Volume 78 / Number 4 - June 25 - July 1, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since
1933

 

 
A schematic rendering of Pier 40 by the School Construction Authority, provided along with its expression-of-interest letter to the Hudson River Park Trust, showing how a school facility could be located on the pier’s northern side. (The aerial image is outdated since it shows the pier’s
courtyard still containing trucks, as opposed
to the sports fields that have been there
for several years.)

With interest from city schools, Pier 40 plan may make the grade

By Lincoln Anderson

Giving a major boost to a plan to keep Pier 40 afloat as a community-friendly, low-impact part of Hudson River Park, the New York City School Construction Authority wants to build up to three high schools on the sprawling W. Houston St. pier.

On June 2, Sharon Greenberger, S.C.A. president and C.E.O., wrote to Noreen Doyle, Hudson River Park Trust vice president, “to confirm the S.C.A.’s interest in the potential development of a new public high school facility on Pier 40.”

“Pier 40’s location, size and unique location within the Hudson River Park make it a strong candidate for new public school development, and one that we would like to explore with the Hudson River Park Trust in further detail,” Greenberger wrote.

The news was announced two weeks ago by Chris McGinnis — a member of the Pier 40 Partnership and the coordinator of the Greenwich Village Little League’s Majors A Division — at the league’s end-of-season awards, held on Pier 40.

McGinnis said the Partnership didn’t go public with the announcement until it received clearance from S.C.A.

“Based on preliminary assessment of the existing conditions and opportunities at Pier 40,” Greenberger wrote Doyle, “we believe that an approximately 1,650-seat high school facility, containing approximately 210,000 gross square feet, and an open recreational space could be developed on the north side of the pier. …[A] high school facility could be accommodated in portions of the main and second levels of the existing structure (approximately 6,000 and 80,000 square feet, respectively), and construction of two new additional floors with a footprint of approximately 75,000 square feet above. This would also allow for the provision of open-air recreation space on the second level, adjoining the proposed new construction. …”

Included along with S.C.A.’s formal expression-of-interest letter were diagrams of how the planned school facilities would fit into three floors on the pier’s northern side; different-colored areas depict classrooms, a library, a cafeteria, gym space, science labs and so on.

Greenberger, in her letter, states S.C.A. would be willing to take less than 210,000 square feet on the pier and “explore alternative configurations.” Yet, she said, S.C.A. requires a minimum of 150,000 square feet “in order to meet the needs of two small high school organizations.”

Although Greenberger’s letter doesn’t say anything about developing three schools on the pier, McGinnis said the Partnership’s understanding is that the number would be three. More to the point, the Partnership would like one of these three to be a middle school — which would serve students graduating from P.S. 3 and P.S. 41 — since the Village area has a pressing need for a new middle school, he said.

Based on the number of seats stated in the letter, each high school would have 550 students, according to McGinnis.

Team effort on Pier 40
For three months, the Pier 40 Partnership — an ad-hoc group of local parents with children in the youth sports leagues using Pier 40’s fields — has been working with Urban Dove/Camp Group to produce a new redevelopment plan for Pier 40. The Trust gave them a deadline of the end of this month. The combined team hopes the Trust’s directors will then pick their proposal at the end of next month at the Trust’s scheduled board meeting.

Both Urban Dove/Camp Group and the Partnership originally had called for school space in their separate proposals for Pier 40. Bob Kerrey, The New School’s president, earlier had expressed strong interest in the education space in the Partnership’s plan.

As well as S.C.A., the Partnership had also been talking to New Visions, a group with the power to create new charter schools.

Richard Dattner, architect for Urban Dove/Camp Group, is now checking to make sure S.C.A.’s plan to add a structure atop Pier 40 works within the park’s guidelines.

The fact that S.C.A. is interested in space on the 15-acre pier is nothing short of a home run for the Little League-loving Partnership members. The group’s goal always has been to preserve the pier’s ball fields for their kids, while keeping The Related Companies from mega-developing the pier with a Cirque du Soleil/Tribeca Film Festival complex. The Trust disqualified Related’s application in March after Related couldn’t make its financials work within the Hudson River Park Act’s 30-year lease restriction for the pier.

When he heard the news of S.C.A.’s interest, McGinnis said, “I was doing the wave — and so was the rest of the Pier 40 Partnership. We were very happy. It’s huge.”

Many of the Partnership’s leading members are financial investors and businesspersons, so they understand the significance of having a Bloomberg administration agency potentially onboard.

“The S.C.A. is part of the city,” McGinnis said. “Its bond rating is double ‘A’. The city is known to pay its bills. The S.C.A. is like having someone with a Good Housekeeping Seal of approval. And the fact that they want this much square footage. …”

Follow the leader
The Partnership and Urban Dove/Camp Group have been meeting three times a week since March 27. McGinnis assured that Urban Dove/CampGroup is heading the combined redevelopment proposal.

“They have the lead and we’re partnering with them,” he said. “It was their proposal, and we’re just trying to factor in.”

Urban Dove/CampGroup responded to the request for proposals, or R.F.P., for Pier 40 that the Trust issued a year and a half ago.

