Volume 75, Number 33 | January 4 - 10, 2006

Aquarium project fishing for spot at Chambers St.

Rendering of the temporary aquarium that might be on the Hudson River near Chambers St. this July and stay there for up to a year, if not a bit longer. It will be about 1,000 square feet, but the precise dimensions have not been determined.

By Ronda Kaysen

New York Harbor fish might soon make an appearance on the bank of the Hudson River if a Tribeca marine science field station gets its way.

The River Project, a 19-year-old nonprofit organization, hopes to build City Fish, a temporary, modular outdoor aquarium exhibit next summer by the bike path/walkway near Stuyvesant High School. Designed with sweeping windows, the aquarium will allow passersby to observe native New York Harbor fish, invertebrates and seaweed from outside, although visitors could also step inside the 1,000-square-foot structure, which might open to the public as soon as next summer. Greenery will cascade down from the rooftop and decorate the ground level as well.

The River Project was displaced from its longtime home at Pier 26 for the renovation of Segment 3 of the Hudson River Park project. The Hudson River Park Trust, which is developing the park, donated park space north of Chambers St. to the River Project until renovation begins on that portion of the park. The River Project hopes to open the aquarium by July 4 and keep it open until construction begins near the bike path sometime in 2007. Last week, the River Project submitted a proposal to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation for a $1 million cultural enhancement grant.

“This is basically our one chance of doing this project,” said Cathy Drew, River Project founder and executive director, in a telephone interview. “We’re putting all our resources into this [aquarium.]”

Last month, the L.M.D.C. announced plans to distribute $35 million in cultural enhancement grants for individuals and organizations Downtown. The corporation received more than 100 applications by the Dec. 22 deadline and expects to make a first round of decisions in the spring. “We are pleased with the number of responses,” L.M.D.C. President Stefan Pryor said in a statement.

Since the River Project left Pier 26 this fall, it has been occupying office and storage space at Pier 40 at Houston St. and at the Tribeca Organization office on Hudson and Canal Sts. Although the organization’s student intern program is operated out of Pier 40, the public programming has been put on hold. If the aquarium is funded, it will be the organization’s first project open to the public since the relocation. Because of the brief period that the space is available, the River Project must get funding immediately in order to proceed with the project, which has only been in the works for six weeks.

“This was a godsend to hear about the L.M.D.C. proposal,” said Drew. “If we don’t get this award, we can’t do it [build the aquarium] because there wouldn’t be time to apply for anything else.”

As part of the grant requirements, the River Project must match the $1 million grant with $1 million in additional funds. L.M.D.C. funds would be used to construct the aquarium and the matching funds would be used for operating costs. The Trust is also paying $70 million to build the Hudson River Park segment.

Trust officials have thrown their support behind the aquarium, which is designed by the same team designing the park’s Segment 3, Weisz + Yoes Studio and landscape architect Signe Nielsen. However, the aquarium will be positioned on a swath of land slated for renovation and will need to move when the construction schedule demands it.

“It’s something that is definitely a consistent use in terms of the types of interim uses that we’ve encouraged over the years,” said Noreen Doyle, the Trust’s vice president. Although Doyle is “certain” work on the bike path will not begin next summer, she said, “We can’t commit as to how far into the following year it will be there.”

Aware of the time restraints, Drew hopes to eventually relocate the aquarium to the Lower East Side waterfront, which is slated for a $150 million, L.M.D.C.-funded redevelopment of its own. As part of the East River waterfront redevelopment, the city plans to create several pavilions beneath the F.D.R. Drive. Drew envisions placing the aquarium inside one of the pavilions. “You could see through the aquarium” to the river, said Drew, adding that it would be inexpensive to transport the aquarium there. “It would fit in perfectly.”

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