With longer lease at Pier 40, would Related re-emerge?
By Lincoln Anderson
Concern is brewing over Pier 40 once more, after the Hudson River Park Trust passed a resolution to ask the state Legislature to extend the lease term for the huge W. Houston St. pier from 30 years to 50 years.
Opponents of The Rela-ted Companies failed Cirque du Soleil/Tribeca Film Festival plan for the pier fear that with a lease change, the Las Vegas on the Hudson scheme could rear its glitzy, high-impact head again.
In the past five and a half years, two efforts by the Trust to find private developers to repair and revamp the 14-acre Pier 40 have sunk. As part of the second effort, which capsized last year, The Related Companies proposed its Cirque du Soleil-centered plan that would have drawn millions of people to the pier annually. But Related couldnt make its plans financials work within the 30-year lease requirement of the Trusts request for proposals, or R.F.P., for the pier. Related insisted on a 49-year lease, and, as a result, was disqualified by the Trust in March 2008. This second R.F.P. process was formally closed six months later, when the Trust rejected a lower-impact, community-friendly collaboration by the Pier 40 Partnership and Urban Dove/CampGroup, featuring two or three public high schools and possibly a new private high school. The Trust believed this last proposals financials would not work.
Meanwhile, the pier, desperately in need of renovation, continues to deteriorate. And so, at last months Trust board of directors meeting, former state Senator Franz Leichter proposed the board ask the Legislature to amend the Hudson River Park Act to allow a longer lease on Pier 40 of 50 years. Taking many community members and park advocates by surprise, Leichters idea was not listed on the meetings agenda and was introduced as new business.
Were really handcuffed with that 30-year lease, Leichter told his fellow board members. I think we really need to lift that restriction, and more important, move ahead on Pier 40.
Leichter said 160 parking spaces on the pier have been taken out of use because of the roofs crumbling condition, and that unless something is done, more parking spaces will soon be lost or worse.
The piles are in bad shape, he said of the metal supports on which the pier sits. We may even have a situation where we have to close the pier.
Leichter said there is a glimmer of hope the park act could be amended this year to address Pier 40s lease.
Ive been told by one of the more influential legislators that it would be helpful if we had an expression of support for the lease extension, Leichter said, not naming the legislator.
Of those park piers that are slated for commercial uses to generate revenue for the park initially all had 30-year leases under the park act, as Leichter explained it. In order to qualify for historic preservation credits, the lease for Pier 57 which has a unique, floating caisson support system was extended several years ago to 49 years, he noted. An exception was also made for Chelsea Piers, which got a long-term lease before the Hudson River Park was even formally established.
Diana Taylor, the Trusts chairperson, agreed a resolution requesting a longer lease on Pier 40 is needed especially because the community has been a stumbling block.
Pier 40 has been such a problem because there has been so much opposition by the community, Taylor said. We have to do something, and I think its a great idea, she said.
Joe Rose was the only board member who spoke up about discussing the idea with local park advocates first to get an appropriate consensus.
If the [Hudson River Park] Advisory Council has a concern about [extending] the lease, lets hear their reason why, Rose urged.
However, Taylor said no consultation with the community or any consensus was needed before the Trust voted.
There will be opposition this is New York City, she stated. However, she added, I agree we should work with the other groups, and maybe get a letter from them, too.
Taylor said she would authorize the Trusts staff to draft a letter to legislators seeking the 50-year lease and also direct the staff to work with the Friends of Hudson River Park the parks chief advocacy group to bring them along.
However, Rose said, he understood the parks advisory council was supposed to give its assent to these sort of changes.
Leichter disagreed, saying, I certainly dont like the idea that action taken by this board requires the approval of the advisory council.
In the end, the resolution passed unanimously.
Thank you, senator, Taylor told Leichter after the vote.
Arthur Schwartz, chairperson of both the parks advisory council and Community Board 2s Waterfront Committee, later said, The fact that the Trust board passed a resolution without first talking to the advisory council and the community boards and the elected officials in the neighborhood is both arrogant and poor politics. If there was ever a sure way of making sure there was opposition, this was the way to do it. People in the neighborhood havent approved a 49-year lease on principle it really depends on the use.
Schwartz said he and other park advocates were previously in favor of a 49-year lease for Pier 40 when the Pier 40 Partnership/CampGroup plan included the School Construction Authority building schools and supporting community uses on the pier.
Schwartz said he spoke with Leicther at the Friends of Hudson River Parks benefit the night before the Trusts board meeting and told him the community would support a longer lease for those types of uses, but not for big commercial development.
Schwartz noted he was told by a Trust official that the pier is now losing $600,000 a year because so many parking spaces have been taken off line because of the decaying roof.
I think theres almost a conscious resolution on the part of the Trust to let the pier deteriorate to justify a longer lease, he offered.
Its unclear whether the lease extension would be passed in Albany. The pier is in Assemblymember Deborah Glicks district, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told The Villager he would defer to her on it.
I dont know what Deborahs view is on it yet. She hasnt told me, Silver told The Villager when queried about the lease proposal last week. But its in her district and the [assembly]member is closer to it.
Silver said that maybe theres a compromise that could be included in a new Pier 40 R.F.P. process, but didnt mention specifics.
He said the legislative session should end on June 22 though possibly June 23 and that theres no chance the amendment would be sneaked in before the sessions end, as some park advocates fear.
We never sneak anything in, Silver stressed. Any bill goes before the substantive committee.
Glick said her office had been getting a lot of calls after the Trusts board meeting. The callers expressed concern about a Pier 40 lease extension, and were saying, Dont do anything that opens the door to Related, she said.
Glick emphasized that lengthening the lease was Leichters idea, not hers.
Glick, too, spoke to Leichter prior to the board meeting, and said he told her the Trust might possibly need to put some additional restrictions on Pier 40s use along with extending the lease.
Meanwhile, Glick said, she told Leichter that a lease extension doesnt address an emergency.
The real question is how do we get the roof fixed to preserve revenue for the pier? Glick told The Villager. Over 40 percent of the parks operating budget is generated by Pier 40. Forget the piers development for a minute it is an immediate, emergency safety issue and affects the parks revenue stream.
Plus, Glick added, in the current economy, many development projects are on hold.
Glick last year expressed qualified support for a longer Pier 40 lease, such as for a school, but definitely not to enable megadevelopment of the pier.
Last week she said, Longer lease terms are not necessarily my first choice, in general.
Asked if she thought an amendment to the park act could conceivably be slipped through by the end of session, Glick said, Ive been here long enough to know that anything could happen. ... Sometimes things happen quickly. ... This is the sort of thing thats a little more complicated because of its long history and the general care that was taken with the legislation.
Related re-emerge? taken with the legislation.