Volume 73, Number 39 | January 28 - February 03, 2004



FIELD OF DREAMS

Pier 40 turf to open in fall

By Albert Amateau

Villager photo by Alana Marcu

Members of the Stuyvesant Peglegs football team who attended the meeting were excited about a new sports field on Pier 40 where they can practice and play their games.

More than 300 people at a Wed. Jan. 21 forum cheered the Hudson River Park Trust’s plan to build a temporary artificial turf field that would be ready in September and accommodate a variety of sports in the courtyard of Pier 40.

Children and teenage members of community and school sports groups were an overwhelming presence at the forum. Recreation advocates hailed the plan for desperately needed sports fields for interim use on Pier 40 until the Trust is ready to proceed with the pier’s permanent redevelopment in about four years.

But many Village residents and park advocates urged the Trust to come up with more green unprogrammed space on Pier 40.

The $4.4 million project, presented by Connie Fishman, president of the Trust, and Andrew Lavallee, landscape architect for the project, calls for a 162,000-sq.-ft. (400 ft.-x-400 ft.) field to be built in the courtyard, or what Trust officials call “the donut,” of the pier. In addition, the project includes a 20-ft.-wide outdoor promenade with benches and tree planters running 665 ft. along the southern edge of the three-story pier’s rooftop.

The large field, to be built on eight inches of sand and artificial turf, could accommodate two soccer fields, a baseball diamond and a softball diamond, and would be marked for football during the fall, said Lavallee, an associate of Matthews Nielsen, landscape architects. Water-soluble paint may be used to mark field lines on a temporary basis when appropriate.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for fields, but the 20-ft. wide walkway on the roof is not as much as we’d like,” said Assemblymember Deborah Glick. “We have to balance different uses — like yoga and Frisbee and kite-flying.”

Under state legislation that created the 5-mile riverfront park between the Battery and 59th St., the equivalent of 50 percent of the 15-acre W. Houston St. pier’s footprint must be devoted to public recreation.

“We are 4,000 sq. ft. short of the 50 percent,” said Fishman, referring to the interim plan. “We have to look at it. One way would be to widen the walkway on the roof by 20 ft. but we would have to find a way to accommodate cars that park there,” she said in response to the call for more unprogrammed space.

Stu Waldman, a member of the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront and Great Port, also called for more unprogrammed space. “I have no problem with the field, but the interim plan needs more than the field,” he said. “There is 162,000 sq. ft. of active space and 13,000 sq. ft. of passive space,” he said, adding, “I don’t think we need parking for 3,000 cars. Let’s leave it at 2,800 and have more passive space for people like me with arthritic knees.”

The Trust is conducting the formal hearing process mandated in the Hudson River Park’s legislation for significant actions, with a 60-day period for submission of comments ending on March 31 and a final decision due in May, Fishman said.

The Trust hopes to start construction in May and complete the project in August in time for a September opening, Lavallee said. The fields and the roof promenade would have lighting for night use, and the Trust would run the program schedules and the permit process for the field space.

Members of the Community Board 2 Waterfront Committee, led by Don MacPherson, and the Hudson River Park Trust Advisory Council, led by Lawrence B. Goldberg, met separately after the forum. “We hope the Trust will provide more information about their thinking as the process moves forward,” MacPherson said.

The Advisory Council, comprised of elected officials and community members, supports the plan for the fields, Goldberg said. “But we want more,” he said, referring both to unprogrammed space and to details about programming for the interim field.

Youth recreation advocates celebrated the decision to build the interim field. Tobi Bergman, director of Pier Park and Playground Association, which currently runs recreation on Pier 40, hailed the move. “This is a bigger step forward than the one four years ago when the Trust built the small fields on the roof and indoors,” he said. “I hope four years from now the next step will be a permanent field,” he added.

Bob Russo, head of Downtown United Soccer Club, and Barry Lafer, president of the Greenwich Village Little League, congratulated the Trust on the interim plan.

