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

Villager photo by Josh Argyle

Pier 57 on the Hudson River waterfront in Chelsea

Trust goes with Leo; Cipriani wins Pier 57 bid

By Albert Amateau

The Hudson River Park Trust board of directors last week chose the Witkoff/Cipriani Organization to be the designated redeveloper of Pier 57 over the rival Chelsea Piers, following the recommendations of the Trust staff, West Side elected officials and the local Pier 57 Working Group.

Except for State Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro, who instructed her representative to vote for the Chelsea Piers proposal, all members of the board eligible to vote at the March 31 meeting went for the Leonardo on Pier 57 proposal submitted by the partnership of the developer Steve Witkoff with the Cipriani restaurant group.

The designation, which came after 18 months of soliciting and reviewing bids, is still conditional and will be subject to modification by the Trust and the developer over the next four months.

“We’re going to be a tough overseer and make you live up to all the promises you’ve made,” said Charles E. Dorkey, III, chairperson of the Trust board, to members of the winning team.

The tough talk, however, was spoken with a smile and more words of praise for the winning team’s proposal for museums, event venues, restaurants, artists’ workspaces, a marina and a rooftop public park on the 350,000-sq.-ft. Hudson River pier at 15th St.

Former State Senator Franz Leichter, a current board member who was the co-author of the 1998 Hudson River Park legislation that created the Trust, commented that the Witkoff/Cipriani proposal had more than twice the amount of open public space than the Chelsea Piers proposal.

According to an analysis by the Trust staff, the Witkoff/Cipriani plan provides 46,000 sq. ft. of public open space compared to 16,000 sq. ft. proposed by Chelsea Piers. Leichter also noted that the winning team promises to return significantly more money to the Trust than Chelsea Piers for the maintenance of the entire 5-mile-long riverfront park being built between Chambers and 59th Sts.

While several board members praised Chelsea Piers for submitting a worthy proposal, Leichter gave an indication of the conflicts that have developed between elected officials and Chelsea Piers Management over the past 12 years since Chelsea Piers was made the state’s prime leaseholder of Piers 59-62 on the Chelsea waterfront. “Our good relations have not continued over the years,” said Leichter.

Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg, who appoint the Trust board of directors, both were saluted for allowing the designation to be made without political considerations. The fact that Roland Betts, the president of Chelsea Piers, is a friend of both President George W. Bush and Governor Pataki was in the back of many peoples’ minds at the March 31 meeting.

Moreover, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, a director appointed by the mayor, was not at the meeting and therefore was not eligible to vote. Directors who may vote by proxy are the state and city Parks commissioners and other ex-officio members mentioned in the 1998 state legislation.

Madelyn Wils, chairperson of Community Board 1 and a voting member of the Trust board, abstained for cause from the Pier 57 vote. “I’m involved in two businesses Downtown that conflict with the two plans,” she said in a telephone interview, but declined to elaborate.

Despite the general praise for the Witkoff/Cipriani plan, the Trust still has questions about traffic impacts on the burgeoning Gansevoort Market district just to the south, on the existing Hudson River Park bikeway and walkway and on the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment complex just to the north.

State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who co-authored the park legislation with Leichter, said in a prepared statement that he was gratified that the Trust board voted for the Leonardo proposal favored also by elected officials and community members. He expressed confidence that traffic issues will be worked out, and added, “I also look forward to a steadily improving relationship with Chelsea Piers, which has given the park and the city a wonderful destination spot.”

Pier 57 was built between 1950 and 1954 on the site of a previous Grace Line pier that burned in 1947. The innovative construction method called for three giant concrete caissons — or boxlike structures — to be built near Haverstraw, N.Y., and floated down to the site. The pier superstructure rests on the upside-down boxes, which also provide deep basements for the pier.

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