Volume 18 • Issue 20 | October 07 - 13, 2005

East River plan’s switch to fast track hits bumps

By Ronda Kaysen

Two bedraggled piers lining the southern end of the East River and a nearby city owned building might soon be put to temporary use, if only the city can find a way through the red tape.

Last spring, the city unveiled a $150 million overhaul of the East River Waterfront that would transform the forsaken area into a recreational destination rivaling Hudson River Park. But the redevelopment funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. is still a long way from a reality with work not expected to begin in earnest for at least two years.

In the meantime, the city hopes to see Pier 35, north of the Manhattan Bridge, the northern portion of Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport and the New Market building at the Fulton Fish Market open for temporary recreation. Any uses would be for the summer season only, beginning next summer and perhaps continuing through summer 2007.

“The benefit of doing this is you get people familiar with using the waterfront in different ways,” said Michael Samuelian, director of Lower Manhattan special projects for the Department of City Planning, which is overseeing East River plans. “It’s just a place that people aren’t accustomed to actually going out on a pier and experiencing the waterfront recreationally.”

But there are some major obstacles to the plan. First, the piers are not entirely at the city’s disposal. General Growth, the company that owns the Pier 17 building and the South Street Seaport mall, controls the portion of Pier 17 that the city hopes to transform into a temporary public space.
“We’d entertain anything that supported our retailers and the community for up to a two-year period,” wrote Michael Piazzola, a senior general manager at General Growth and vice president of the Seaport Market Place, in an e-mail to Downtown Express. “One of the benefits of the location is that it may allow us to do many different things during this period and therefore keep it ‘fresh.’”

The northern portion of the pier has piqued the interest of promoters from “extreme bicycle” events, auto dealers wanting to hold car shows on the waterfront, boat shows and restaurateurs eager to transform the jetty into a “rooftop environment,” said Piazzola. The Pier 17 mall currently occupies the southern portion of the berth.

But any plans are a long way off. The Fulton Fish Market currently uses the north side of the pier at night for its market. Until the market leaves, “any interim uses of any magnitude — those that can’t be set up and torn down in one night —will need to wait,” wrote Piazzola.

The market’s move to a new facility in the South Bronx has been delayed five times since the beginning of the year. The move is now stalled indefinitely because of a lawsuit lobbed against the city by the company that unloads the fish, Laro Service Systems. “We have been hampered in our efforts to utilize the north side of 17 due to the need for the Fish Market to use it overnight,” wrote Piazzola.

The New Market building, which is currently occupied by the fish market, is facing a similar plight. Controlled by the city, the building cannot be opened up to outside vendors until the Fish Market lawsuit against the city is resolved.

“We can’t do anything with the building when the Fish Market’s still in it,” said Janel Patterson, a spokesperson for the E.D.C., the agency that oversees the Fish Market.

Pier 35, an 80 ft. by about 400 ft. structure located north of the Manhattan Bridge, is the only site with any immediate possibilities for temporary use. But it has glitches of its own. The relieving platform has fallen into the river, cutting the berth off from the land. It can only be accessed via neighboring Pier 36, which is currently used by the Sanitation Department.

City Planning and the E.D.C. are in discussions with the Sanitation Dept. to create a dedicated pedestrian passageway so visitors can safely access the pier. Until an agreement is reached, the idea is on hold. “If we can come to an agreement with the Sanitation Department — and this is an ‘if’ — we will then be able to initiate a [Request for Proposals],” said Samuelian, referring to the formal request the E.D.C. would release to potential vendors for the site.

Samuelian hopes the discussions will be resolved “in a few weeks.”


Ronda@DowntownExpress.com


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