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

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Connie Fishman, president of the Hudson River Park Trust, at a Community Board 1 meeting last month.

Park needs green (cash), says Hudson Park’s prez

By Josh Rogers

The Hudson River Park is like a business and, in order to keep it running, Pier 40 must generate more money, the park’s president said last week.

Park officials are considering two plans to redevelop the pier. One would add a multiplex cinema with 1,500 seats, two 1,800-person performance venues, restaurants and retail to the 14-acre pier between Clarkson and Spring Sts. Connie Fishman, the Hudson River Park Trust’s president, said the pier’s parking only brings in $5 million a year and it won’t cover repairs to the pier and enough of the park’s maintenance costs. The Trust, a state-city public authority, is responsible for the upkeep of the park, which is supposed to be financially self-sustaining.

“As much as it acts like a government agency, it has to run like a business,” Fishman said.

Editors and reporters from Community Media L.L.C., publishers of The Villager, Downtown Express and Chelsea Now, interviewed Fishman and the Trust’s executive vice president, Noreen Doyle, in the papers’ office last Thursday.

The Trust’s leaders revealed more details on the park’s financing and also answered questions on the budget shortfall in the Tribeca section and other parts of the park, the stalled Pier 57 development process in Chelsea and Fishman’s own future.

The governor and mayor share control of the Trust, and Fishman first came to the agency from the Giuliani administration at the end of the 1990s. A little more than three years ago, she was promoted to the authority’s president with then-Governor George Pataki’s blessing. Trip Dorkey, chairperson of the Trust’s board of directors and a Pataki appointee, announced he would be leaving two weeks ago, and new Governor Eliot Spitzer is expected to name Dorkey’s successor before the Trust’s next board meeting in July.

Fishman’s future with the Trust is unclear. Many waterfront advocates have been privately lobbying for her to stay, but in recent months some others upset with her management in Tribeca have said she should go.

Last week, she said her future is up to the governor and mayor and passed on a chance to make her case for staying.

“If they decide to ask me that question, I’m sure I’ll have an answer to it,” she said.

Pier 40 prognosis

About 1,500 people jammed into a meeting at P.S. 41 last month to raise their objections to two competing plans to redevelop Pier 40. Many opposed the idea of closing the pier’s playing fields during construction of an entertainment complex, as well as criticizing the notion of converting a playing-parking place into what they call a “Vegas on the Hudson” nightlife destination. Only half that message reached the Trust.

“The only thing I think we’ve heard loud and clear from the community is ‘Ball fields, ball fields — don’t take away our ball fields,’” Fishman said.

Doyle said the Trust is not satisfied with either developer’s traffic plan.

“Traffic is going to be one of the biggest issues for anything that goes on at Pier 40,” she added.

The People’s Pier proposal by Urban Dove and CampGroup would add indoor recreation and day camp space to the parking and fields and would draw fewer cars than Related’s plan for movie theaters, Cirque du Soleil, restaurants, retail and parking. Related’s Anthony Fioravanti acknowledged the traffic plan submitted in response to the request for proposals (R.F.P.) needed more changes.

“Right now, you’ve got walking traffic and vehicle traffic coming into the same spot,” he said in an interview with Community Media. “I don’t presume we got everything right in the couple of weeks literally, or months, that we put together an R.F.P. It’s a process — we’re moving toward getting it well.”

The Trust said last week that in order to continue to collect the $5 million in parking revenues, they will need $15 million for roof repairs, $5 million to $10 million for underwater reinforcements and an undetermined amount for facade repairs that the Trust leaders are certain is less than the roof costs. They said the repairs will all have to be done within the next five years and is one of the reasons the pier needs to be redeveloped.

Currently Pier 40 contributes 40 percent of the 5-mile-long park’s maintenance costs, with almost all of the rest coming from Chelsea Piers and World Yacht cruises in Midtown. Fishman said the intent is to keep the percentages roughly the same, but when asked if that amounted to a limit on Pier 40 revenues, she said the Trust runs like a business and must make sure it has money to pay for the park’s maintenance in the future. If the park were fully built now, it would cost $15 million to $20 million a year to maintain, Fishman said, meaning under the formula, the Trust would want up to $8 million from Pier 40.

The Trust released the Pier 40 R.F.P. last summer and Fishman disputed the contention that local politicians and community leaders had objections.

“The elected officials were completely onboard with the R.F.P. itself in terms of — they reviewed it, they made suggestions, they looked at everything before it went out,” she said.

