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Joining Durst in the effort is Ben Korman, the Friends’ vice chairperson and a partner in C&K Properties, which formerly ran the parking on the 14.5-acre West Houston Street pier.
Durst’s Pier 40 plan is at odds with the vision of the Hudson River Park Trust, the state-city authority that operates the waterfront park. The Trust, along with local youth sports leagues, has recently been pushing for residential housing development on the park pier. The youth leagues commissioned a Pier 40 study earlier this year, which found that adding 600 to 800 units of high-end rental housing on it would provide the greatest amount of revenue when compared with other types of development scenarios studied.
Doing nothing on the pier is not an option, the Trust says, since without a major cash infusion by a private development project, the decaying pier won’t be repaired, and the entire park — which depends on Pier 40’s revenue — will be increasingly in the red. Until recently, Pier 40 supplied about 40 percent of the park’s revenue. Without funding, Pier 40 might have to be shut down in phases, the Trust’s leadership recently warned.
Parking is currently on all three levels of the pier. Under Durst’s idea, the parking would be moved to one level — possibly the ground floor — in order to free up space on the other two levels. Jordan Barowitz, a spokesperson for Durst, outlined the new plan. “It’s attendant parking,” he explained. “With attendant parking, it can be a lot more efficient in terms of space.”
Durst’s plan doesn’t seek to increase revenue by increasing either the amount of parking or the parking fees, according to Barowitz. Rather, the extra revenue would come from new uses in the space left over from consolidating the parking in a smaller area. Durst envisions these uses as commercial, offices or a high-tech campus. A study of the plan, he said, hasn’t been completed as yet.
“It’s in the early stages, but we think it’s viable and certainly worth considering,” Barowitz said. “We think it could provide the incremental increase in revenue to finance the $100 million or so to fix the pier and also provide revenue for the park.”
As for building housing on Pier 40, which would require a change to the Hudson River Park Act, Durst — whose organization develops and manages prominent buildings such as One World Trade Center — doesn’t believe it would work. “Douglas speaking for himself does not have an ideological issue, but a practical one — that it will be too difficult to implement and construct and won’t generate the necessary revenue for the pier or the park,” Barowitz said.
Changes to the park act would be needed for the implementation of Durst’s plan, Barowitz said, including increasing the allowable length of the lease for the pier’s commercial component. The Trust would have to issue a Request for Proposals (R.F.P.) for someone to manage the pier, he said, though noting, “Neither Douglas nor C&K is interested.”
‘Exploring all possibilities’
Regarding Durst’s idea for Pier 40, Hudson River Park Trust president Madelyn Wils indicated she is open to a wide range of uses for the pier but said they must generate sufficient funds.
“We are working with all of our community partners to continue to explore all possibilities, including a high-tech campus,” said Wils. “The most important step for Pier 40 is to allow legislative changes that will give us the best chance of receiving the strongest proposals possible. Any viable proposal must be able to provide for Pier 40’s huge infrastructural needs while also making annual payments to help fund the continued maintenance of the whole park.”
The Friends of Hudson River Park had previously been the park’s main advocacy group and watchdog. Recently, the group transitioned into the Trust’s private fundraising arm. Now, with Durst and Korman opposing the Trust’s hope for housing on Pier 40, it seems the Friends — or at least its leadership — is reprising its watchdog role.
In a statement, A.J. Pietrantone, the group’s president, said, “Friends of Hudson River Park remains committed to finding a sustainable solution to Pier 40 as well as to the care and completion of the entire park. While all ideas and input to that end are wholly welcome, Friends continues to expand fundraising efforts and to work with the community in establishing an improvement district.”
A “neighborhood improvement district” is one thing, at least, that people seem to agree on. The district would impose a fairly small annual fee on commercial and residential property owners within a few blocks of the park. The money would be funneled back into the park’s maintenance and operations and be used to spruce up the blocks near the park.
‘Fairy-tale tech campus’?
P3 (The Pier, Park and Playground Association) is one of the youth sports groups that commissioned the consultant’s study, which concluded that housing was the best high-revenue, low-impact option for Pier 40. Asked about his thoughts on Durst’s plan, Tobi Bergman, P3’s president, was skeptical.
“The proposal wants to open up 500,000 square feet for commercial use based on an R.F.P.,” Bergman said. “But what if a fairy-tale tech campus doesn’t bid? Then we are left with generic commercial space that can be legally used for retail and entertainment.”
The pier’s existing building, he added, is poorly configured for most other uses, and income from parking is too unreliable to support the investment.
“Why insist on preserving the existing pier-shed structure when other plans might create more park space and more river access?” Bergman asked. “Isn’t the idea to have a better park?
P.R., PRO AND CON
Meanwhile, the local youth sports groups are poised to launch a new public relations campaign in support of residential use at Pier 40. Called The Pier 40 Champions, the group will use architects and urban planners to illustrate possible schemes for residential or mixed-use development on the pier.
According to a member of the group, the concept will be to graphically show how “a residential project can increase the space on the pier available for playing fields, improve access and openness to the river and bring more income to the Trust — based on a solution that brings in fewer than 1,000 [residents] who will care deeply about the park instead of hundreds of thousands [of people coming to a destination retail or entertainment-use pier] who could care less about it.”
The group plans to use a Facebook page to allow people to see visuals of the plan and comment on it.
Not to be outdone, Assembly Member Deborah Glick, a fierce opponent of housing on Pier 40, plans to wage her own visual campaign to show how putting housing on Pier 40 would “wall off the waterfront.” She called Durst’s proposal a “common-sense” approach to the pier. “We’re really pleased to see someone who has a tremendous track record in New York City real estate and development share a similar view of the future of Pier 40 that supports the park and preserves the playing fields,” she said.
Glick envisions the space on the pier freed up by consolidating the parking used by new media, post-production film facilities and even galleries.