Pier 57 Could Soon Join In 14th Street Transformation

September 2, 2008 at 10:29 pm Leave a comment

For decades, Pier 57 has been more vestigial than commercial: A onetime engineering marvel, it was relegated to serve as a waterfront bus garage and maintenance facility after the 1960s, when large passenger and freight ship traffic waned on Manhattan’s West Side.<

Now, some of the city’s top developers are jockeying for the right to unlock the potential of Pier 57 and transform it into a key commercial node vital to the long-term expansion of the Hudson River Park.

As 14th Street has been transformed into a commercial and cultural corridor between Union Square and the meatpacking district, Pier 57 stands waiting at its westernmost edge, offering dramatic views of the Hudson.

With proposals due in a month, representatives of the Durst Organization, Vornado Realty Trust, and the Related Cos. have toured the site, and some are finalizing proposals for the 300,000-square-foot pier situated between 15th and 16th streets, according to numerous sources with knowledge of the process.

That some of the city’s top developers are ready to take another swing at the chance to develop Pier 57 makes sense to many observers, who note the success of both the Chelsea Piers and Battery Park City and the limited remaining opportunities for a mixed-use waterfront development project. Piers 57 and 40 are the only remaining sites available for private commercial development on Manhattan’s West Side waterfront south of 59th Street.

“Increasingly, developers have gotten much more comfortable with the idea of bringing activity to the waterfront. It is a proven commodity, and access to the water and the views are things that people want,” the director of environmental programs at the Regional Plan Association, Robert Pirani, said in an interview. “It is an outgrowth of the desire of New Yorkers to get down to the water. The Hudson and the harbor are no longer old industrial places and have great amenities to offer.”

There are also many challenges, ranging from enormous start-up costs — up to $100 million for structural repairs alone — to fierce resistance from residential groups.

A $600 million plan by Related to build a permanent home for Cirque du Soleil, a space for the Tribeca Film Festival, and rooftop athletic fields at Pier 40 was blocked due in part to opposition by local resident groups.

“I think people are very nervous about the cost. It is a big, big investment, and they have to figure out how to pay for it,” a developer who considered entering a proposal for Pier 57, who asked not to be identified, said.

The Hudson River Park Trust has said it is open to a mix of restaurant, retail, recreational, educational, and cultural facilities.

Other possible uses being considered are conference halls, banquet space, and parking, all of which fall within the confines of the stated criteria issued in the most recent request for proposals.

Before it unraveled in the spring, developer Steven Witkoff was moving forward with a $400 million proposal that would have transformed the old waterfront into a landscaped public space with a bridge to the High Line, a marina, a museum, and a gourmet banquet hall.

Given the contraction in credit markets over the past six months and the overall state of the financial markets, few are expecting as grandiose a proposal for Pier 57 as that put forth by Mr. Witkoff.

As Mr. Pirani says, though, New York’s waterfront is still far off from its realizable potential.

“If you think of this city 30 years ago, who would have guessed that the kind of uses we are seeing along the waterfront?” he said.

By PETER KIEFER

New York Sun

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Entry filed under: Go Coastal, Manhattan, Public Waterfront. Tags: , , .

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