Volume 79, Number 23 | November 11 - 17, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Progress Report

A special Villager supplement


Villager file photo

A soccer team ran sprints and practiced on Pier 40 at W. Houston St., above. The pier’s huge courtyard artificial-turf field has made it a local sports mecca. But Pier 40 needs millions of dollars in repairs, and the Hudson River Park Trust also wants the pier to produce more revenue to help fund the entire park.

On the waterfront: Much progress, many challenges 

By Noreen Doyle 

Sometimes hard things look easy, and sometimes they look exactly as hard as they are. As we endeavor to implement the full vision of Hudson River Park promised by the park act, the Hudson River Park Trust faces these two realities every day.

For more than a decade now, the Trust has been opening completed sections of the park at a regular pace. As of today, we have completed eight public park piers, plus the Intrepid Museum’s Pier 86, which is also available for visitors to enjoy at no cost. How much we can build at any point depends on the amount of new funding available through the state, city or federal government. It’s a big challenge for the staff in our small design department to ready plans for bidding and construction when they don’t know how much money will be available in the coming year, but they do it very successfully.

In 2010, we will be opening the Chelsea Cove section of the park, just north of Chelsea Piers. This gorgeous, green, 9-acre gem will include a carousel, skate park, landscape sculpture and sunning lawns. In Tribeca, we’ll also open Pier 25, the “fun” pier, with its mini-golf course, beach volleyball courts, playground and more. We will also begin construction on the last of four public boathouses for kayaking and other non-motorized boating on Pier 26.

Several years ago, I was talking to one of our construction managers, who observed that he had expected park construction to be easy compared with building a tower in Manhattan. He was surprised to discover that it’s actually very challenging, in large measure because of the lack of utilities and other infrastructure along the water’s edge. Over the years, the Trust’s design staff has devoted hundreds of hours to working with Con Edison alone, trying to identify the sources of old gas and power lines scattered throughout the property, justifying shutting them down, and creating and installing new lines in the right areas to power the lights and other utilities needed to operate the park. 

Also challenging is Hudson River Park’s long, linear layout. With only one real operations center at Pier 40, gardeners, maintenance workers, security officers, educational and public programs staff must all move north and south along the park for a distance of 5 miles. The traveling itself is easy, but a lot of logistical planning goes into our operations to make these trips as efficient as possible, and of course to ensure the whole park receives proper care.

As the park grows, the hardest part will be ensuring that we have an adequate revenue stream to care for everything. As provided by the Hudson River Park Act, funds needed to pay our staff and take care of the park are generated by a combination of rental payments, sponsorships, donations and fees. We have been entirely self-sufficient in our 11-year history.

This past year brought good news in a couple of areas on this front. First, we were able to renegotiate a lease with Circle Line/World Yacht that significantly increases the amount of rental income while also freeing the bulkhead from car parking, enabling future park construction in that area. Community Board 4 was strongly supportive of this win-win solution for everyone.

Also, after months of review by our board, the Community Working Group and Advisory Council, the Trust conditionally designated the Youngwoo team to redevelop Pier 57 at W. 17th St. The winning proposal enjoyed the local community’s support and will also generate significant new revenue for the park. Prior to any construction, the Trust must negotiate business terms and conduct a full environmental review process. 

Of all of our tasks, the hardest job by far is figuring out what to do with Pier 40. This is for a variety of reasons: history, geography, legal constraints, deteriorated condition and the pier’s sheer size (15 acres). 

After two failed attempts to find a master developer for the whole pier, the Trust is now pausing to reconsider our options. As reported recently in The Villager, several members of our board of directors and staff have been meeting with community representatives, parking experts, financial consultants and others willing to help us explore options. We must figure out a way to secure tens of millions of dollars in the short term in order to prevent closure of the roof and other areas of the pier, plus even more to fix the piles that support the pier. And in order to have a realistic chance at getting this done within the next several years, we must do this in a way that the community finds acceptable on balance. 

This will no doubt require some trade-offs on everyone’s part, including the Trust’s. Eliminating the ball fields is not, and never was, an option. Unfortunately, given the scale of the needed repairs, the individual small stores and restaurants that much of the community supports won’t on their own be able to bring the pier back to good condition, let alone generate additional income to help support the rest of the park. (Currently, Pier 40 generates approximately 40 percent of the funds for the park’s overall operations; the rest of the income-generating piers are all located in Chelsea and Clinton.)

As we conduct these discussions, we hope the community will be willing to join us in testing new ideas and re-examining old assumptions with the goal of coming up with a solution we can all support. There is good evidence to believe that if we work together, we can solve this problem. The beautiful park that already exists is a testament to this kind of teamwork.

Doyle is vice president, Hudson River Park Trust

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