Volume 78 / Number 16, September 17 - 23, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since
1933

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Jai Nanda, executive director of Urban Dove, a group that runs after-school activities for public school students, explained the latest Pier 40 plan on Monday night. The projection behind him is a conceptual rendering showing the features that would be added to the pier’s rooftop level in the redevelopment plan.

Gay, gray and green color hearing on plan for Pier 40

By Lincoln Anderson

Wind turbines and solar panels, a round-the-clock, drop-in center for gay and lesbian youth, a middle school, a “new Caffe Cino,” a spot for community-based boating, more stuff for seniors and assurance that vintage cars won’t be dinged by parking lifts were among the many requests — in some cases, more like demands — by community members at the first full public hearing on the new Pier 40 redevelopment proposal on Monday evening.

About 175 people packed the auditorium of the Village Community School on W. 10th St. for the hearing.

Noreen Doyle, vice president of the Hudson River Park Trust, the state-city authority building and operating the 5-mile-long waterfront park, which contains the sprawling, 15-acre Pier 40, at W. Houston St., gave a timeline for the plan’s potential approval. Doyle said the Trust is currently reviewing the retooled proposal recently submitted to the authority by Urban Dove and CampGroup, along with the Pier 40 Partnership. She said what might happen would be a conditional designation, after which the Trust would then enter into a period of negotiation with the development team, during which, project cost estimates and the pier’s condition would be re-evaluated. After that, a memorandum of understanding would be signed, followed by an environmental review, which would be part of a ULURP, or uniform land use review procedure, for the pier.

Only at the end of the ULURP, which could be a one-year-long process, would the Trust enter into a binding agreement with the development team, Doyle said.

In short, she said, “It could be a couple of years [from now], before we would enter into a binding lease with this team — if they were selected.”

The Trust’s board of directors will hold their bimonthly meeting at the end of this month. But, according to sources, it’s not clear if they will vote then to give conditional approval to the plan, since, at this point, they haven’t had a lot of time to review the latest proposal yet.

Paul Travis, of Washington Square Partners, a consultant for the developers, said the plan is now budgeted at $430 million, lower than previously contemplated. Among the plan’s key features: It preserves the pier’s playing fields; the main, courtyard field would remain operating, even during construction; a trio of 4-foot-deep, stainless-steel pools would be added on the pier’s eastern rooftop; three public high schools, plus possibly a private high school — reportedly being pushed for by Village Community School parents — would be added on the pier’s north and west sides; the pier’s parking would be condensed into a smaller area by using lifts; small-scale retail — sports-related and other types — as well as a fairly large event space that would be in frequent use would be added on the pier’s south side.

Travis added that a conservancy for the pier, which would raise money for Pier 40, operate it and basically be the master leaseholder — subleasing space to for-profit and nonprofit tenants — remains an essential part of the plan.

Keen Berger, a Community Board 2 member, said a middle school is what is really needed for the overcrowded school district. But Jai Nanda, executive director of Urban Dove, said the School Construction Authority has told them they want high schools on the pier, but that the S.C.A. hasn’t explicitly ruled out a middle school.

Frieda Bradlow, a longtime Village resident, said the pier is ideal for sustainable-energy uses, but that the current plan doesn’t offer much in this regard.

“It’s perfect: Sun, wind, water purification, urban farming,” she said.

Richard Dattner, the project’s architect, who has done other projects along the Hudson River, including Riverbank State Park in Harlem, said they will do their best to make Pier 40 attain the highest LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard possible within their budget constraints.

Impossible to miss in the crowd were about 40, pink-sash-wearing members of FIERCE, a group that advocates vociferously for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth who flock to the Christopher St. Pier, five blocks north of Pier 40. FIERCE is asking that a 24-hour, drop-in center for L.G.B.T.Q. youth be included in the Pier 40 plans. The group notes that 40 percent of homeless youth in New York City are believed to be gay or lesbian.

However, Nanda said their financial scheme for the pier, which is a modest one, simply can’t fund a community center. Arthur Schwartz, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Waterfront Committee, suggested that some of the new public school and gym space in the project would likely be available for the L.G.B.T.Q. youth. But afterward, Glo Ross, a FIERCE community organizer, expressed skepticism that they would ever get use of school space on the pier and said they will continue to push for their own, designated space. She said they definitely want a 24-hour facility, noting that another use on the pier, the parking operation, is round-the-clock.

Tobi Bergman, president of Pier Park and Playground Association, or P3, a group that has operated on the pier for 12 years and currently mainly runs youth baseball programs on the pier, stressed that people shouldn’t lose sight of the big picture: Projects unacceptable to the community, such as a gigantic aquarium and The Related Companies’ Cirque du Soleil mega-entertainment complex, are no longer being contemplated for the key Lower West Side pier, and the community will get to keep the huge sports field that is so treasured by local parents and youth sports leagues.

Nanda said the pier’s courtyard field and smaller, existing rooftop field — which would be relocated to the roof’s southwest corner — will continue to operate as they do now, with a modestly priced permit. Other, new field space that will be built on the south rooftop for the CampGroup day camp, which would operate eight weeks in the summer, and new basketball gym space on the north rooftop for Urban Dove, will be available for community-group use and adult leagues, the latter at market rate to help raise revenue for the pier. The swimming pools — two indoor, one outdoor — will be available to the community on a sliding-scale basis when not being used by the summer camp, Nanda said.

Pier 40 is expected to be financially self-sustaining and generate at least $5 million a year for the Trust. The parking — which already brings in $5 million per year — schools, event space and retail are all primary revenue generators.

Meanwhile, some others, like veteran Villagers Jim Fouratt and Robert Heide, said the pier needs more cultural uses, harking back to the Village’s bohemian heyday. Heide suggested a space for plays, poetry and a cup of coffee — “like we used to do in the Village” — along the lines of the old Caffe Cino, the first Off-Broadway theater. Fouratt added that the sports-happy pier needs to be more senior-friendly. But Dattner assured him that the walkways around the 800-foot-by-800-foot structure will remain open for rambling, while the ramp up to the rooftop will be an easy grade and there will be passive recreation space on top of the pier.

The pier’s overall height will increase by about 40 feet to 70 feet along the east and west sides and along half of the east side, as one new story will be added in these spots. Dattner said no new structures will be added on the pier’s south rooftop, since they want to preserve the amount of sunlight hitting the fields.

Boating advocates from the Village Community Boathouse and the Stuyvesant High School rowing team asked for assurance that they’ll have a space in a renovated pier. The boathouse currently pays $1 rent for its space on the pier’s southern side.

The C.B. 2 committee members, joined by Marc Ameruso, a representative of Community Board 1, crafted a resolution listing many of the community’s wishes for the plan. Schwartz said foremost are the requests for a space for gay and lesbian youth and for community boating. Over all, the committee recommended conditional approval of the Pier 40 plan.

C.B. 2’s full board will vote on the committee’s resolution this Thurs., Sept. 18, at its meeting, at SEIU 32BJ, 101 Sixth Ave. (Avenue of the Americas), 22nd floor, pre-conference room. The meeting will start at 6 p.m.

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