Volume 76, Number 13 | August 16 - 22, 2006


Keep Pier 40 R.F.P. shelved

As first reported by The Villager last week, the Hudson River Park Trust is preparing to issue another request for proposals, or R.F.P., for Pier 40 — the 14-acre pier that is one of the biggest areas of the 5-mile-long waterfront park.

Under the Hudson River Park Act, the pier must be 50 percent for park use, while the other 50 percent can be commercial to raise revenue for the park, which is supposed to be self-financing.

Three years ago, the Trust’s first attempt to redevelop the pier fizzled after a consensus didn’t emerge coupled with strong community opposition to the proposals. The finalists included the world’s largest oceanarium versus a big-box retail store, possibly a Home Depot. Both offered field space coveted by local youth sports leagues.

Yet, the oceanarium would draw 7 million visitors a year, Village residents anxiously protested. And the Coney Island Aquarium, backed by Brooklyn’s politicians, opposed it. A big-box store was anathema, as well, to many for the thousands of car trips per year through Village streets that it would bring, much less the very idea of a supermall in the park.

So, the Trust shelved everything. Under an interim plan, the W. Houston pier’s courtyard was covered with artificial turf, creating a huge field usable for several games at once. Many bemoaned the collapse of the R.F.P. process, saying an opportunity to develop a world-class park had been squandered. Our local politicians were among them. So were we.

Today, youth leagues and schools make tremendous use of the Pier 40 fields. Downtown is starved for parks and sports fields and this facility meets a need. The pier’s long-term parking also has a strong constituency, and generates $5 million annually for the Trust. The Trust still hasn’t made public any long-range financial plan for the whole park, so it’s a mystery how much revenue it hopes to generate at Pier 40. But $5 million seems like plenty to us.

Republican Governor Pataki will leave office at year’s end, while Democrat Eliot Spitzer is the frontrunner to succeed him, meaning the Trust’s board of directors will likely see new members and a new chairperson. Issuing an R.F.P. under a lame-duck governor doesn’t make sense. Plus, there’s an ongoing Department of Investigation probe of the last Pier 40 process. It’s unclear whether this probe’s focus is Community Board 2, the Trust or the developers. Yet, it behooves the Trust to wait for this investigation’s conclusion before issuing a new R.F.P.

The Trust has had many successes, from the Greenwich Village segment to starting work in Chelsea and Tribeca. But we recommend pulling back on this one, at least waiting till after January. More to the point, we now see that the so-called Pier 40 interim plan is what so many wanted all along: something with low impact on the community but real benefits for the community, like fields and parking. So the Trust must consider: Is another R.F.P. for Pier 40 really needed? At this time? We don’t think so.

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