waterfront. Even were Chelsea Piers to have glowing reviews in every aspect of its performance, the argument could be made that it would still be a good idea for another bidder to redevelop Pier 57. Otherwise, Chelsea Piers could, in fact, be accused of having a monopoly of the Chelsea portion of the park, as well as of much of the park’s commercial, revenue-generating areas.

Yet, Chelsea Piers’ past actions clearly played a role in the opposition. A few glaring examples of these immediately spring to mind: the narrowing of the bikeway/walkway by Chelsea Piers after the complex somehow grabbed an inordinate amount of road space in front of its head house; the jumbo electronic sign that is out of place in a waterfront park. Local politicians and park activists are quick to rattle off a litany of the mega-complex’s other trespasses.

As the Pier 57 bid process has ended, it raises once again the question of why plans proposed by local nonprofit groups never made the final cut. It became clear when these plans fell out of the running that money was a primary condition for being selected. This page has repeatedly called for the Trust to make clear its full, long-term economic plan — so that informed, rational planning can occur throughout the 5-mile-long park. Such a financial plan made publicly available would help to insure that there is a proper ratio of park to commercial space in the park, which — the first of its kind in New York State — is supposed to be financially self-sustaining.

Again, while we’re hopeful that the Witkoff/Cipriani plan will be a plus for the community and the park, we continue to be concerned at the process the Trust is following — both how the Trust is determining whether or not a pier will be commercial and the criteria — i.e. mainly financial — that the Trust is using to select developers.

Trees must not be cut without a good reason

The large-scale tree-clearance project in East River Park has come as a shock to park-users. More than 100 trees are being felled, according to the Parks Department, either because they would not survive the repairs to the park’s promenade deck, or because they are unhealthy. However, Parks plans to transplant 45 of these trees to other parks and replant East River Park with even more trees than are being removed. It takes decades for trees like those being cut down to reach their full height and majesty, with abundant crowns to provide shade. Parks says no healthy trees are being needlessly removed. Hopefully that’s so, or both park-users and the park itself are being wronged.

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