Two Pier 40 developers propose bigger fields

By Lincoln Anderson

Chermayeff, Sollogub and Poole’s new Pier 40 design sports a full rooftop park with sports fields under white sails, and an aquarium underneath.
One thing was abundantly clear at last Monday night’s public hearing on two development proposals for Pier 40, as clear as the black and white patches on a soccer ball or the laces on a baseball: the developers had heard the message loud and clear that youth sports leagues want large ball fields on the W. Houston St. pier.

Both Park on the Pier Developers and the Chermayeff, Sollogub and Poole groups presented significantly revised plans at the meeting, co-sponsored by Community Board 2 and the Hudson River Park Trust and run by Board 2.

About 150 people turned out to hear the presentations at the Manhattan Developmental Center at 75 Morton St.

The most striking changes were that whereas in previous plans, both development groups did not fill in the pier’s central courtyard, in their new plans both cover over the courtyard on both the second and third floors, creating a park on 100 percent of the pier’s rooftop. In each plan, most of the rooftop is devoted to a complex of sports fields, which would allow teens to play regulation baseball games.

Fields, retail, parking

The first to present was Park on the Pier Developers, a group comprising three principals, Bob Fagan, Abe Lesser and Louis Stahl. The group came with a new architect, John Schimenti, who has stepped in because the group’s previous architect, Sebastian Knorr, is reportedly involved in some other big projects. Schimenti has designed many New York City movie theaters, including the Angelika on Houston St.

As Fagan described it, their plan, a $130 million project, will include on the pier’s ground level, 30,000 sq. ft. of indoor recreation space and 250,000 sq. ft. of retail space. This retail space could but doesn’t have to include a 120,000-sq.-ft. Home Depot-type store, Fagan said.

“The most reliable sources of income are going to create the most fervent opposition, because people don’t want big box,” Fagan said, though noting there was support for C&K/Durst’s plan with one big-box store in the last round of planning.

“As far as the anchor tenant, we’re looking at a Home Depot, like other people are talking about,” Fagan said. Fagan said despite the weak retail market, there has been no lack of interest in the big-box space. “We have more companies than we can accommodate interested in the site,” he said.

There would be two other retail spaces of from anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 sq. ft. to 50,000 to 60,000 sq. ft. There would also be a 46,000-sq.-ft. banquet hall within the 250,000 sq. ft. of retail space. The plan also calls for smaller attractions: sports bars, a pizzeria or a microbrewery.

Fagan said they hope to have on the first floor a 60,000-sq.-ft. greenmarket four to five days a week, which they think would become comparable to the Union Sq. Greenmarket within five years. Fagan said that on off days, the greenmarket space could be used as artists’ space. The finger pier might have a Hudson River fisheries museum.

On the second level, they would keep 1,800 spots for long-term parking, with 600 other parking spots devoted to short-term parking for the Home Depot and other retail stores.

An audience member expressed skepticism that 600 parking spots would satisfy a Home Depot. But Fagan said, “Those were the numbers they gave us.”

The roof would include a full-size soccer field, full-size baseball field and a softball field, possibly with squash or tennis courts around the perimeter. Fagan said either the Trust or a “professional operator” would operate the sports fields.

“We don’t know right now,” he said. “It’s the Trust’s call.”

Architect Schimenti said that grass would be more suitable for the passive areas, while an artificial grass surface would be better for the soccer field, for example, since grass would wear down from use.

To allow sunlight to get to lower levels, large notches would be cut in the edges of the roof and there would be a light well in the middle of the roof.

The previous plan they proposed cost less at $90 million. Fagan said the additional $40 million was because of the roofing over of the courtyard.

The group of Fagan, Lesser and Stahl own the Downtown Athletic Club and have renovated buildings for the Department of Education.

Fields, aquarium, parking

Peter Chermayeff, a principal of Chermayeff, Sollogub and Poole, the Boston-based international aquarium design firm, described his group’s revised plans with a slideshow and Power Point presentation.

“We are hearing a lot of strong opinion. You are not light in the articulation department,” Chermayeff told the crowd. “This community really needs sports facilities. We’ve heard that loud and clear.”

