Volume 74, Number 54 | May 18 - 24 , 2005

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Governor Pataki was determined to score a goal, as soccer player Eddie Johnson, Trip Dorkey, Hudson River Park Trust chairperson, and local school children looked on at the Pier 40 field dedication last Wednesday.

Things are kicking at the new Pier 40 athletic field

By Lincoln Anderson

With visions of European and South American soccer stars coming to the Lower West Side soon to play matches, the giant, new, 3.2-acre Pier 40 sports field was dedicated last Wednesday afternoon.

Governor George Pataki and American soccer pro Eddie Johnson took some inaugural shots on goal against Katie Shelly, captain of the Stuyvesant High School girls’ varsity soccer team, to officially break in the field. Left footer Pataki had to take a few tries to net one past Shelly — basketball is his sport, he noted in his defense — while Johnson deftly spun his first shot into the upper leftt-hand corner.

Before the penalty kicks, Pataki praised the field on the W. Houston St. pier as the latest success of the Hudson River Park, the 5-mile-long waterfront park being built by the Hudson River Park Trust. The field will help local kids realize their full athletic potential, he said.

“Yes, with a little practice you can develop the skills to be the next Eddie Johnson,” the governor told school children attending the event.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the post-9/11 Downtown rebuilding agency, allocated $1.7 million for the construction of the artificial-surface field, which is covered with state-of-the-art FieldTurf. Material from more than 150,000, sneakers was used to make the rubber pellets scattered between the plastic grass to make a softer surface with give.

The Pier 40 field project’s total cost was $4.7 million, including demolition, lighting, entrance and emergency exit construction and fencing. The field alone cost $758,000 to which Nike, Inc., and the U.S. Soccer Foundation contributed $100,000 each.

A smaller sports field was built on the pier’s roof in 1998.

Robert Balachandran, the Trust’s former president, called FieldTurf “the best artificial turf in the world. It took a little longer than we anticipated — but it’s happened,” he said. “Enjoy the field.”

Johnson, a forward for FC Dallas in the American professional soccer league, gave high marks to the Pier 40 field.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s actually the best, authentic FieldTurf I’ve walked on. It’s nice and soft.”

He said the Pier 40 field, in its own courtyard on the water, reminded him of Manchester United’s remote training facility in the English countryside.

“It’s kind of private. It’s like a European setup,” he said.

Wowed by the new pitch, some members of the Manhattan Kickers, an amateur soccer club, said they have connections in Europe and are eager to see if the Marseilles soccer team is interested in playing at Pier 40.

The field is multiuse and is currently being enjoyed by Little League baseball teams, as well youth soccer leagues. Stuyvesant plans to play football on the pier. Balachandran enthusiastically said it was even large enough to host matches of rugby, a sport with an especially large field.

At the dedication no mention was made of the Trust’s earlier effort to find a private developer to build a park on 50 percent of the pier and commercially develop the other 50 percent. The process to find a developer ended in early 2004, with the Trust citing a poor economy as the deciding factor. In the wake of the failed process, the Pier 40 field was put forth as an interim plan for several years until the Trust issues another request for proposals for developers for the pier.

Pier 40 was built by New York City in 1962 and served as a terminal for the Holland America cruise ship line until 1983. Since that time the pier has been used for car and bus parking and other commercial uses, though most of those uses, with the exception of car parking, were forced off the pier at the end of 2003 under a provision of the Hudson River Park Act.

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