Aquarium: the best idea for Pier 40?
Last weeks presentation by C&K Properties/Durst Organization of their revised redevelopment proposal for Pier 40 brought to a close another round of public hearings on the competing plans for the pier.
By seeming to abandon plans for a 120,000-sq.-ft., big-box Home Depot-type hardware store as the piers anchor commercial tenant, the developers demonstrated an effort to respond to the objections of many in the community, as well as officials at the Hudson River Park Trust, to big-box retail in the park.
But C&K/Durst acknowledge in their revised $115 million plan, that their plan for art and cultural spaces will not generate enough revenue to pay for the park. They would need $30 million in outside funding to proceed with the big box-free plan. Given the state and city budget deficits and the fact that an estimated $200 million more is needed to build the rest of the park, adding even more to the financial burden is not a feasible option.
We never liked the fact that Pier 40, the largest potential area for open space, was being relied upon to pay for the park, but that is unfortunately the reality.
Forest City Ratner, a respected developer, said the only way to generate the required revenue on the pier was to build not one, but three big-box stores. When it became clear that building one would be a fight, Ratner walked away.
So now we are left with C&K/Durst, with an inadequate revenue stream, Park on the Pier Developers, who see Home Depot as the means to build large ballfields on the piers roof, or Chermayeff, Sollogub and Poole, who propose building a world-class aquarium under the fields. And in an important concession made last week, Peter Chermayeff now pledges that most of the baseball fields and soccer fields on the piers roof in their plan would be free. This is a positive move, addressing an obstacle to community support. Chermayeffs group has a proven track record of developing successful aquariums.
Pier 40 should fulfill three needs in the Hudson River Park: provide ample park space including an open area large enough for regulation baseball games for teenagers, something which will be hard to get anywhere else in Lower Manhattan; maintain enough parking so more cars and trucks are not forced back onto the streets of Hudson Sq., the Village and Soho; and generate enough revenue in the least objectionable way to complete and maintain the park.
It is clear to us that all three plans fulfill the first two needs, but the aquarium plan may be the only one to meet the third.
It may very well be that parks should never be seen as money-generators, but it seems to us a place where you can see exotic fish and explore marine environments and ecology is more compatible in a waterfront park than a place to buy floor tiles and sheet rock.
Whether the oceanarium can overcome fears of its traffic impact and the opposition of the Coney Island aquarium and the Brooklyn delegation remains to be seen. But we dont think the fact that we have a fine aquarium at one end of Brooklyn precludes getting one of the worlds best aquariums in Manhattan.