Volume 77 / Number 34 Jan. 23 - 29, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

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Scoopy's Notebook

Witkoff’s off Pier 57: Pier 40 has been making all the headlines lately, but there’s breaking news on yet another Hudson River Park pier facing development challenges. We were tipped off by a source that, last Friday, developer Steve Witkoff submitted a letter to the Hudson River Park Trust officially withdrawing from the project to redevelop Pier 57 at W. 16th St. Jim Capalino, a Witkoff spokesperson, told us that “after a lengthy discussion with the Trust on the appropriate thing to do,” Witkoff had pulled out. “It was a consensual conversation,” Capalino said. “Steve, having spent 350 to 400 hours in community consultation with stakeholders and public officials, took the conditional designation very seriously,” he said. “And, as time passed, for a variety of reasons, he felt concerned that he couldn’t do it.” Capalino said escalating construction costs, the pier’s continued deterioration and an uncertain capital market and financing were the three factors that caused Witkoff to throw in the towel. Christopher Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson, confirmed that Witkoff was out the picture. “The Trust worked closely with the community and the Witkoff Group LLC to develop a program for Pier 57 that was widely endorsed and would have resulted in the creation of a great new asset for the park,” Martin said in a statement. “Although the withdrawal of the Witkoff Group from the development project is a disappointment, the Hudson River Park Trust will re-evaluate its options in moving forward, with the ultimate goal, as always, of fulfilling its mission of completing the park.” Asked if the Trust would issue a new request for proposals, or R.F.P., for developers for the Chelsea pier, Martin referred back to his statement that the Trust “will re-evaluate its options” for the pier, declining to comment further. Three years ago, Witkoff, in partnership with the Cipriani restaurant group, won the bid to redevelop the pier, beating out Chelsea Piers in an R.F.P. process conducted by the Trust. But Witkoff’s plan got bogged down after an anonymous letter was sent to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office contending there where conflicts of interest in the Trust’s designation of Witkoff/Cipriani. Cipriani subsequently dropped out of the proposal, not before two of its top members were hit with tax-fraud charges and a third was hit with insurance fraud and jail time to boot. More recently, as the investigation concluded, James Ortenzio, the Trust’s former chairperson, also known as the “Mayor of the Meat Market,” pleaded guilty to felony tax evasion for failing to pay taxes on $80,000 he received to mediate a dispute between operators at the W. 30th St. heliport and a misdemeanor violation of failing to comply with the Public Officers Law for not disclosing a payment he received for consulting on behalf of Fisher Brothers Management Co., which runs the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in the park at W. 46th St. Because of the investigation, the city held up on approving Witkoff’s development plan for the pier, halting the process completely. Some are wondering if the Trust now will tap Chelsea Piers for Pier 57, since it was the other R.F.P. finalist in 2005. On the other hand, three years is a long time, and a lot has changed, including the economy. Asked if Chelsea Piers is once again angling for the former M.T.A. bus depot — a.k.a. “Guantanamo on the Hudson” during the Republican National Convention three years ago when it was a protesters holding pen — Erica Schietinger, a Chelsea Piers spokesperson, said, “We have not heard anything from H.R.P.T. in regard to the status of Pier 57. Therefore, we have no comment.” Some waterfront advocates say rumor has it that Related Companies’ Cirque du Soleil plan, which is so unpopular at Pier 40, will now be switched — just like that — to Pier 57. But Joanna Rose, a Related spokesperson, said, “We are focused only on Pier 40 and offering expanded sporting uses and cultural and arts amenities to the community and a reliable source of income to the Trust.” Also, we don’t believe anyone’s asked Community Board 4 or Chelsea park activists yet what they think of Cirquish-speaking trapeze artists bounding around on their waterfront at Pier 57.

Voice goes hunting: An ad in last week’s Village Voice told readers they could come hunt elk, red stag and whitetail deer, buffalo and boar on the unspecified advertiser’s ranch — “pay for what you kill” — between Dec. 1 and March 31. The ad is in the Voice again this week and the newspaper’s Web site has three postings of the offer. East Villager John Penley was disturbed by the ad and left phone messages complaining to the Voice’s advertising director, the paper’s editor in chief and its editorial department. Penley believes that other readers and Voice advertisers are against killing animals and may have also complained. However Kent Foglia, the Voice’s advertising director, claimed, “I never got a call from anyone.” Foglia explained that the Voice doesn’t stop any legitimate advertising. “Yes, the Voice is a more liberal publication and people may not expect us to write about hunting,” Foglia said. “But we do allow an advertiser to promote people coming to hunt. People do go hunting.” Penley equated the Voice running the hunting ad to it allowing one from the Ku Klux Klan or one claiming the Holocaust never happened. In fact, he said he may even try to run an ad like those to see if the Voice would accept it. Penley also reported the ad to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but they told him it is not illegal.

Stringer goes looking? Scott Stringer has done a great job reforming the community boards, what with having brought in a crop of top-notch community-minded members among other noteworthy improvements. But from what we’re hearing, Stringer may not be around for a second term to continue his good work. Rumor has it he may not run for re-election, but rather is eyeing a campaign for citywide office — namely, public advocate. Stringer has reportedly raised mucho bucks, handy for a public advocate campaign. It would be too bad to lose Stringer as B.P., but he’d probably also make a great public advocate.

Superstar connection: On the cover of the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine, along with the photo of Johnny Depp, late anarchist/reporter Brad Will gets a prominent mention, as does singer Cat Power. In an odd twist of fate, Will, whom Rolling Stone dubs an “anarchist superstar,” murdered in October 2006 by Mexican police or paramilitaries while covering the Oaxaca uprising, has a connection to Cat Power. Before she became famous, Cat Power was living in the East Village. When Will’s E. Fifth St. squat burned down in the mid-1990s, he found a place to crash in the apartment where Cat Power, then known as Chan Marshall, was staying, sleeping on the floor outside her bedroom door. Our source on this one said we can’t reveal whose apartment it was because Cat Power wasn’t a legal tenant.

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