However, Assemblymember Deborah Glick last week said, “We objected that in the waning days of the Pataki administration, that they were even issuing an R.F.P. We objected to the speed of the R.P.P.”

Concern over the R.F.P. ran the political gamut. Arthur Schwartz, one of Glick’s chief political foes who at the time was chairperson of Community Board 2’s Waterfront Committee, and others in the Village agreed with Glick that the proposal request was rushed.

Last September, Schwartz told The Villager, “I asked Connie Fishman if we could have a public meeting on it [the R.F.P.], and she said, ‘No, I want to get it out.’”

Tribeca shortfall

Community Board 1 members were surprised to learn recently that the $75 million of federal money committed to the park’s Tribeca section would not cover any of the park elements because of rising construction costs. Fishman said any park visitors who miss Piers 25 and 26, which closed at the end of 2005 for park construction, should not worry that they won’t come back.

“I think we’ll get funded for the park in Tribeca just as we were funded in Greenwich Village, and we are being funded in Chelsea, and we were funded in Clinton,” she said.

Pier 25, with its beach volleyball, children’s play area, mini-golf, picnic tables, historic ships and marina, could draw thousands of visitors on a summer weekend day. Fishman said all of the Tribeca section will come back in 2010.

“We’re building Pier 25,” she said. “We can’t put the cool stuff on top of it anyway — until a year from this fall when the pier is complete.”

The Trust needs about $28 million more to rebuild the Tribeca section and Fishman hopes to get the State Legislature and City Council to pay for it in future budget years. The piers were in disrepair and the plan is to rebuild them to 1,000 and 600 feet long, larger than they were before they closed. A small turf field is planned for Pier 25, and 26 will have a restaurant added to the boathouse and river study center, or estuarium.

Fishman said the Tribeca completion date delay was caused by a federal delay getting final approval for most of the money — $70 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; but that contradicted repeated statements Trust officials made last summer and fall after the L.M.D.C. money was approved.

When the piers closed, the completion goal was 2008. When work began last summer, it was 2009. And it was only this year when the Trust acknowledged further delays.

Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, which leased Pier 25 from the Trust, said every lost year hurts. He monitors the Tribeca work almost obsessively from his apartment.

“I look out my window and my son comes home early and I ask him, ‘Did they bang the piles?’ I just want them to keep banging,” he said. Pier 25 “is a place for kids to play and relax. That pier was packed on the weekend — [not to finish until] 2010 would be bad,” said Townley, an eternal optimist who has not given up on 2008.

Fishman said she understands the pier’s importance.

“My kids have been going to Pier 25 since they were in kindergarten,” she said.

Doyle said the pier will be better than it ever was.

“I think Pier 25 is going to be the most fun pier in the entire park,” she said. “I can’t wait to go there.”

The Trust’s working number for the budget shortfall for completing the entire park’s construction from Chambers to 59th Sts. is $120 million, but the true gap is much higher. In Tribeca, the money to build the estuarium and an “eco-pier” bird sanctuary near Canal St. is not counted because the Trust is hoping for environmental grants to pay for them, and about $8 million of the cost overruns have not yet been included because it is a preliminary estimate. Elsewhere in the park, there is no cost estimate or park design for the Gansevoort Peninsula, currently being used by the Sanitation Department, or for the 50 percent of the tow pound pier at Pier 76 in Chelsea slated to be added to the park.

Pier 57 probe

This is the second time the Trust has looked for a Pier 40 developer and Doyle said “we could point to an incredibly successful Pier 57 process” to assuage the community regarding Pier 40. She said there was overwhelming community support for the plan to add Italian culture, crafts, retail and a banquet hall to Pier 57 near W. 15th St. in 2005, when a development plan was selected for the pier.

Yet now the Pier 57 process remains stalled. One member of the development team, Giuseppe Cipriani, pulled out in April 2006.

Fishman confirmed there was an investigation into the Pier 57 selection process and said it was a possible reason why the city has not yet approved the deal. The other possibility, she said, is that this would be the Trust’s first long-term lease and there are added administrative hurdles to clear. Both could be true, she said. Fishman said prosecutors typically don’t disclose the target of investigations and she did not know who was or is the subject of the probe.

Last year, a couple of C.B. 2 members said the city Department of Investigation asked them questions regarding Pier 40’s first failed R.F.P. process a few years ago. Fishman said she did not know about any Pier 40 probe.

“If there was [an investigation], it wasn’t something anybody had to speak to us about,” she said.

But the main thing on her mind these days appears to be money for the park, or as she put it, “Nobody is going to make [it] out of Play-Doh.”

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