Volume 75, Number 40 | February 22 -28 2006

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

The Police Department’s Mounted Unit is digging in its hoofs at Pier 63 at W. 23rd St., above. A bit north at Pier 66 a new boathouse sliver pier, below, is under construction.

Police horses and basketballs clog Hudson Park in Chelsea

By Albert Amateau

The Chelsea stretch of the 5-mile-long Hudson River Park is swarming with construction crews tearing things down and building things up while park officials and community advocates are planning more for the future.

On Pier 64 at W. 24th St., the long-awaited dismantling of the pier-shed superstructure began two weeks ago. Construction on the 800-foot-long finger pier by Lomma Contractors will also involve replacement of some of the piles and a new deck.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this and we’re pleased that it’s finally happening,” said Robert Trentlyon, a founder of the Chelsea Waterside Park Association and a member of the Community Board 4 Waterfront Committee.

Further north, new construction is underway at Pier 66 off W. 26th St. where a boathouse will be included in an all-new waterfront installation. The project also involves a large water wheel that will turn by tidal action.

Pier 63, with Basketball City, a private-sector company operating basketball courts under an inflated bubble on the pier’s roof for the past six years, and with Troop B and headquarters of the New York Police Department Mounted Unit at ground level since 2004, is also planned as a park pier but its future is still unsettled.

“We’re ready, willing and able to begin work on the pier but that is pending the final outcome of our litigation with Basketball City,” said Chris Martin, spokesperson for the Hudson River Park Trust, the state-city agency that is building the riverfront park between Chambers and 59th Sts.

Basketball City was granted a state permit for the pier until 2002, but the company went to court to compel the Trust to extend the lease until 2004 and won the case. Bruce Radler, managing partner of the franchise, then went to court again contending that the Trust didn’t have the funding to convert the pier into a park.

Basketball City lost its suit in State Supreme Court and in the Appellate Division, but filed yet another last-ditch appeal at the end of last year. “We cannot comment on pending litigation,” said Martin, the Trust spokesperson.

Nevertheless, parks advocates believe that the Trust will be able to move onto the pier soon. “There is funding now from federal, state and city sources for Pier 63, and we’re grateful that the Chelsea segment of the park is about to be realized,” said Trentlyon, “Basketball City has no grounds for any further appeal and this one is a delaying tactic, in my opinion,” Trentlyon said.

In 2004 the police Mounted Unit moved into the ground level of Pier 63, previously occupied by the Chelsea Equestrian Center, as a subtenant of Basketball City when the horse officers had to leave W. 42nd St. where the stables were slated for private residential construction.

The Bloomberg administration insisted on the Mounted Unit move to Pier 63 because the pier is a short trot away from Madison Square Garden where the Republican National Convention took place.

That convention, however, is long gone, and parks advocates want the horses and officers to find a new place. Community Board 4 earlier this month urged the city to honor a pledge that Pier 63 would become part of a public park. The community board suggested that an underused Police Department parking lot on 11th Ave. north of the Javits Convention Center could become the new stables.

Albert Butzel, president of Friends of Hudson River Park, a civic group supporting the riverfront park, sent a letter recently to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris charging the continued use of Pier 63 by the police Mounted Unit is illegal.

Butzel suggested that Pier 76, the police tow pound at W. 35th St., which is excluded from park use, is a likely site for the unit.

In any case, even if Basketball City and the police Mounted Unit leave Pier 63 by midyear, it might be two years before construction could begin to turn the pier into a part of the park.

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