Bob Townley, a member of Community Board 1 and the Advisory Council, urged the Trust to make public its construction schedule as soon as possible. He cautioned that sports groups would have to make arrangements if the field was not ready to open in September.

Townley, director of Manhattan Youth, a community-based youth recreation group that operates in Tribeca on Pier 25 and in P.S. 234, was also concerned about potential conflicts between youth and corporate leagues seeking to use of the fields. “It could be a dilemma in the future,” he said.

Arthur Gregory, a C.B. 1 member and youth recreation advocate, urged the Trust to include sufficient bathrooms and water fountains in its plan.

Permit fees would be comparable to fees for Parks Department fields, $50 for adult annual permits, plus a $25 registration fee. Youth groups would pay only the $25 registration.

For 15 members of the Stuyvesant High School football team, The Peglegs, who turned up at the forum, the event was an occasion to rejoice. Dave Velkas, Stuyvesant coach since 1983, welcomed the prospect of a nearby field, observing that The Peglegs must raise $1,500 a year to transport the team to various fields for practice and games.

A group of 10-to-12-year-old girls from the Downtown United Soccer Club were happy at the prospect. “We need a bigger field than the one on the roof,” said one girl, who was glad her team would not have to play at Randall’s Island anymore. “You have to clear away the broken glass there before you can play,” she said.

Al Butzel, president of Friends of Hudson River Park, also referred to the small soccer field on the roof. “There ought to be every effort to enlarge it,” he said. He welcomed the Trust’s decision to hold a formal 60-day comment process.

Arthur Schwartz, a longtime watchdog of the Trust who served a lawsuit against the authority earlier this month to stop the interim plan and force the Trust to proceed with the permanent redevelopment of Pier 40, said in a telephone interview that he would not drop the lawsuit but acknowledged that he was “conflicted.”

“I was moved by the number of people at the forum,” he said. “I like the fact that they’re going to build a field, but it won’t cause me to drop the litigation,” he added. “My goal from the beginning was to make the Trust deal with the recreation needs of the community. But the Trust isn’t functioning in accordance with the law and that’s worth fighting,” Schwartz said. “I don’t trust the Trust. I’m concerned that they’re not going to come up with a permanent plan, and the interim plan is subject to the Trust’s whim, even with a 60-day comment period. If I win the suit and the Trust has to negotiate a settlement, the community will have a say and be able to get a court-ordered plan in writing.”

Last Thursday night, Community Board 2’s full board approved its Waterfront Committee’s resolution in support of the interim Pier 40 plan and field, but not before some vigorous discussion over a change in wording. Two board members, Shirley Secunda and Jo Hamilton, both recommended replacing the word “better” in the resolved clause — “better open space and unprogrammed recreation” — with “a greater percentage of.”

MacPherson and Bergman spoke against this, feeling it could jeopardize the project.

“There’s a risk you could endanger the whole plan,” said MacPherson.

“The courtyard isn’t on the water. It’s not particularly attractive for much besides playing ball,” said Bergman. “If you add more [passive recreation space], it’s taking away parking spaces, which brings in another constituency. I plead with you — this is a vital thing for our kids. We’ve been waiting for this for years.”

The Trust’s Fishman said that since Standard Parking assumed operation of the pier’s parking from C&K Properties on Jan. 1, the Trust has found that the pier actually has 2,500 parking spaces, as opposed to the 2,200 C&K claimed there were. The rates are currently $190-$210 per month, “still the cheapest parking in Manhattan,” Fishman said.

As for Pier 40’s long-term development, Fishman said that next month the Trust will hire a consultant to do a market study for the pier, which is expected to take three to four months.

Chad Marlow, a board member, asked Fishman when the Trust might reissue a request for proposals for private developers to redevelop the pier. A year-and-a-half-long R.F.P. process concluded unsuccessfully last June after the Trust failed to pick any of three final plans.

Fishman said that if the Trust started immediately and reissued an R.F.P., “We would be lucky if somebody was ready to build in three to four years.”


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