10 acres of Hudson Park open

By Lincoln Anderson

Downtown Express photos by Lorenzo Ciniglio
Tiffany Porterfield, a Hudson River Park Trust employee, tried out a kite on Pier 45.

His bike resting against a wooden bench nearby, Fred Maldonado didn’t know it but he was the first picnicker on the new grass lawn on the renovated Pier 45 at Christopher St. last Friday.

The governor and the mayor, who had presided over the ribbon cutting of the first completed section of the Hudson River Park, had already departed.

“I got my sandwich, my soda, my newspaper, nice soft grass...the sun is out, couldn’t be happier,” said Maldonado, 41, a native of Chelsea where he is a bar-back at Barracuda. “I remember when this was in the drawing plans about 10 years ago. This is a big improvement for the neighborhood. I do like the fact that the pier has grass on it.”

Told he was, in fact, officially the first nosher on the refurbished pier, he said, “I wasn’t even planning this — but it’s quite an honor.”

Nearby, Francesca Ortenzio and Tiffany Porterfield, two young summer employees with the Hudson River Part Trust, took turns running along the grass with a kite. It was easy getting it up in the air in the gentle winds off the river.

Adrian Benepe, city Parks commissioner, took off his shoes and went for a stroll down the pier’s lawn.

“Barefoot in the grass,” he quipped, enjoying the feel of the pristine blades between his toes.

Another 20 minutes and the pier had magically filled up with sunbathers, Rollerbladers and joggers, looking more Venice Beach than Lower West Side.

“It’s beautiful,” beamed a woman in a tank top and shorts power-walking briskly around the pier.

On the Route 9A bikeway by the park, more bikers and joggers, some pushing special fast-rolling baby carriages, rushed by.

The waterfront was bustling.

A half hour earlier, helped by a group of P.S. 3 students, Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg and Trust officials and board members had cut a ribbon on the pier, opening the Greenwich Village segment of the Hudson River Park, the first section of the five-mile-long park to be completed.

Costing $59 million, the Clarkson St.-to-Horatio St. section includes three rebuilt piers and, along the shore, a strip of lawn and granite esplanade, for a total of 10 acres of new park space. Combined, the piers equal three football fields — or 300 yards — in length.

Features in the land part of the park include a granite fountain, World’s Fair benches, new esplanade, railing with bollards tipped by blue lights, grass, trees, flowers, restrooms, a concession building, Triborough Transit Authority-style lampposts and a dog run.

Historic granite bulkhead capstones are piled on the lawn in some spots, like giant boulders. The Trust tried to retain the original capstones along the bulkhead, or seawall, wherever possible, but some new concrete ones were added.

The Village section includes a bridge over a concave area — once a bow notch that allowed extra-large ships to dock — and farther north a convex bridge that curves out over the river.

A chain-link construction fence still up around parts of the park was slated to be taken down any day.

Park Enforcement Patrol officers were everywhere in the park, on foot or zipping around on mountain bikes and in small vehicles.

The land-based part of the park was open two years ago for the summer season, but then closed last summer to allow reconstruction of the piers.

In the audience gathered to celebrate the ribbon cutting were individuals who have worked on the Hudson River Park issue for years, from board and staff members of the Hudson River Park Conservancy, the Trust’s predecessor, to community board members and local park activists.

The governor recalled driving past the old, dilapidated Hudson River piers — which he called “disgusting” — longing to see them fixed up.

“This park is not just a law or a vision,” Pataki said. “It’s going to be a reality.... This is going to be the Central Park of the 21st century, what we leave behind to future generations so they can understand that 100 years ago, mistakes were made on the waterfront.”

Pataki also pledged to continue the clean up the Hudson, which comprises most of the park’s 550 acres; the park includes the river out to the pier-head line.

“We’re not just going to reclaim the Hudson River Park...we’re going to make the Hudson River clean,” the governor said. “Someday at Gansevoort Peninsula there can be a beach and people going in the water — that is the dream.”

Mayor Bloomberg said parks make the city great.

“This is the reason why companies want to move here,” he said. “It distinguishes New York from a place to be to a place to live.... Mainly it is you, the people, who said, ‘We want to get in touch with the waterfront.’ ”

Robert Balachandran, the Trust’s president, said the city hasn’t seen the opening of a new park of such significance since Central Park in 1853.

James Ortenzio, the Trust’s former chairperson who recently left to become Manhattan County Republican party chairperson, waxed poetic describing the former shipping piers as “almost dried out vertebrae of history and commerce” that have been restored to “give a new spine to Lower Manhattan.”

After the event, all were invited to a barbecue picnic at the pier’s west end at a seating area of movable metal chairs and tables under a grove of trees and white synthetic shade canvases.

The John D. McKean fireboat, from Gansevoort Peninsula, shot its water cannons, the streams of water arching into the air. On a smaller scale, towards its middle, the pier has water spritzers that can be used for joggers or anyone else to cool down; a button on the ground is stepped on and sprays of water shoot out from poles on either side.

Despite the festivities, a large question mark — Pier 40 — loomed to the south. At 15 acres, it is the biggest pier in the Hudson River Park, but it’s unclear if the Trust will pick a developer for it by the June 15 deadline; there are strong suspicions the Trust may instead opt for an interim plan for the pier for a few years.

“The board is looking at the proposals right now. And we’ll let you know soon,” Balachandran said, when asked about the pier’s future.

