Volume 19 • Issue 13 | August 11 - 17, 2006

Downtown Express photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio
Gov. Pataki shook hands with U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler on July 6 on Pier 25 in the Hudson River Park. In between is Charles “Trip” Dorkey III, a Beacon Institute board member whom Pataki appointed as chairperson of the Hudson River Park Trust. The Institute, which Pataki helped create, has been working with the Trust to open a river study center in the park although plans are now in doubt.
Hudson Park’s river center is sinking

By Ronda Kaysen

Plans for an Urban Estuary Center at Pier 26 might be swimming with the fishes.

The Web site for the Hudson River Park Trust, the agency restoring the pier, makes no mention of the Urban Estuary Center, a place dedicated to the ecology of the Hudson River. A banner in front of the Tribeca construction site at N. Moore St. does not mention the center either, although it boasts other amenities planned for the new pier, including a restaurant, boathouse, dog run and floating pier. At a Community Board 1 meeting last week, Trust president Connie Fishman told board members that funding for a marine ecology center on the river was in doubt because the favored operator, the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, was unresponsive.

“The estuarium seems to have disappeared,” said Cathy Drew, executive director of the River Project, a marine ecology center that was located at Pier 26 until it closed last year for the multi-million-dollar restoration. “What’s going on?”

Pier 26 at N. Moore St., along with neighboring Pier 25, is being restored with $70 million in Lower Manhattan Development Corp. funds as part of the Segment 3 restoration of the Hudson River Park. The community has long advocated for a marine ecology center that would study the Hudson River, create a marine aquarium and provide science-based river activities at the new pier. The idea evolved from the River Project, a homespun science center that blossomed on the dilapidated Pier 26 over 20 years.

“Currently the estuarium is not funded,” said Chris Martin, a Trust spokesperson.

L.M.D.C. funds never included money for the estuarium, which has been estimated to cost around $5 million, so the Trust tapped the Beacon Institute, a Beacon, N.Y.-based nonprofit, to build and operate it. Lately, the group has fallen by the wayside, and the Trust has no alternate group waiting in the wings.

“It’s obviously a wonderful opportunity, but we can’t say unilaterally, ‘Yeah, it’s going to happen,’” said Amy Norquist, a Beacon Institute spokesperson.

The Beacon Institute is a Governor George Pataki creation. The governor announced the organization in 2000, and later appointed longtime Hudson River advocate John Cronin as its head. In February, he bestowed the institute with $25 million to help fund a $45 million research institute in Beacon that is primarily funded with state and federal money. The governor appoints the institute’s steering committee and the chairperson of the Hudson River Park Trust’s board — Charles “Trip” Dorkey III, a Pataki appointee — also sits on the Beacon Institute’s board of directors.

“With the governor’s tenure drawing closer to an end, these people [at the Beacon Institute] are going to have to prove they can get this done in the next couple months,” said C.B. 1 district manager Paul Goldstein, referring to the governor’s term in office, which ends at the end of the year. “I have a feeling they’re not going to be the ones doing this project.”

The Beacon Institute has never presented its plans to the community, nor has it delivered a plan to the Trust. “We haven’t gotten anything from them,” said Martin, adding that funding for the build out “is contingent upon them.”

Norquist said the institute hopes to deliver a proposal to the Trust by the end of the year.

Pier 25 and 26 operators must undergo a request for proposals bidding process to operate pier facilities. The Beacon Institute’s ties to Stony Brook University, a State University of New York school, make it exempt from a bidding process, said Martin because government institutions do not need to bid. However, a few days after the July 6 groundbreaking ceremony for the piers, Martin told Downtown Express that all of the operators at the piers would go through a bidding process, and made no exception for the estuarium.

When asked if there was any chance an operator could be selected for any of the amenities this year, he said, “Absolutely not.”

On Tuesday, he reversed his earlier comments regarding the estuarium. “The Beacon Institute is the organization we’re dealing with,” he said, citing its ties to Stony Brook.

However, the group’s partnership with Stony Brook is far from certain. “That’s sort of up in the air. Nothing has been formalized yet,” said Norquist, the Beacon Institute spokesperson. “There’s a possibility nobody will be involved.”

Stony Brook, however, is still enthusiastic about the partnership. “That partnership is still ongoing. In fact, we will soon be meeting with the new SUNY Chancellor John Ryan about our plans,” said David Conover, dean and director of the Marine Sciences Research Center at Stony Brook, in an e-mail to Downtown Express.

Some worry the Beacon Institute has been given a sweetheart deal because of its ties to the governor. Pataki appoints five of the Hudson River Park Trust’s 13 board members, including chairperson Dorkey, who also sits on the institute’s board. “My fear is that it [a deal with the institute] is going to get shoved through while Pataki’s still in office,” said Trust board member Julie Nadel, an appointee of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Nadel is also active with the Downtown Independent Democrats, a political club. “I’d like to see an open public process to select someone to run the estuarium.”

The community insists an estuarium is crucial for the community — and the river. Many fear the River Project, the original river estuary center, will not have a place in the new estuarium. “Where is the River Project in all this?” said New York State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who co-wrote the law creating the Hudson River Park.

Without a major funder backing the costly center, an estuarium is in doubt.

“If there’s no money for an estuarium, we have to put our heads together to have some facility there that looks at the health of the river,” said Manhattan Youth executive director Bob Townley, who ran activities at neighboring Pier 25 and will likely compete in a bidding process to return to that pier when it reopens. “It’s important that the Trust finds a way to care for the river. That’s the goal here.”


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