Volume 74, Number 22 | September 29 - October 5 , 2004

Villager file photo by Elisabeth Robert

Pier 57 by the West Side Highway at 15th St. in Cheslea has 300,000 sq. ft. of space.

Paring down of Pier 57 plans causes some waves

By Albert Amateau

After deciding that two of the four proposals to redevelop Pier 57 did not have the required financial clout, the Hudson River Park Trust last week held a public presentation of the two surviving plans.

The two teams dropped from the project were Original Ventures, a consortium of private and community groups proposing a Hudson River Performing Arts Center, and Discover 57, made up of community and environmental groups and private developers.

The decision left Chelsea Piers Management and Leonardo at Pier 57 (a consortium of the Cipriani restaurant group with Plaza Construction Corp. and The Witkoff Group) as the only proposals presented to the public at the Trust’s Sept. 22 hearing.

Connie Fishman, Trust president, said that Discover 57 and Hudson River Performing Arts Center were eliminated from consideration because they failed to comply with financial feasibility requirements in the request for proposals issued in July. The two teams also failed to respond to questions the Trust asked on Sept. 8 and Sept. 10 about financial details, Fishman said.

The 300,000-sq.-ft pier at W. 15th St., a city bus garage until last year, was most recently used to detain people arrested in connection with protests during the Republican National Convention. The Wednesday hearing was a step in the process to convert the pier into a mixed commercial and public destination in the riverfront park being built between Chambers and 59th Sts.

Elected officials and some members of the local Pier 57 Working Group, which advised the Trust on the selection of the original four proposals, were dismayed at the decision to eliminate the two development teams with the most involvement of nonprofit agencies.

The Hudson River Performing Arts Center includes the Hudson Guild, the National Maritime Historical Society and Riverkeeper, the nonprofit group headed by Robert Kennedy, Jr., as participants; Michael Kramer, a Chelsea resident and former member of Community Board 4, is a partner in the lead developer, Original Ventures.

Discover 57, the other rejected proposal, has Meta Brunzema, a member of Community Board 4, as architect and the Jacques Cousteau Society as the proposed operator of a maritime center with historic vessels; John Doswell, a member of Community Board 4 and a founder of Friends of Hudson River Park, is a principal.

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, co-author of the 1998 Hudson River Park Act that established the Trust as the state-city agency building the 5-mile-long park, said at the Wednesday hearing that the two rejected applicants should be reinstated and have a chance to deal with financial feasibility questions again.

Gottfried agreed that financial feasibility is an important aspect of the Pier 57 redevelopment, but said, “At this point, it’s not clear what it will take to enable the two rejected applicants to satisfy the Trust’s feasibility criteria.” Gottfried added, “We are developing a waterfront park, not a theme park, and Pier 57 was never intended to be one of the park’s very limited commercial nodes.”

Assemblymember Deborah Glick said in a prepared statement that although she is a member of the Pier 57 Working Group she was not made aware until the day before the hearing that the two proposals had been dropped. She said the two teams should continue through the development process.

Glick also contended the Trust has rushed the entire Pier 57 development process. “Instead of working to ensure that the most appropriate proposal is chosen, the Trust seems overly concerned with quickly developing Pier 57 so that they will no longer have to make monthly maintenance and operation payments for the pier,” she said.

State Senator Tom Duane said he wasn’t surprised that the nonprofit groups couldn’t satisfy the feasibility requirements, and he noted they were given extensions to do so. Still, Duane said, “I’d like to have a wider choice. I’m not entirely satisfied with the choice we have now. I’m mulling whether to ask for more time, it would give us an opportunity to get more ideas about what we want on the pier.”

Congressmember Jerrold Nadler issued a statement that he was dismayed and disappointed and urged the Trust to reinstate the two bids.

Marcie Benstock, of the Clean Air Campaign, who was instrumental in defeating the Westway proposal in 1985, said at the meeting, “The Hudson River is the worst possible place to subsidize non-water uses. And both of these proposals are largely non-water developments. They’ll cost too much and interfere with bikers and strollers in the wonderful park that now exists on dry land.”

But Albert K. Butzel, president of Friends of Hudson River Park, a community group that advocates on behalf of the park, said later that the Trust decision was best for the park as a whole.

“I’m obviously very sympathetic with the community proposals, but this is a pier that has to throw off money to allow the park to operate,” Butzel said in a phone interview on Sept. 24, referring to the fact that Doswell, a fellow member of Friends of Hudson River Park, is a principal in one of the rejected proposals. “If the Trust finds that they don’t meet the financial criteria it’s far better that they say so now rather than go through the motions and have to say it later,” Butzel said.

