Volume 76, Number 44 | March 28 - April 3, 2007

Talking Point

Cirque du No Way! Pier 40 PAC impact is too great

By Tobi Bergman

The Pier 40 Performing Arts Center, or PAC for short, is a proposal to transform the 15-acre pier at W. Houston St. into a mammoth entertainment complex with more than 10,000 seats. The PAC would waste the open space resource that is Pier 40. It would dominate the Village section of the Hudson River Park and overwhelm the popular greenway with crossing traffic. It would change the character of the West Village and encourage similar development at old manufacturing properties on the east side of West St., stretching to Spring St., where Trump is building a 45-story “condo hotel.” People are calling it The Village Vegas.

The PAC is a big money proposal offered by The Related Companies, a high-powered developer, so people may think it’s a done deal. Not so. It is a high-risk venture with many moving parts. It has environmental impacts with no plausible mitigation. Earlier plans for a permanent home for Cirque du Soleil, also embedded in large-scale development proposed by Related, were defeated by community opposition at W. 42nd St. and South St. Seaport. Here, the PAC faces broad and determined opposition, and the Hudson River Park Trust is presented with a serious, well-supported alternative.

Pier 40 is a park. Children from thousands of families and dozens of schools love to play in the safe and clean environment of the beautiful 5-acre courtyard fields. Families choose not to leave the city because of the sense of community they find at Pier 40. The PAC proposes to compensate the loss of this very special oasis with fields on a parking garage roof, shadeless and scorching in summer, windblown and freezing from late fall through early spring, surrounded by a huge tourist attraction. The PAC proposes to demolish a successful, vibrant and essential resource and replace it with a dozen buildings up to 160 feet tall. It would include an 1,800-seat permanent home for Cirque du Soleil, an 1,800-seat “state-of-the-art performance space,” a 12-screen cinema with 2,000 seats, a banquet hall for 3,500 guests — “attracting a variety of programs across all three meal times” — six huge gourmet restaurants, plus clubs and 40,000 square feet of “destination” shopping.

These things don’t belong in a park and they don’t belong next to an already congested highway a half-mile from public transportation. The PAC is out of sync in a city that is awakening to the need for sustainable growth. It would add five new entry/exit lanes at Clarkson St. to the four existing lanes at W. Houston St., endangering cyclists, runners and strollers and sending thousands of cars onto small Village streets when the shows end late at night. Waterside open space at the PAC would provide the “campus environment” for a $700 million global-culture complex. Outdoor dining would “populate the areas with sounds and life.” The proposed “greenmarket” would more likely offer panini to tourists than farm-fresh eggs to our neighbors. Many long-term parking spaces would be replaced by daily parking for PAC staff and visitors.

Yes, Pier 40 needs repairs, but we need to protect every bit of the precious parkland we have in our park-starved neighborhoods. The pier is not collapsing or unsafe. It is a solid structure and it can be preserved without selling our park, threatening the historic fabric of residential and business life in the West Village or shutting out current users during years of disruptive construction.

A more sensible way to improve the pier is offered by The People’s Pier, the other proposal under consideration by the Hudson River Park Trust. It is a well-considered project that preserves the good things the community has at Pier 40 now, including the fields in the courtyard and all the long-term parking. It repairs the pier without tearing it down, and doesn’t close the fields or parking for construction. New uses this plan brings are low-impact enhancements to educational and recreational resources for young people in our city. Meanwhile, this proposal continues to provide the income the Trust needs for park maintenance and operations.

At a public hearing on May 3, our community will have an opportunity to come together and express an overwhelming consensus that we want to preserve and improve the neighborhood and park we love. Save the date!

Bergman is president, Pier Park & Playground Association, or P3, a Downtown nonprofit group dedicated to advancing opportunities for children to play sports. P3 is currently based on Pier 40.

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