Volume 76, Number 1 | June 6 - 12, 2007

A schematic of the Pier 40 Performing Arts Center plan by The Related Companies.

No Little League on barges in revised Pier 40 plan

By Lincoln Anderson

Responding to community complaints that its Pier 40 redevelopment plan would close the W. Houston St. pier’s sports fields for up to 18 months, The Related Companies has retooled its proposal so that the fields would remain open throughout the construction.

The developer is now proposing phased construction, building the pier project in successive sections, so that about half the pier’s footprint would always be open for use as sports fields.

Related’s plan calls for a pedestrian walkway extending down the middle of the pier at W. Houston St., creating both a view and retail corridor. Under the phased development, the pier’s existing two-story shed south of Houston St. would be razed and the pier deck covered with artificial sports turf, creating 4.5 acres of interim sports fields. The interim field space would be equal in size to the pier’s existing sports fields, located in its protected courtyard and on the roof’s southeast corner.

Meanwhile, Related would develop the pier’s north half, where the existing pier shed would be incorporated into the project. New fields would be added on top of the structure on the pier’s north side; once these fields were ready, the players would then move to this area, and the development of the pier’s southern side would start.

Related says the fields they would build would be better than the pier’s current fields, in that the turf will be installed over a layer of soft sand, as opposed to rubber.

Jay Kriegel, former executive director of NYC2012 — the organization that tried to lure the Olympics to New York City — now an adviser for Related, said uninterrupted use of the fields is now “sacrosanct” as far as the developer is concerned.

“That issue is such a rally cry for the community. We heard that loud and clear — uninterrupted play,” Kriegel said recently during an interview with other Related officials at The Villager’s office.

Related is pitching a $626 million plan to outfit the 14-acre pier with a Cirque du Soleil theater, multiplex of small movie theaters showing independent films, music hall, banquet space, four restaurants and more. Meeting the requirement of the Hudson River Park Trust, the park’s operator, the developer must keep at least as much open sports field space as currently exists on the pier. Related would exceed the sports fields requirement by 40 percent by adding additional field space.

At a May 3 public hearing in Greenwich Village on Related’s plan, called Pier 40 Performing Arts Center, and a rival plan, The People’s Pier, more than 1,500 people turned out, most to voice support for keeping the existing fields, and preferably for increasing the pier’s amount of athletic space. At the time, Related was proposing having the young Little Leaguers and Downtown United Soccer Club members use barges to play on during the interim of the construction.

As Tom Ellett, Greenwich Village Little League president, put it then: “We say no to interim fields! We say no to removing our fields! We say no to rooftop fields! We say no to baseball on barges!”

Although their plan now features uninterrupted use of the sports fields, the amount of traffic-drawing commercial activity on the pier — another major community concern — would be the same. The developer estimates the pier would draw 2.7 million visitors annually and, on average, 7,400 per day.

Asked about the project’s impact on the surrounding community and the Hudson River Park, Kriegel said, “This area is not really one of the hot spots for traffic.” Pier 40 is located a few blocks away from Canal St. and the Holland Tunnel. The block of Houston St. between West and Washington Sts. spanned by the St. John’s Building is a designated pollution “hot spot.”

As for the issue of putting ball fields on the roof, Anthony Fioravanti, a Related vice president, said they are doing wind studies and believe that the Hudson River’s prevailing winds are from the north. They are considering using the existing 40-foot gantry structure on the pier’s north rooftop — which would be preserved under their plan — to attach wind netting.

Related would invest $35 million to upgrade the pier’s infrastructure. They would install new support piles, using a special truck that would drill a hole in the pier deck and then screw — not pound — a pile into the river bottom.

Local reaction to Related’s new phased construction plan, however, was not particularly positive.

“I think that was one point,” Tobi Bergman, director of P3, the local youth sports advocacy group, said of keeping the fields open during construction. “It doesn’t focus on the core issue. For us, this is a park. Is this going to be a park? Or is this going to be a tourist center where children also get to play ball?”

Echoed Assemblymember Deborah Glick, “The problem with the proposal is not whether they do phased development. The problem is the use of the waterfront and dramatic overdevelopment.”

The Villager will give an update on The People’s Pier plan — the other development project being considered for Pier 40 — in an upcoming issue. In the meantime, an Internet radio interview with Jai Nanda, of The People’s Pier plan, posted on The Villager’s Web site, www.thevillager.com, several weeks ago, will remain posted for at least another week.


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