Pier pressure builds as decision day nears
As anticipation continued to ratchet up for a critical vote later this month on Pier 40’s future, more than 80 community members and Hudson River Park users packed Our Lady of Pompei Church’s basement last Wednesday night to hear more about a late-entry, community-based proposal for the pier that has been fast gaining support. Members of the Pier 40 Partnership, or P40P, a new high-powered parents group, pitched their idea for a nonprofit conservancy to redevelop the deteriorating W. Houston St. pier to Community Board 2’s Waterfront Committee.
Chris McGinnis, a 17-year Greenwich Village resident with two young children in local schools, introduced the Partnership’s slide-show presentation.
“We want to protect and we want to revitalize this pier,” he said simply. “I don’t know that we particularly hate Related per se. We don’t want the uses that they want to put into Pier 40. We just want uses that cover the cost [of renovating, maintaining and operating the pier], and really that’s what it comes down to.”
The Related Companies’ Pier 40 plan, featuring Cirque du Soleil, would draw millions of people streaming to the pier, McGinnis noted.
“What about the [impact on the park’s] bike path?” he asked.
Seven more P40P members emerged from the audience and walked up to the presentation area, ready to field questions.
Vetting the proposal, committee representatives peppered the Partnership with tough queries, such as: Would there really be a demand for artists studios, since many artists work at home these days? The Partnership proposal includes a 240,000-square-foot Visual Arts Market, as well as a 100,000-square-foot school. Their proposal suggests a $20-per-square-foot rent for the arts spaces. Neighborhood artists could get their spaces for even less, according to the Partnership.
However, Fred Wilson, an influential venture capitalist and leading Partnership member, stressed that the arts component isn’t critical to their concept and could be replaced with another use. Their proposal is only a “loose study” at this point, one that they are eager for the chance to formalize, the Partnership members stressed.
In response to a board member’s questioning their plan’s overall viability, Wilson said, “It sounds counterintuitive, going up against Related and all their money. But if you really look at our plan — you’re not going to punch holes in it.”
The Partnership’s plan would not need any amendments to the Hudson River Park Act, meaning it could work with a 30-year lease.
But the committee’s approval never really was in doubt: Just hours before, the Pier 40 Working Group — composed of community board representatives, community members and local politicians’ aides — had endorsed the P40P proposal in a near unanimous vote.
Chances are good C.B. 2’s full board will follow the lead of its Waterfront Committee and endorse the P40P proposal when it meets Jan. 24.
The Partnership emerged several months ago, saying it could offer a community-based alternative to The Related Companies’ $626 million mega-entertainment plan for the 14-acre pier near Houston St. The Partnership parent members — all of whom have children who attend local elementary schools and play sports in youth leagues on the pier — value Pier 40’s courtyard sports fields as a safe haven for their children and fear the Related plan’s impact.
Related’s proposal — also sporting a movieplex, restaurants and possibly a music hall, in addition to Cirque du Soleil — would attract between 2 million and 3 million visitors to the pier each year, many of them tourists.
In late October, Diana Taylor, chairperson of the Hudson River Park Trust, gave P40P until Dec. 17 to do a feasibility study for the pier; Taylor agreed that the Trust board of directors would delay its vote two months until Jan. 31 on whether to pick either the Related proposal or the competing The People’s Pier proposal, both of which had been previously submitted to the Trust under a request for proposals, or R.F.P., for developers process.
The Partnership retained HR&A Advisors planning consultants, which, in five weeks, produced the Partnership feasibility study. The study concluded that the pier needs a $125 million investment in its substructure, including repairs to its metal pilings and roof, as well as $40 million worth of earthquake protection. The study also calls for $130 million for an upgrade of the interior spaces in Pier 40’s pier shed and a more efficient parking system.
The key to the Partnership’s idea is using city-controlled I.D.A. tax-exempt bonds to raise $206 million for the pier. While the Trust is legally prohibited from taking on debt, a nonprofit Pier 40 conservancy could do so. In addition, the Partnership members have vowed to raise $30 million from the community that they also would put toward the pier.
The Partnership met a couple of weeks ago with the Hudson River Park Trust’s board of directors, including former Dep. Mayor Dan Doctoroff, who asked for assurances that an investment bank would underwrite the I.D.A. bond plan. On Tuesday, a letter from Merrill Lynch to the Partnership’s Rich Caccappolo was made public.
“We are very excited about pursuing this financing and would consider providing a firm financing commitment for the project subject to our satisfaction with due diligence, our internal Merrill Lynch approval process, and formal documentation,” the investment bank’s letter stated. Caccappolo said the Partnership is also looking at four other investment banks. HR&A’s Dan Fuchs did not say who at Merrill signed the letter.
At last Wednesday’s meeting, Noreen Doyle, the Trust’s vice president, indicated to the C.B. 2 committee meeting that the Trust, the state-city authority that runs the park, is looking seriously at the Partnership’s conservancy idea.
“We have actually discussed the concept of a conservancy,” Doyle said. “It is a very important and different concept.” However, she added, the Trust wants very much to know where the local politicians stand on the idea and is looking to them for guidance.
