Volume 76, Number 21 | October 11 - 17, 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

On Oct. 4, Ellen and Allan Wexler, Chelsea residents since 1978, spent the whole day overseeing installation of their public art sculpture “Two Too Large Tables” at 29th St. in Hudson River Park. Made of two 16-foot-square planes — one 7 feet tall, the other 30 inches tall — supported by chairs and built of ipe wood and stainless steel — the two pieces serve as a shade pavilion and community table. “Because it surrounds you, you feel as if everyone’s connected,” said Allan, who was looking a bit frustrated, above, after learning he’d have to return the next day because the installation was going slower than expected.

On the Chelsea waterfront: A new park is growing;

By Josh Rogers and Albert Amateau

Chelsea’s waterfront is slated to get three public piers within the next few months, and long-term plans include a merry-go-round, gardens and a park for skateboard stunts.

The Hudson River Park Trust, a state-city authority, is building the 5-mile-long Hudson River Park from Battery Park to W. 59th St. A $400 million project, it has been hailed as the “Central Park of the 21st century.”

The park’s first segment, along the Greenwich Village waterfront, opened three years ago.

Work is now progressing in various sections of Segments 5 and 6 of the project, covering Chelsea and part of Hell’s Kitchen.

The park section from 26th to 29th Sts. — costing $18 million — is tentatively set to open before the end of the year. Further north, Pier 84 at W. 44th St., a new public-use pier, will have a ribbon cutting on Oct. 17, with a gala neighborhood party set for Sat. Oct. 21 from noon to 4 p.m.

Also now under construction, the section from Chelsea Piers to W. 25th St. — dubbed Chelsea Cove — will cost $62 million to complete and is expected to open at the end of 2009.

Within Chelsea Cove, Pier 64 at W. 24th St. is being built and could be open to the public as early as this spring. Pier 64 will be almost 700 feet long and provide views as far north as the George Washington Bridge.

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

A model showing how Piers 62, 63 and 64 between 22nd and 24th Sts. are being redeveloped and landscaped as part of the Hudson River Park’s Chelsea segment.

Pile driving for new concrete supports for Pier 64 cannot proceed beyond Nov. 1 to avoid disturbing the winter habitat of year-old striped bass. But the work is expected to be completed before the beginning of the winter moratorium. Work on a new deck on top of the new pier pilings is to begin before the end of the year.

Work has also begun on creating an open public space on Pier 63 at W. 23rd St., where Basketball City moved off the pier roof last month, taking down its bubble-top roof. The Police Department’s Mounted Unit, which occupies the first level of Pier 63, is scheduled to move to temporary quarters on Pier 76 at W. 35th St. across from the Javits Convention Center by the end of this year.

A brand-new Pier 66 at W. 26th St. is nearing completion and will feature a boathouse and a public art water wheel at the end. A park maintenance building is under construction near 26th St.

Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, outlined plans for the park’s Chelsea sections at the agency’s board of directors meeting on Sept. 28. Fishman noted that near 26th St. will be a sculpture garden with artist Meg Webster’s large boulder pieces of varying sizes of up to 15 feet tall.

Adrian Benepe, a Trust board member and the city’s Parks Department commissioner, said that the sculptures will be a good size for bouldering, or small-scale rock climbing — an activity, which he said, was becoming popular in city parks.

“It might be nice to have as impromptu recreation,” he said, adding visitors will try to climb the bigger rocks even if that’s not the intent.

Fishman said there will be a flower-filled garden designed by landscape architect Lynden Miller near Pier 62 at W. 22nd St. Fishman thought the garden would serve as a meeting spot for people going to Chelsea Piers or Pier 62, which will have a carousel and boat docking area. Pier 62 will also have a skateboard park similar to the one in the park’s Tribeca section, which is also now under construction.

In between the sculpture and flower gardens will be a lawn that will slope down toward the center.

“It’s our version — although it’s not as big — of the Great Lawn,” said Fishman. There could be small concerts and dancing on the lawn, the Trust’s president noted.

Fishman said the fee for the carousel will “probably be something modest like Central Park or Prospect Park.” It will have 32 moving horses or some other characters (one board member jokingly suggested bobbing mayors) and four stationary figures.

Because Pier 64 will have a slight upward incline — the end will be slightly higher than at the shore — and is strategically placed at a bend in Manhattan’s shoreline, it will have excellent northern views beyond the city’s car tow pound, Fishman said.

Yvonne Morrow, a retired Penn South resident, became well versed in the decades-long struggle to build parks on the Hudson River waterfront while working as an aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. She was among a group of a half-dozen Chelsea park activists seated in the audience who faithfully attend the Trust’s bimonthly board meetings to hear all the latest updates on the park’s progress.

Speaking after the meeting, Morrow approvingly said the Trust’s plan will attract crowds to the waterfront because it makes good use of the space being vacated by Basketball City and others. Her only regret is that none of the Pier 64 shed will return when the pier is rebuilt.

“It really opens it up there,” Morrow said of the Trust’s design for the section. “I’m big on shade. I would have kept half of the shed.” The pier shed was torn down earlier this year at the urging of Chelsea Waterfront Park Association activists.

During the meeting, Franz Leichter, who represented Chelsea in the State Senate and sits on the Trust’s board, said now that the Chelsea park is underway it’s a good reason to renew the fight to get Chelsea Piers to take down its electronic billboard.

“It’s an awful sign that Chelsea Piers has that will be looming over this, and every effort should be made to have them take it down,” said Leichter, who co-wrote the 1998 state legislation creating the Hudson River Park.

Henry Stern, a fellow board member and the Parks commissioner under Mayors Giuliani and Koch, added, “That sign is an embarrassment. We would not allow a sign like this in a New York City park…. You wouldn’t allow a sign like this in front of a bodega.”

Chelsea Piers, the recreation complex co-owned by Roland Betts, a college friend of President Bush, has a long-term lease with the Trust, and Fishman said her understanding was the sign issue was “over and done with.” But she told the Trust board she would research the issue after Leichter suggested a resolution urging Chelsea Piers to take it down.

Also in the park’s Chelsea section, further in the future is the renovation of Pier 57 at W. 15th St., a former M.T.A. bus depot, into a large banquet hall with retail and a public-use component. The pier earned the nickname “Little Guantanamo on the Hudson” when police held protesters arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention there.


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