Volume 76, Number 19 | September 27 - October 3, 2006

Lame-duck G.O.P. Trust in final push to redevelop huge Pier 40

By Lincoln Anderson

The Hudson River Park Trust is moving ahead with a new effort to redevelop Pier 40 at W. Houston St. The Trust on Aug. 31 issued a new request for proposals, or R.F.P., for a “master developer” for the sprawling 14-acre pier, and one can only assume that the authority is serious in its intent.

As opposed to the drawn-out process that ended up melting down three years ago without a developer being selected, the Trust appears ready to move fast — very fast — this time. The new R.F.P. sets a deadline of Nov. 17 of this year for submission of responses, after which the Trust then intends to “select a conditionally designed developer within 90 days,” according to the R.F.P.

However, Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson, when asked if a Pier 40 master developer would indeed be picked within 90 days of Nov. 17 — in other words, by the end of this year or early next year — indicated nothing’s definite.

“We’re not really sure of the timeframe at this point,” he said on Tuesday. “But we do have a submission date of Nov. 17.”

Adding to the questions about the R.F.P. is the timing of its release: On Jan. 1 there will likely be a new Democratic governor, who will have the power to replace five of the Trust’s 13 board members — including its chairperson, Trip Dorkey — who were appointed by outgoing Republican Governor George Pataki.

Three years ago, the finalists to redevelop Pier 40 included a plan for an oceanarium and mall, as well as a plan for a big-box store with rooftop gardens and art gallery spaces. Both proposals included sports fields. But the community opposed both the oceanarium and big-box store because of the auto traffic they would have attracted. And the Trust’s board of directors didn’t want a big-box store in the park.

The new R.F.P. notes that the Trust “considers ‘big box’ retail development at Pier 40 as incompatible with park uses.” In addition, the R.F.P. says the Trust considers as “goals of paramount importance for reuse of Pier 40” the willingness to “preserve or enhance the recreational uses” at the pier and to accommodate 1,800 public parking spaces for long-term use by area residents. Yet the developers are allowed to submit plans showing alternate schemes under which the amount of parking spaces could be reduced over time; but any replacement use or uses must generate at least $5 million in annual revenue for the Trust, as does the parking current operation. (Spokesperson Martin said Pier 40 currently accounts for slightly more than 40 percent of the 5-mile-long park’s operating budget.)

The pier currently has 2,000 parking spaces. The pier’s sports fields include the spacious 3.5-acre artificial-turf field in the pier’s courtyard, added last year. Together with a smaller rooftop sports field, the field space meets the requirement under the Hudson River Park Act of 1998 that 50 percent of the pier’s footprint be set aside for noncommercial park space.

Developers are required to submit at least one scheme showing retention of the existing playing fields and parking. Plans may also include roofing over the pier’s courtyard and putting the fields on top. The Trust would continue to operate the ball fields.

The chosen developer would also be responsible for any expenses associated with the upkeep and maintenance of the pier, which has not been renovated in the 45 years since its construction.

The master lease is being offered for a term of not more than 30 years, with the option, however, that it could also possibly be for up to 49 years.

A pre-bid meeting and tour for interested developers was held at the pier earlier this month on Sept. 15. Citing the process’s confidentiality agreement, Martin said he couldn’t divulge who may have attended.

Arthur Schwartz, chairperson of the Community Board 2 Parks and Waterfront Committee, expressed concern that scant opportunity for public comment and input seems to be included in this latest R.F.P. process. Three years ago, there were a series of Board 2-sponsored public hearings attended by hundreds about the proposals then on the table.

“I’m upset about how little room they left for public input on the R.F.P.,” Schwartz said, “because they only released the draft R.F.P. on Aug. 1.” Schwartz said he was able to show the draft to the Hudson River Park Advisory Council, but really wanted to present it to C.B. 2 to get more input.

“I asked Connie Fishman if we could have a public meeting on it, and she said, ‘No, I want to get it [the R.F.P.] out,’ ” Schwartz said, referring to the Trust’s president. “I hope the process of choosing a developer involves a lot more community input than there’s been,” he said. “And if it takes more than 90 days, so be it.”

According to Schwartz, Fishman is pushing the R.F.P. because the pier, which is built on steel and concrete pilings — needs $30 million in repairs. However, Schwartz feels this money should come from government sources.

“To give Pier 40 away to a developer because you need to make $30 million in repairs in a $400 million park is ludicrous,” said Schwartz. “We’d be much better off funding the park through some capital budget allocation, like they do with the rest of the park, and let H.R.P.T. keep running the parking and the fields.

“I think Connie has a commitment to public input, but I’m not so sure all the board members do,” Schwartz said with concern.

As for the Trust’s willingness to allow the parking to be replaced with another equally lucrative use, Schwartz warned, “They would have riots if they got rid of the parking.”

Schwartz said a Pier 40 Working Group will be set up, as was done three years ago, drawing its members from the Advisory Council.

But Martin said the Trust is making an effort to include the community’s input.

“Public input is always a component, and we’re interested in what the public has to say,” he said. “That’s indicated in the preclusion of big-box stores on Pier 40, because the public has indicated that they do not want big-box stores on the pier.

The fields are obviously important and we’re specifically requesting that at least one option [submitted by each developer] keep the fields.”

Martin said the main reason for issuing the R.F.P. is that the pier’s infrastructure needs significant investment. He didn’t confirm that $30 million worth of repairs is what is needed, but he also noted that he couldn’t say that that figure hasn’t been cited either.

“I don’t know the exact amount,” he said, “but it definitely needs investment in the infrastructure, for sure, to keep the pier up and running. And whatever comes in response from the R.F.P., that’s definitely part of it.”

Martin noted, for example, that within the last year the Trust spent $1 million to replace part of the pier’s roof because it was leaking. He said the Trust wants to focus on building the park, programming activities and “mowing lawns” — not maintaining infrastructure.

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