The Partnership plan, Doyle said, would have to have “financial viability — from a political perspective.”
“It is important for us to know how officials feel about [a Pier 40 conservancy],” Doyle said. “We want to know how everybody feels about it, but particularly our elected officials — and the officials that wrote the Hudson River Park Act — to make sure it’s not an end run” around the Hudson River Park Act.
The 1998 act that created the park calls for Pier 40 to be developed partially commercially to provide revenue for the park, but also that space equivalent to 50 percent of the pier’s footprint be retained for open park space use.
Doyle was also asked what the Trust’s procedure would be if it decides not to pick the Related plan or Urban Dove/CampGroup’s The People’s Pier plan and instead proceed with the Partnership plan.“I’m afraid I don’t have all the answers yet,” Doyle said. “The Trust would have to close the R.F.P. process; that much is certain. The community, I’m sure, is going to want some control over this. And we’re going to have to make sure that the $30 million that is promised is real. … You might do an R.F.P. just for a parking operation — so it might be a hybrid,” she added.
Noting, “There’s a schools crisis Downtown,” Irene Kaufman, a P.S. 41 parent, expressed hope that a public school, rather than a university — which she noted could pay more — would get the education space in the Partnership plan.
“We share that concern — and the lack of high schools, especially,” said Gary Ginsberg, another Partnership member. “Our first outreach was to the Department of Education. We hope that, in fact, a public high school would go there.”
Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, gave kudos to P40P’s plan.
“I think the Pier 40 Partnership has done an incredible job,” Berman said. “I want to commend you. I hope it’s a model that can be replicated elsewhere. I think this is what by far most of the people in the community want to see happen.”
The Related and Urban Dove/CampGroup teams also got a chance to present their plans.
Anthony Fioravanti, Related’s project manager for Pier 40, referring to the pier’s courtyard artificial-turf fields, said there is “no way the pier can work unless the doughnut configuration can be changed.”
Related’s plan would relocate the fields from the protected courtyard to the pier’s rooftop — which the youth sports leagues bitterly oppose, saying the cold, blustery conditions in the fall and winter and intense heat in summer make the rooftop far less suitable for athletics.
Fioravanti said Related had heard the message that parents and youth leagues want “security” for the young children playing sports on Pier 40, and that this would be provided by restricted-access elevators to the rooftop fields.
But Tobi Bergman, president of Pier Park & Playground Association, said Related has it all wrong.
“There’s nobody I know in the sports community who wants to play in a locked facility,” Bergman said. “Nobody has ever said they want fields separated from the public.”
“There was a concern that that children would be ogled by people coming to the pier,” Fioravanti said.
“There must have been a misunderstanding,” Bergman said.
Yet, even with reductions of some of the uses, Fioravanti said, Related’s plan — originally projected to attract 2.7 million annual visitors to the pier — would still draw about 2.4 million to 2.5 million people each year.
“There’s a subway that’s not entirely far away,” Fioravanti said, trying to downplay the numbers of people who would come to the pier by car.
Arthur Schwartz, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Waterfront Committee, buttonholed Fioravanti on a key point: Was Related going to ask for a 30-year lease, or would it ask for a 49-year lease, the latter which would require an amendment to the Hudson River Park Act? Schwartz noted that Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Richard Gottfried, whose districts include the park, have stated they would not change the park act for this purpose.
Related has not committed to going forward with a 30-year lease.
Joanna Rose, a Related spokesperson, confirmed that Related submitted updated financial information to the Trust on Friday “based on a 49-year lease.” But the developer is “continuing to look at options,” she said.
In his presentation, Jai Nanda of Urban Dove said they propose 150,000 square feet of education space. There would also be 67,000 square feet of boutique-style retail space. A day camp that is part of the plan would only be there 12 percent of the year, Nanda said.
Nanda, who did not favor using tax-exempt bonds a month ago when the Partnership plan was first released, said now their $150 million People’s Pier plan would also use I.D.A. tax-exempt bonds and could work financially with a 30-year lease.
Nanda said that, as opposed to the Partnership, they would only invest $125 million into the pier, and feel the seismic upgrade may not be required. The Partnership acknowledges that this upgrade may not be required, but members say they wanted to account for the highest cost repair possibilities
Nanda added that if they renovate the pier but can’t pull off their programming, the park would still turn out the winner.
“If we’re not able to complete the project for any reason,” Nanda said, “then you get Pier 40 with an upgrade, a facelift — and you can do another R.F.P. There is no risk.”
However, some board members later said Nanda’s “facelift” argument hurt his case.
C.B. 2’s Schwartz noted that the Trust has concluded that The People’s Pier’s financing and operating budget is not feasible. As if on cue, Nanda’s rendering of his plan fell off the easel and crashed onto the floor.
About 20 gay and lesbian youth, members of FIERCE!, also attended the committee meeting. The Christopher St. Pier, or Pier 45, a few blocks north is a stomping ground for L.G.B.T. youth in Hudson River Park, which has a 1 a.m. curfew.
