Volume 77 / Number 38 - Feb. 20 - 26, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

FIERCE! members and gay youth advocates rallied with local parents and their children on Pier 40 last month against The Related Companies’ $618 million plan for the pier.

Gay youth back Pier 40 plan offering 24-hr. center

By Lincoln Anderson

The community-based Pier 40 Partnership proposal for Pier 40 has gained plenty of backing, from the local politicians, Community Board 2 and the Pier 40 Working Group to the Greenwich Village Little League and Downtown United Soccer Club.

Adding their voices to this growing swell of support, FIERCE!, the gay youth advocacy group, is also endorsing the Partnership’s plan.

When 1,000 soccer moms and dads, their kids and waterfront park advocates rallied several weeks ago against Related Companies’ megadevelopment plan for Pier 40, a FIERCE! contingent stood on the pier’s Astroturf among them.

The Pier 40 Partnership has indicated it backs the idea of a 24-hour center on the pier for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who hang out in The Hudson River Park, which has a 1 a.m. curfew.

Pier 40, at W. Houston St., is just a few blocks south of Pier 45, the Christopher St. Pier, the gay youths’ stomping ground.

Saying they have received some encouraging signs from the Hudson River Park Trust, FIERCE! is already working with the Urban Justice League on designs for a 15,000-square-foot space on Pier 40. The center would offer gay youth a variety of services, including job placement and, in the case they are homeless, housing referrals.

But beyond the prospect of a round-the-clock, drop-in center, FIERCE! members say they strongly oppose megadevelopment of the park, which is what Related’s $618 million scheme — featuring a Cirque du Soleil theater and 12-screen movieplex — would mean.

“This isn’t just about Pier 40. It’s about the whole West Village community, including L.G.B.T. youth,” said Glo Ross, lead organizer for FIERCE! “We’re all going to feel the impact of development that puts profit before people — queer or straight. We were able to collect over 1,300 petition signatures from residents and business owners in the West Village, as well as from L.G.B.T. youth and allies, who agree that Pier 40 should be developed with the needs of L.G.B.T. youth and the community as the priority.”

“The biggest reason my friends and I go to the West Village, along with other queer youth, is because we feel comfortable and safe there,” said John Blasco, 18, a FIERCE! member from the Lower East Side. “The West Village is like a second home to me. I care about what happens to my community and Pier 40 because I know whatever happens on Pier 40 will affect us all.”

FIERCE! calls the Partnership’s nonprofit conservancy plan “a beacon of hope.”

The Trust has put off its vote on Pier 40 until the end of next month.

As for how a drop-in center could be allowed to operate past the park’s curfew, they note the park’s major commercial venue, Chelsea Piers, is open past 1 a.m.

Erica Schietinger, a Chelsea Piers spokesperson, said that while parts of Chelsea Piers are sometimes open past the park’s curfew, it is not a 24-hour operation.

“We do not have a 1 a.m. curfew within our lease,” Schietinger said. “Our public access is technically sunrise to sunset, although weather permitting, we leave the perimeter open later than sundown for the public to enjoy. We are largely closed by 1 a.m., though, even though we do not have a curfew. The bowling alley is open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Occasionally, there are late-night cruises, but not that many on an annual basis. The event spaces usually are ending their events by 1 a.m. but on occasion they do go until 2 a.m.”

The politically savvy L.G.B.T. youth regularly attend C.B. 2’s Waterfront Committee meetings and read all the local media and blogs. They feel their lobbying efforts are slowly starting to pay off. Notably, last month, the Trust issued a request for proposals, or R.F.P., for a seasonal, food-vending cart on Pier 45 to operate later into the evening — from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. — than what has been available. FIERCE! advocated for this extended-hours vending. The cart would also vend nonalcoholic beverages. The Trust would approve all menu items. The contract would be for April 1 to Oct. 31. The R.F.P. responses are due March 6.

According to Christopher Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson, the food options up to now have included the fixed food concession in the Pier 45 kiosk, which usually stays open till 8 p.m., and vendors carts at W. 11th St., Pier 51 at Jane St. and Pier 40 at W. Houston St. — meaning the nearest cart to the Christopher St. Pier is at least four blocks away. There haven’t been any vendors carts at Pier 45, he said.

The progress is “bit by bit,” said Rickke Mananzala. He said they would also like to see one or more of the new, self-cleaning “robo toilets” on Pier 45, as opposed to the less-than-satisfactory portable toilets there now. A big issue for them is to get the park’s bathrooms kept open later, but the Trust says there have been problems with criminal activity in the bathrooms and will continue to close them in the early evening.

In addition, FIERCE! has filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the Bloomberg administration to obtain a copy of the report compiled by The Door a few years ago on why gay youth come to the Greenwich Village waterfront. For unknown reasons, the city has refused to release the report.

Dave Poster, president of the Christo­pher St. Patrol, a volunteer anticrime patrol working with the Guardian Angels, was skeptical of the latest proposals.

Regarding a 24-hour, drop-in center, Poster said he was concerned it would really close at 1 a.m., like the rest of the park. That would mean the gay youth would flood into the neighborhood after the park curfew, as they do now when they leave Christopher St., which Poster and other residents have called a major problem. Poster said he doesn’t support allowing food vendors on the Christopher St. Pier at later hours, since this will just encourage the pier scene to grow.

As for whether The Trust would support an L.G.B.T. center at Pier 40 and its staying open all night long, Martin said, “Whether the drop-in center would be part of any one of the development plans will be up to the individual developer or developers. The hours for amenities that the selected developers have indicated they would provide would be subject to their lease once there is in fact someone designated to develop and operate the pier.”

Leading Pier 40 Partnership members Rich Caccappollo and Chris McGinnis did not respond to requests for comment by press time for this article. However, at last month’s Pier 40 rally, McGinnis, speaking on behalf of the Partnership, specifically told the crowd that among the various community-oriented amenities the Partnership’s plan would be able to include was “a 24-hour drop-in center for L.G.B.T. youth.”

Arthur Schwartz, chairperson of the Pier 40 Working Group, said the L.G.B.T. center was, in fact, one of the Working Group’s recommendations. Schwartz suspected that the Partnership members, who are all parents with children in local schools, were away on vacation since it is the midwinter school break, and thus are hard to contact right now.

“They don’t have cold feet about it at all,” he said. “When they designed their plan, they utilized the recommendations of the Working Group — and one of the recommendations of the Working Group was that there be that kind of public space that will be available for nonprofit use. In the Partnership’s plan it’s a pretty decent-sized space. The idea came out of the Working Group. The Partnership’s support for it is very sincere.”

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