The Partnership members recently signed the confidentiality agreement required of the R.F.P. respondents. As a result, McGinnis said he couldn’t reveal much about the proposal that will be presented to the Trust at the end of this month. (On the other hand, McGinnis said the Partnership could make public S.C.A.’s expression-of-interest letter since S.C.A. gave the Partnership clearance.)

Next Wed., July 2, the Pier 40 Working Group will receive the first public presentation of the new plan, at 25 Broadway, 21st floor, at 9:30 a.m. A public hearing also has been set for Wed., July 16.

McGinnis said the Pier 40 proposal will include 80,000 square feet on the pier for the Trust’s administrative offices, vehicles and the like, plus 600,000 square feet for parking. The idea is to use stackers to minimize the space needed for parking.

“Operation of the pier’s existing ball fields will basically be the same as now,” he said, “but some details are being worked out.

Sports merch, not art
The Partnership’s original plan included space for a “visual arts market,” offering low-rent, artists’ studios. Asked if that was still part of the plan, McGinnis indicated it wasn’t, saying only, “They [Urban Dove/Camp Group] are the lead.”

He did say, however, that one of the Partnership’s main ideas — a Pier 40 conservancy that would raise millions of dollars to repair the pier — was still part of the concept.

“That kind of merged in,” he said of the conservancy scheme. “Details of that one are being worked out now.”

The crumbling steel-and-concrete former shipping pier needs an estimated $120 million in repairs to its roof and its support pilings — which the designated development team would be required to fund, as well as paying for the pier’s ongoing maintenance over the course of a lease of at least 30 years.

Jai Nanda, founder and director of Urban Dove — a nonprofit organization helping New York City public school students to excel through sports activities and education — confirmed that the arts market is out.

“The arts market was never part of our plan,” he stated. “So, I think what we’re going to submit to the Trust is going to closely resemble our original plan.”

Urban Dove/Camp Group’s initial plan included about 60,000 square feet for boutique-size retail stores, such as for sporting goods, in keeping with Pier 40’s athletic-use theme.

“The retail space being turned into an arts market — we experimented with that and it didn’t seem to be a viable option,” Nanda said. A pricey summer day camp, to be run by CampGroup, is also part of the proposal.

He confirmed that a Pier 40 conservancy is a component of their idea.

As for S.C.A.’s interest in the pier, Nanda said he was “very excited.”

Yet, while acknowledging that the Trust wants an R.F.P respondent to lead the proposal, he downplayed any hierarchy.

“As far as being the lead, we consider ourselves partners,” Nanda said, “and what we submit will reflect that.

“We’re feeling very good about it,” he said of the team effort with the Partnership.

“We’ve made a lot of progress.”

Still processing...
The Department of Education and Trust both said nothing is set regarding schools on Pier 40 and that the R.F.P. process is still ongoing.

“We’re still doing evaluation of the R.F.P.’s,” said Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson. “The fact that they’ve approved it will go into consideration,” he said of S.C.A.’s stated interest in the pier. Everything will be examined when the final plan is submitted at this month’s end, he said.

Margie Feinberg, a D.O.E. spokesperson, said the department must defer to the Trust on building schools on Pier 40.

“There is a letter of intent,” she said. “It’s a park. We cannot build in a park — period. Only the Hudson River Park can decide what can be built there. We said we’d like to sit down and discuss it; it’s a vacant site.”

Whereas high schools are not zoned, middle schools are, Feinberg said, meaning, if there was a middle school on Pier 40, local kids would be given preference.

Brad Hoylman, Community Board 2 chairperson, said, “I think the S.C.A. letter of interest confirms the premise of the feasibility study prepared by the Pier 40 Partnership — that nonprofit stewardship of the pier can work. By locating school space on the pier, we kill two birds with one stone. One, Pier 40 will be maximized for public — not commercial — uses. And, two, much-needed classroom space is created in our neighborhood, giving kids a better classroom experience, and parents more options.”

Another site parents and education advocates are eyeing for a middle school is the state-owned building at 75 Morton St., currently housing state agencies, but which the state is hoping to sell.

Lisa Willner, a spokesperson for the Empire State Development Corporation, said she could not answer questions about whether the building would be sold without restrictions to a private developer or sold specifically for use as a school.

“The invitation to bid [an R.F.P.] on 75 Morton St. has not yet been released,” Willner said. “Until the invitation to bid has been finalized, we cannot answer your questions.”

D.O.E.’s Feinberg said, “Any vacant space is always attractive,” but said she couldn’t comment more about 75 Morton St., and noted the state plans to issue an R.F.P. for it.

As for The New School and arts market, Arthur Schwartz, Pier 40 Working Group chairperson, said they’re both now part of a proposal by developer Douglas Durst for Pier 57, at W. 16th St. Schwartz said S.C.A. wants so much space on Pier 40, there’s no room left there for The New School, while both an arts market with galleries and The New School’s Parsons arts school are natural fits at Pier 57, near the Chelsea arts scene. Schwartz said he knows of no other proposals of Pier 57, for which the Trust soon plans to issue an R.F.P.

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