No longer is the project called Pier 40 Oceanarium. Now it is called Hudson Place – An Environmental and Sports Center, reflecting that it is as much sports facility as oceanarium. The construction cost remains the same: $265 million.

In the revised plan, the pier’s courtyard would be roofed over and the roof primarily devoted to sports fields. The goal of the new plan is “maximum park and recreation space,” Chermayeff said. He noted that their plan includes a baseball field with a 400-ft. fence – Major League proportions.

The artistic white “sails” that were suspended over the oceanarium in the previous design have been retained, but are now over the baseball field area. Soccer fields, located on the east side of the pier’s roof, will be covered with some sort of translucent mesh material.

At two-and-a-half acres, an 800-ft.-long strip along the western edge of the pier’s rooftop, about 14-20 percent of the roof space, will be devoted to passive recreation.

The sports fields would not be free to use but would be available at a “low cost,” he said. Under Chermayeff’s plan, Andres Gazzolo, a former semi-pro soccer player from Argentina who runs a children’s soccer program in Mansfield, Mass., would oversee the fields’ programming.

In addition to increased sports fields space, Chermayeff would join the Babe Ruth birthplace museum in Baltimore and Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in New Jersey to create small sports museum spaces at Pier 40.

But from his presentation, it was clear that the oceanarium is Chermayeff’s passion. Instead of rising up above the pier on its western edge as in the earlier design, the oceanarium is now fully under the roof of the pier, though still on the pier’s western edge.

With huge windows, the tanks would be four stories tall and wide to give the sense of looking into a vast ocean and accommodate the showpiece — a whale shark.

“There’s nothing like having a whale shark go right by you at the window,” Chermayeff noted. “So impressive, people tend to go silent….”

A Pier 40 aquarium in the Village/Hudson Sq., at 200,000 sq. ft., would be the second-largest aquarium in the world, after Osaka’s — one of six major aquariums Chermayeff’s group has built — which draws 3 million visitors a year. Chermayeff projects 2.5 million annual visitors to a Pier 40 oceanarium.

Chermayeff assured the audience that although the oceanarium will draw lots of people it is “not scary, but it is in fact an economic driver,” capable of generating well over $100 million a year for the area.

In the revised plan, Chermayeff reduced both the amount of retail and office space in their proposal by a third; the aquarium stayed the same size; long-term parking spaces increased from 1,700 to 2,800, with up to 650 spots for short-term parking for visitors to the pier. The car parking would be on the ground floor.

Rather than hurting the Coney Island aquarium as many fear, Chermayeff said the Pier 40 oceanarium could help it through cross-marketing and ticket packages. But in response to a question, he acknowledged that the Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the New York Coney Aquarium in Coney Island, said “no thank you” to such a connection.

Buck Moorhead, from Jane St., was among several who objected to the idea of commercial ball fields. He said he’s been waiting so long for a park on Pier 40 that although he once was interested in getting active recreation space on the pier, now he’s ready for passive recreation.

“To not be able to walk out there on that huge, huge space, like Central Park would be a big loss,” Moorhead said. He also didn’t like the plan to cover the fields with sails or other materials, saying he’d like to feel rain fall just like on any other field.

Chermayeff said there would be no charge to watch people playing sports on the pier.

Stu Waldman said it’s not inconceivable the aquarium could draw 4 million visitors a year, most from the suburbs who “will be circling around the neighborhood looking for parking.”

Tobi Bergman, a leading advocate for ball fields on the roof of Pier 40, and whose group, Pier, Park and Playground Association, noted that under the Hudson River Park Act the 50 percent of the pier’s footprint that is required to be open/park space must be either free or for use with a nominal fee.

Two more plans

Ben Korman and Meier Cohen of C&K Properties were in the audience. They were scheduled present their plan for the pier May 5, along with the other remaining development group, Forest City Ratner. On May 14, the C.B. 2 committee will discuss all four plans for Pier 40 at 75 Morton St. at 6:30 p.m.

Korman, who proposed Home Depot as the anchor tenant, indicated that he has also made some changes. “I’m enjoying the process,” he said. “You’re going to be surprised next week.”



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