In personal conversations last week, park activists continued to note the involvement of two power players, James Ortenzio and Roland Betts.

Betts, a former business partner of George W. Bush and a classmate and fellow member of Skull and Bones at Yale with the president, is a founder and partner in Chelsea Piers Management, which has been operating the sports and entertainment complex on Piers 59, 60, 61 and 62 just north of Pier 57 for nearly 10 years. Betts is also an appointee of Governor George Pataki on the Lower Manhattan Development Corporations’ board of directors. Betts made the presentation on Wednesday of the Chelsea Piers Pier 57 proposal.

James Ortenzio, Manhattan County Republican Party chairperson and an ally of Governor Pataki, was quoted earlier this year in Crain’s New York Business as supporting the Leonardo proposal. Coincidentally, his park name, bestowed a few years ago by then city Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, is “Leonardo.”

Ortenzio, former chairperson of the Hudson River Park Trust board of directors, said in a telephone interview that the Crain’s quote was taken from remarks he made supporting any developer who offers the highest annual rent for Pier 57.

The Leonardo financial package includes an extremely high offer of annual rent, and Ortenzio said he sees revenue from commercial uses on Pier 57 as vital for maintaining the entire Hudson River Park being built between Chambers and 59th Sts.

Nevertheless, the elimination of Discover 57 and Hudson River Performing Arts Center from consideration dismayed local activists, including Edward Kirkland, a member of Community Board 4 and head of the Pier 57 Working Group, said the day before the hearing.

The two surviving proposals include an array of community activities, berthing for historic boats and public walkways. The Trust will accept written testimony on the two proposals until Oct. 18 and the plans will be on display from Sept. 15-Oct. 18 in the lobby of the Trust headquarters on Pier 40 at Houston St. A decision could come by the end of November.

Steve Witkoff and Giuseppe Cipriani, principals in the Leonardo on Pier 57 plan, made the presentation Wednesday. A major change in the Cipriani/Witcoff proposal from its previous public presentation is the addition of a pedestrian bridge from the High Line at 10th Ave. and 15th St. over the West Side Highway to Pier 57.

The High Line, the derelict elevated railroad that runs from Gansevoort St. to 33rd St. west of 10th Ave., is to be converted into a 1.5-miled elevated park as part of the redevelopment of West Chelsea and the Hudson Yards district to the north.

Cipriani would also establish a floating swimming pool, which could serve in winter as an ice rink, on a barge at W. 14th St. just south of Pier 57. The idea, developed by Ann Buttenweiser, a former member of the Hudson River Park Conservancy, the Trust’s predecessor, is based on the floating East River pools of the early 20th century.

In addition, the barge now on the north side of Pier 63 and operated as Pier 63 Maritime by John Krevey, would become Pier 57 Maritime and move to the end of the floating swimming pool barge. As Pier 57 Maritime, Krevey would continue to run a town dock operation that provides a berth for historic ships including the Lightship Frying Pan, the Fireboat John J. Harvey and the sailing vessel Anne, whose owner and builder, Reid Stowe, testified on Wednesday for the Cipriani project.

An Italian crafts, retail and cultural center in a two-story arcade simulating an Italian street is the central feature of Leonardo at Pier 57. The plan also has a restaurant, event space and a marina and nautical store. The plan calls for parking for more than 300 cars, in the deep caissons that supportecure the pier.

The Chelsea Piers proposal for Pier 57 would have a covered tennis center with nine courts on the roof of the pier. Tentative plans call for a public area between the fourth and fifth courts, but the kind of structure has not been determined. It could be a fabric bubble or a solid structure, or even a combination of solid and fabric sections, Betts said.

Several Chelsea residents at the Wednesday hearing said they feared the tennis center would obstruct the view corridor.

Chelsea Piers Management plans an aquatics center with a competition-size pool and a 16-ft. deep diving section. A row of art galleries and studios on the main floor would simulate a Chelsea street. A 40,000-sq.-ft. dance center is also part of the plan along with an arts center with classes in plastic and visual arts. The Chelsea Piers plan calls for a marina, berthing for large boats and a place for historic ships.

The plan also provides for parking in the caisson that supports the shore end of the pier. The caisson that supports the west end of the pier would be leased to the city or a federal agency like the Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA for use as an emergency management center, according to David Tewksbury, vice president of Chelsea Piers.

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