It’s mutiny on the waterfront as Durst pitches Pier 40 plan

[/media-credit] A rough sense of how Pier 40 would look with 15-story towers slapped onto its northern edge.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  Taking a different tack to try to save Pier 40, Douglas Durst, chairperson of the Friends of Hudson River Park and president of the Durst Organization, is pushing an alternative plan to add valet parking and a high-tech campus to the massive, crumbling structure.

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?

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.

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3 Responses to It’s mutiny on the waterfront as Durst pitches Pier 40 plan

  1. Post 1 of 2:

    Here we go again. 1.) P3 and it's new "Champions" Facebook page (THAT should help) arguing for housing, which Deb Glick opposes. 2.) Deb Glick arguing against housing (I support her on this, but I don't support her anymore), while procuring NO public money and having NO alternative plan, completely failing as a legislator to bring home the bacon, to get Pier 40 done in any pro-active manner. 3.) And now Douglas Durst trying to break the impasse with a plan which P3 and Tobi oppose, even though it also requires changes to the Trust Act, which P3 and Tobi want. A perfect circle of failure, intractability, and impossibility. OBVIOUSLY, everyone who wants changes to the Trust Act wants to make sure that their specific idea is guaranteed, so let's dismiss any fantasy of suggesting otherwise. Deb Glick opposes any changes, while bringing no idea or plan or public money except to defend vigorously against luxe housing. SO, who is the impasse breaker, and where is the real vision for this phenomenal potential park/fields/arena? Why not take a step back and re-engage Major League Soccer? It looks like their Queens initiative is going to be in the soccer second division, the North American Soccer League, which to me, technically means, New York City is still open for a Major League Soccer first division franchise. MLS wanted to pay ENTIRELY for the repair and the development of Pier 40. We would have gotten a park AND fields in their current square footage, the arena would be used by MLS thirty dates a year and by the community the rest of the year. (Did this fact ever cross Glick's desk, and if so did she consider, respond or even comment to the community, as required? Answer? 120 million dollar offer from MLS, one smarmy tweet from Glick.) P3 championships could be on an MLS field, women's soccer could be on an MLS field, high school public championships could be on an MLS field, you get the picture, public use the MAJORITY of the year. Sports just like it is now on the pier, only enhanced with a big league ballpark usable by the public, with a WALKING AND PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION CENTRIC sports community. NOT a valet parking lot, where 24/7/365 cars would continue to be a bane to the walking and bicycle paths, and would get worse, with impatient and self indulgent valet parking types, no different from luxe renters.

  2. Post 2 of 2:

    Soccer would be this: a lot of people thirty days a year, spread between the Village, Tribeca, Wall Street, Chelsea, etc. Deb Glick never complained about the massive Halloween Parade, or Pride weekend, and she has been absent the last three years as Pride weekend has devolved into a testy exercise of displays of anger and entitlement against community residents, who have welcomed and protected, and are now rewarded for our support and community wide safe-housing with verbally violent disdain, misguided rage and violence against small businesses. In contrast, pro soccer? The supposed hooligan sport? The game, in a four hour window. Manageable. No one shouts at me and accuses me of being anti-soccer, even though I am soccer friendly. That is the Pier 40 compromise, the only compromise, a fair compromise. There is no other compromise for Pier 40 that saves the pier, prevents housing, and gets it developed with no taxpayer debt. Major League Soccer hasn't built yet in Queens so we still have a shot. Fair game for our Assemblymember to undermine her Queens colleagues if she had any guts. But as we have seen with the Lopez/Silver scandal, she doesn't. And if the dirty little tradeoff is supposed to be Glick's silence on Sheldon Silver in exchange for largesse for the Village, then we Villagers (and women in the workplace) are both getting shafted by Ms. Glick. We need to make our Assemblymember make Major League Soccer say no publicly to Pier 40. Glick's office and supporters will torch this post, but I have yet to see a response from her, or them, with any concrete idea at all for Pier 40, in all of this time, a decade and more. A COMPLETE FAILURE. I say we can still get MLS and apologize to Queens politicos later. A compromise of park/fields/development on Pier 40, with no luxe housing, is what our Assemblymember should be spending every hour of every day getting done. I read the Times Op-Ed (nine years too late). I read Glick's e-mailed response today (blaming we constituents for HER failure by "not organizing", and asking us to follow and support her failed initiative…wow! Organize WHAT!? Support WHAT!?). Setting herself up as a grand progressive martyr who walks alone. What an insult to all of us who have been working for actual solutions which prevent luxe housing. Where is your plan Assemblymember? Where is the money for Pier 40? Offer a plan with specifics. Don't look to us to bail out your career in politics now that things have gotten hard. Don't beg us for mail after you've made your position clear and drawn a hard and fast line. We hired you to solve this problem. We pay YOUR salary, full-time pay for part-time service. It's your job to get the capital funding. You knew a LONG time ago what we wanted you to do, and you didn't get it done. Your seat now relies on whether or not you can save this pier with your political "muscle". Do you have it? I for one don't think so. When have you ever actually ever exercised any muscle on big issues, when it mattered most, and won? Pier 40 is your last chance. Stop telling us what can't go there, we know already. Tell us what you have lined up to go there. And most of all, STOP complaining about the HRPT. You have power, use it. Wield it like a bat. Or step aside. Right now, a Greenwich Village and west side under massive and constant threat to preservation, in a nationwide Tea Party atmosphere local developers are taking advantage of, needs a hero. A POLITICIAN, not a "politician".

    Patrick Shields Greenwich Village

    • Has anyone thought of building a hospital in the airspace above the very sturdy StJohn's building across the street from Pier 40 connected to the pier with covered walkways to provide parking for medical personnel, staffers and visitors ? Wouldn't an increased demand for parking increase revenue to the Pier 40 to pay for much needed repairs bringing a hospital and continued parking for residents ?

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