Balachandran said the next section of the park to be built will be from 59th to 44th Sts., where the Intrepid museum is docked, and that it is slated to open in two years. The whole park should be completed in four to five years, he said. However, another $200 million is needed to complete the park all the way down to the Battery.

Lindsay Drogan, one of a group of mothers enjoying the barbecue with their children, said the pier’s change is much for the better.

“I am so pleased to finally be here. It used to be a pier of vice — drugs....,” she said.

Others expressed concern about the curfew on the pier, given that for years the area been a late-night hangout, particularly for young gays and lesbians.

Balachandran said the pier will be closed at 1 a.m., “just like Central Park.” People will be given a warning to get out of the park after the curfew, and if they refuse will get a ticket, he said. The bikeway along Route 9A will be open 24 hours a day.

Lynn Pacifico, a West Village dog activist, was sitting with her three panting dogs under a shade tree on the pier, having just come from the new dog run in the park section north of Pier 40 that she and other dog owners fought for.

“Straight people out,” said a man in a black tank top as he sashayed by heading off the pier, his hand up in an affected pose. “Get out. This is my world. I’m the queen of the Village.”

“They had this pier for decades,” Pacifico noted. “So what he said is right. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens here.”

“I remember the Christopher St. pier very well,” said Barry Weiser, another dog owner. “We had it in the mornings, and they had it at night.”

The dog walkers used to have the pier for letting their dogs off leash until 9 a.m., he recalled.

Both dog walkers like Pacifico and young gays and lesbians would like to use the piers in the early morning, but a few years ago the Trust started imposing the 1 a.m. curfew on the park.

On the shorter Pier 46 at Charles St., there is an artificial grass field and wooden picnic tables.

Bob Kohlman, 72, a retiree from W. 12th St., sitting at one of the picnic tables last Friday, said he thought the park was “terrific” but expressed concern that old pier pilings left in the water beyond the rebuilt pier posed a risk for nighttime boaters. The pilings were left because they are spawning areas for striped bass. (A Trust staffer said boaters know they are not supposed to come inside the pier-head line.)

Randy Kornblatt of Bedford St. was concerned about the slate ledge that rings the artificial field.

“I think people are going to get hurt,” he said. However, the pier is mainly for casual sports, like Frisbee or ball tossing, not organized sports, according to the Trust.

Sitting on a bench along the esplanade, Peg Murphy, 53, of Bank St., a lawyer specializing in senior issues, had no complaints.

“It’s just wonderful,” she said. “I like the grass in particular. The best thing about it — it gives us the river back. It gives us quality of life back.”

The children’s waterplay pier at Jane St. was in full swing last Friday afternoon. The pier, for children no older than 12, features a pirate’s ship prow with usable steering wheel, a serpentine river of flowing water, climbing equipment and very springy safety surface. Yet, again, there were concerns about safety.

Standing at the wall by the ship prow’s wooden walls, looking out over a 20 ft. drop to the Hudson, Mark Celentano said, “They’re going to have to change it. Kids climb — All the grownups designed it. Now the kids are going to test it.”

Just before a little boy had jumped up and held onto the steering wheel — which spun and nearly dumped him on his head. (Suggestion: maybe a wheel that doesn’t spin all the way around?)

While parents successfully lobbied the Trust to add an extra bar to the design of the park’s railing, decreasing the space between the horizontal bars, some still worry the railing protecting the tots from plunging into the Hudson doesn’t look childproof.

As it had started to rain, Corrina Cortes of W. Tenth St. sat under one of the pier’s synthetic canvas shades while her two youngsters splashed in a play area.

“It looks nice, but I just wish they’d put up a fence like that,” she said of a less esthetic but sturdier-looking fence with no gaps on the pier’s east side. She feared either one of her children could fit through the railing’s bars.

The children’s pier also has adult-height viewers — 25 cents not required but a lift by an adult is.

The concession building, which will sell crepes and burgers, will open in about two weeks. The bathrooms were not open last week because of plumbing problems, said a park worker at the information booth by the bathrooms last Friday.

At night, in addition to the blue lights on the tips of bollards on the park’s fence, the piers will have white lights illuminating them.

The Trust handed out free posters of the different kinds of fish in this stretch of the Hudson and also supplied fishing rods to let people try their luck.

“I’ve eaten striper out of here — especially when they’re running, because they’re coming from the sound,” Balachandran said, though noting there are guidelines for how much fish one should eat from the Hudson.

Last Friday, garbage was observed floating in the bownotch area at Christopher St. On Monday, Doris Diether, a Community Board 2 members, reported someone from the West Village called her to report condoms were collecting in the bownotch. “It’s a backwater,” she noted.

Still to come, an AIDS memorial is planned for the pine tree grove by Bank St. Community Board 2 will be considering the issue this month.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick did not attend the opening ceremony but issued a statement.

Glick praised the “long-awaited” opening of the Greenwich Village segment and the governor’s appearance at the ribbon cutting, but called on him to remain involved in the parks’ continuing construction.

“In particular, the development of Pier 40, the single largest pier in the park, faces an uncertain future because there are no public funds that have been allocated for this project,” Glick said. “It is critical that the community continue to be included in the discussion about development and that a full disclosure of the Hudson River Park’s financial plan for the park be made public. Without full financial disclosure, we cannot make reasoned decisions regarding appropriate development on Pier 40.”


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