downtownexpress.com

Volume 19 • Issue 14 | August 18-24, 2006

Editorial

Keep Pier 40 R.F.P. shelved

As first reported by The Villager and Downtown Express last week, the Hudson River Park Trust is preparing to issue another request for proposals, or R.F.P., for Pier 40 — the 14-acre pier that is one of the biggest areas of the 5-mile-long waterfront park.

Under the Hudson River Park Act, the Houston St. pier must be 50 percent for park use, while the other 50 percent can be commercial to raise revenue for the park, which is supposed to be self-financing.

Three years ago, the Trust’s first attempt to redevelop the pier fizzled after a consensus didn’t emerge coupled with community opposition to the proposals. The finalists included the world’s largest aquarium versus a big-box retail store, possibly a Home Depot. Both offered field space coveted by local youth sports leagues.

Some Downtowners thought the aquarium would draw too many visitors. Village residents and the Coney Island Aquarium, backed by Brooklyn’s politicians, opposed it. A big-box store was anathema, as well, to many for the thousands of car trips per year through Village streets that it would bring, much less the very idea of a supermall in the park.

So, the Trust shelved everything. Under an interim plan, the W. Houston pier’s courtyard was covered with artificial turf, creating a huge field usable for several games at once.

Today, youth leagues and schools make tremendous use of the Pier 40 fields. Downtown is starved for parks and sports fields and this facility meets a need. The pier’s long-term parking also has a strong constituency, and generates $5 million annually for the Trust. The Trust still has not made public any long-range financial plan for the whole park, so it’s a mystery how much revenue it hopes or needs to generate at Pier 40. If more than $5 million is needed, then the case must be debated in public before another R.F.P. is issued.

Republican Governor Pataki will leave office at year’s end, while Democrat Eliot Spitzer is the frontrunner to succeed him, meaning the Trust’s board of directors will likely see new members and a new chairperson. Issuing an R.F.P. under a lame-duck governor with various uncertainties doesn’t make sense. Plus, there’s an ongoing Department of Investigation probe of the last Pier 40 process. It behooves the Trust to wait for this investigation’s conclusion before issuing a new R.F.P.

The Trust has had many successes, from building the Greenwich Village segment to starting work in Chelsea and Tribeca. There’s no reason to rush a new R.F.P. now that the so-called interim plan is what so many wanted all along for the pier: something with low impact on the community but real benefits, like fields and parking. Pier 40 is succeeding, not sinking. There’s nothing to fix there now.



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