Glo Ross, a FIERCE! organizer, stood up and advocated for a 24-hour space for L.G.B.T. youth at Pier 40. She noted that the Pier 40 Working Group’s recommendations include an L.G.B.T. youth community space on the pier.
After the meeting, Ross said, “We’re definitely excited about the Partnership plan.”
Added Shelley Goldman, the 13th St. L.G.B.T. Center’s Youth Program community coordinator, “The Center cares very deeply that there is a 24-hour youth center on this pier.”
Schwartz affirmed that the Working Group still feels part of the pier should be a hangout for local youth, adding that, in the Working Group’s opinion, the Partnership plan, rather than Related’s plan, would be more likely to achieve this.
“We do have many spaces that are unprogrammed for nonprofit-rate rent,” maintained Related spokesperson Rose.
The Waterfront Committee’s resolution ultimately supported the recommendation of the Pier 40 Working Group, which advises that the Trust close the R.F.P. process — thus picking neither Related nor Urban Dove/CampGroup — and start working with the Pier 40 Partnership to develop and execute the P40P proposal for a nonprofit conservancy to renovate and operate Pier 40.
Meanwhile, elected officials were weighing in as the Trust’s anticipated vote loomed. Asked on Tuesday, if the Trust’s board was still expected to vote on Jan. 31, Chris Martin, the authority’s spokesperson, said, “As of now, yes.”
Three of the local politicians on the Pier 40 Working Group — Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Richard Gottfried and State Senator Martin Connor — endorsed the Working Group’s recommendation letter urging the Trust to close the R.F.P. process, rejecting Related and Urban Dove/CampGroup, and instead work with the Partnership. Notable in their failure to vote yes on the urgent letter were City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and her political ally State Senator Tom Duane.
“Related is an entirely inappropriate scale of development for the middle of the park,” Glick said on Tuesday. “It has no relation to the waterfront or the park. My first choice would be for the board to reject both [R.F.P.] respondents, since their presentations were predicated on a 49-year lease. The Partnership’s feasibility study done in five weeks was a remarkable achievement and is deserving of consideration by the Trust; it meets the goals that the community has and that the Trust’s board has.”
Wendi Paster, Gottfried’s chief of staff, said, “Dick thinks that the Pier 40 Partnership has a very good proposal that the Trust should be able to take a good look at and explore as an alternative to the two other proposals that are less than ideal for Pier 40. The Partnership plan takes into consideration many more factors that the community is interested in. The Hudson River Park Act would not prohibit the forming of a conservancy — but it does prohibit the forming of a 49-year lease, which is a problem.” Gottfried co-authored the 1998 act that created the park.
Marty Algaze, Connor’s chief of staff, said, “It’s kind of scary to think that thousands and thousands of people would be coming into the South Village just to go to Pier 40 [if the Related plan is built]. We have been really excited to work with the Pier 40 Partnership. We hope that, at the end of the month, the Trust board rejects both the CampGroup and Related. CampGroup, no one has believed from Day One that they could create financially what they were proposing. Related would require opening the act — people are sensitive to that. I truly believe that if the Trust tries to force Related down the community’s throat, there would be lawsuits,” Algaze said.
However, Duane said he couldn’t vote yes to the Working Group’s position paper at this point.
“Generally, I’m supportive of the Working Group’s recommendations, but I had some concerns that prevented me from signing it,” he said. “I’m not supporting Related, it’s too big, it’s out of character. I lived through Chelsea Piers having a 49-year lease. I don’t want to open up the park act to give Related a 49-year lease — and I don’t want to open up the park act to get the garbage uses stuck on Gansevoort Peninsula,” he said. He was referring to the mayor’s solid-waste management plan, or SWAMP, which would require an amendment to the park act to put a marine waste transfer station on Gansevoort.
“I am supportive of the Partnership, in concept,” Duane said. “I hope they will be successful, but I have concerns about the potential need for public financing, the bonds. First of all, we don’t know if they will get bonds, and if they don’t get bonds, it would fall on government to pay the shortfall to make sure that the pier is shored up. The stakes are very high here. I have spoken with Diana Taylor,” Duane continued. “I told her I opposed opening up the park act to allow a 49-year lease. If you’ve opened it up — it’s Albany, you know what could happen,” he said, warning that the Gansevoort marine transfer station could also be slipped in at that time.
Borough President Scott Stringer is not a member of the Pier 40 Working Group, since he appoints three members of the Trust’s 13-member board of directors. Asked his position on Pier 40, Stringer said on Tuesday, “I’m looking for the right plan or the combination of ideas that will support the park in a way that does not overwhelm the community.” Asked if he opposed the Related plan or supported the P40P plan, Stringer said he was still “working with community-based organizations and the Trust” and declined to comment further.
Through a spokesperson, Quinn issued a statement that didn’t back or criticize any of the ideas for Pier 40, which is located in her Council district: “As the process moves forward, it is my goal that we will secure the long-term future of Pier 40 as a recreational, mixed-use facility. In addition to revenue requirements, I hope H.R.P.T. factors the community’s input into their final decision.”
By Lincoln Anderson