Volume 78 / Number 1 - June 4 - 10, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Trust’s chairperson is ‘optimistic’ about Pier 40

By Lincoln Anderson

At a press conference last Thursday morning to mark the 10th anniversary of the Hudson River Park, Diana Taylor, the Hudson River Park Trust’s chairperson, seemed to indicate that there’s no way The Related Companies would come back into the picture as a possible developer of the 15-acre Pier 40 at W. Houston St.

After the press conference, a stylishly dressed Taylor and Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, did a bit of fishing off the side of Pier 84 at W. 44th St. — to showcase the Hudson River’s healthy, fish-filled ecosystem; an eel caught earlier by Trust staff wriggled nearby in a bucket.

The Villager asked Taylor if Related’s Pier 40 proposal is still alive.

“There was a lot of community opposition to it,” she said of the mega-plan that featured Cirque du Soleil and the Tribeca Film Festival. “I think we could have come up with something that the community could be happy with — but I don’t want to speculate.” But Taylor’s tone and words clearly gave the distinct impression that Related’s plan — which would have attracted 2.5 million visitors a year — is kaput at Pier 40.

For some reason, another print media report on last Thursday’s press conference indicated that Taylor said Related was still a player at Pier 40, but that was completely at odds with The Villager’s understanding of the Trust chairperson’s statements clearly to the contrary.

Asked about the progress of the Pier 40 Partnership and CampGroup/Urban Dove on a new plan for the pier, Taylor didn’t mention specifics, but said she’s hopeful about the collaboration.

“I’m optimistic that everyone’s working together and will come up with a plan that’s fabulous, workable,” she told The Villager. She said the Trust has met with the new joint development team “several times” and is offering any help it can.

“We hope that they come back with something that we can approve,” she said, “and if they don’t, we have more work to do.”

Pier 40 wasn’t on the agenda of the Trust’s board of directors meeting later that same day.

In March, Taylor announced that the Trust was encouraging the Pier 40 Partnership and CampGroup/Urban Dove to work together to produce a new Pier 40 redevelopment plan, and that they had until the end of June. Taylor also announced then that Related was out of the running to redevelop the pier because it could not make its financials work within a 30-year lease. At the time, Taylor said that, if the new plan wasn’t acceptable, the Trust would bring back Related and ask the State Legislature to amend the Hudson River Park Act of 1998 to allow the Trust to issue a 49-year lease for Pier 40, as opposed to the 30-year-maximum lease currently allowed under the park act.

Asked last Thursday about the issue of amending the park act to allow for a longer lease, Taylor told The Villager there are two options: “We can come up with something new that works — or we can let the pier slip into the river. If a plan that works needs more time, I am hoping that the [State] Legislature will do the same thing for Pier 40 that they did for Pier 57, which is to extend the lease.”

Taylor added that Pier 40 needs an estimated $120 million in repairs. The development team selected for the pier would be responsible for both the repairs and the pier’s ongoing maintenance during the term of the lease.

“That’s a lot of money,” Taylor noted, “and not everyone can do that — so we hope the Legislature will do the right thing, if that is the case.”

The Trust hopes to wrap up the Pier 40 developer selection process in the next several months.

As for Pier 57 at W. 16th St., Taylor said the state-city authority is getting ready to issue a new request for proposals, or R.F.P., for developers hopefully within the next few weeks, depending on how quickly they can finalize the R.F.P. Although the State Legislature indeed approved a 49-year lease for Pier 57, a prior R.F.P. process fell through earlier this year when the Witkoff Organization pulled out of plans to develop the Chelsea pier with a banquet hall. A prior R.F.P. process for Pier 40 several years ago also failed to pan out.

Regarding construction of the entire 5-mile-long park — which stretches from Battery Place to 59th St. — Taylor said it is currently about 40 percent complete, and that by 2010, will be 80 percent complete. Finishing the park after then will depend on how soon the city both gets its garbage trucks off Gansevoort Peninsula and relocates the tow pound from Pier 76 at W. 36th St.

Taylor and Fishman said right now is a time of intense construction activity for the park. Half of the new Tribeca section is slated to open this summer and Chelsea Cove is also under construction. The state and city allocated a combined $42 million for the park this year, and Taylor and Fishman said they hope for the same amount next year.

On other general park facts, the bike path next to it is the most heavily used in the nation, Taylor noted. The park’s annual operating budget is $14 million, but by the time the park is finished it could well balloon to $20 million, according to Taylor.

As for the role of local residents and park activists in shaping the park’s design and use, the Trust chairperson said, “Depending where you sit, there are pros and cons to having active community participation in the park — there are lots of views.”

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