Volume 75, Number 17 | September 14 - 20, 2005

Tenant sues Chelsea Piers; claims ship is sinking fast

By Albert Amateau

The owner of a photo production studio on the second and third floors of the Pier 59 head house is accusing his landlord, Chelsea Piers Management, and the Hudson River Park Trust, with neglecting maintenance of the steel superstructure and the wood pilings that support the Chelsea Piers complex.

Federico Pignatelli, C.E.O. of Pier 59 Studios, made the accusation during the public session of the Sept. 7 Community Board 4 meeting. He said the wood pilings that support the four-pier complex are deteriorating at an accelerating rate and “rotting from the inside out.”

He also charged that the steel superstructure is rusting away because of neglect. “They are painting on top of rust, which doesn’t stop the rust,” he said in a telephone interview on Sept. 12.

However, Chelsea Piers Management and the Trust both insist that the complex of Piers 59, 60 and 61 are being maintained in good condition.

Pier 59 Studios, which provides large studio spaces and equipment for still photography to major retailers, fashion houses and advertising agencies, has been subleasing about 100,000 square feet from Chelsea Piers Management since 1994 when New York State first granted Chelsea Piers the prime permit for the piers. The space includes two-thirds of Pier 60’s head house on the second floor, but excludes a 5,500-square-foot deck on the south end of the head house.

Pignatelli noted on Monday that he had filed a lawsuit against Chelsea Piers in April 2004 claiming rent overcharges and actions that limit his access and use of the space he subleases. The suit, which is pending before Civil Court Judge Shirley Kornreich, has been amended to include charges that Chelsea Piers and the Trust have been neglecting maintenance of the pier structures.

However, Erica Schietinger, a spokesperson for Chelsea Piers, on Monday said, “The Chelsea Piers are in excellent structural condition. Since Chelsea Piers Management leased the piers in 1994, regular substructural engineering surveys have been conducted by Chelsea Piers, the New York State Department of Transportation and the Hudson River Park Trust. Routine repairs, as directed by the structural engineers, are performed as required to keep the piers in structurally sound condition.”

A spokesperson for the Hudson River Park Trust, the state/city agency that is building and operating the 5-mile-long riverfront park, also said the piers are being properly maintained. While Chelsea Piers Management has the prime responsibility for the condition of the piers, H.R.P.T. has oversight of the complex. “Our engineers had a look at the structure and do not come to the same conclusions as Pier 59 Studios,” said Noreen Doyle, H.R.P.T. vice president.

Doyle added that Pier 59 Studio’s lawsuit primarily concerns Chelsea Piers Management and she declined to comment on it. Schietinger said that Chelsea Piers Management’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

Pignatelli includes in his complaints against Chelsea Piers Management the conversion in 2000 of the two-way access road in front of the piers to one-way, with metal barriers separating three lanes.

The conversion, which put an entrance and control booth at 24th St., and an exit and control booth at 17th St., forces vehicles bound for Pier 59 Studios to make a seven-block detour because there is only an exit and no longer an entrance at 17th St., Pignatelli said. In addition, the metal barriers dividing the lanes make it difficult for large trucks to serve Pier 59 Studios. Indeed, there is usually only one lane for moving traffic on the access road because the other lanes are usually full of parked vehicles, Pignatelli added.

“I cannot find a single authorizing document from the state or the Trust for those metal barriers,” said Pignatelli.

He also charged that the official occupancy capacity of his space has been reduced from 900 to 400 persons as the result of a change requested by Chelsea Piers Management. Related to the reduced occupancy, Pignatelli said he can no longer use the deck on the south end of the Pier 59 head house because Chelsea Piers Management refuses to apply to the city for temporary occupancy permits for special events.

Community Board 4 last week referred Pignatelli’s charges about neglected maintenance and deteriorating conditions of the Chelsea Piers to the board’s Waterfront Committee. John Doswell, chairperson of the committee, said he expects the issue to come before the committee on October 13 with a recommendation to be submitted to the full board on Nov. 2.

Despite the assertion by the Trust and Chelsea Piers that all’s well with the structure of the three piers, Pignatelli is preparing a Web site, www.savechelseapiers.com to mobilize public concern for the condition of the piers.

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