What’s the big rush at Pier 40?
A month and a half ago, The Villager and Downtown Express first reported that the Hudson River Park Trust was readying to release a new request for proposals, or R.F.P., for developers for Pier 40. We editorialized that the Trust should keep this R.F.P. shelved since a large portion of the community enjoys the pier’s current primary uses the sports fields and long-term parking.
But the Trust issued the R.F.P. at the end of August. A date of Nov. 17 has been set for submissions from developers seeking a Pier 40 master lease of up to 49 years. The R.F.P. states the winning bidder will be picked within 90 days of the submission deadline, which means sometime in February.
After the last Pier 40 R.F.P. process crashed three years ago, the Trust, using Lower Manhattan Development Corp. money, added a 3.5-acre artificial-turf sports field in the W. Houston St. pier’s courtyard. This was deemed an interim plan until the Trust decided to issue a new R.F.P. for the 14-acre pier.
Yet, during this so-called interim period, these sports fields have enjoyed tremendous, incessant usage by local youth sports leagues and others and become an integral part of Downtown’s landscape. So, of course, has the pier’s long-term parking, which local residents have used for many years.
Any attempt to change these uses, or interrupt them for any amount of time, will be met with the full force of the community’s opposition.
Granted, in its R.F.P., the Trust makes it clear that keeping the fields is of “paramount importance,” as is keeping at least 1,800 of the existing 2,000 spaces. However, the Trust seems more open to allowing an alternate use to gradually replace the parking as long as this replacement provides the Trust with at least the $5 million annually the parking does.
Word is the Trust is pushing the R.F.P. because the 45-year-old pier needs a $30 million renovation. Yet, the Trust should go to government sources not private developers for these funds. It’s not worth tampering with a well-functioning Pier 40 just to get the funds to renovate it.
Of great concern, there seems a rush to do the process with a minimum, if any, public conversation. The Trust is also rushing to sign a deal with an operator for the Pier 26 estuary center in Tribeca even though this pier won’t reopen for three years. Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson, told us a few months ago that there would be an R.F.P. for Pier 26 and there was “absolutely” no chance the Trust would pick anyone for the marine study center this year, but he backed away when the Trust realized this would prevent Gov. Pataki’s cronies at the Beacon Institute from getting the estuarium without proving they were the best group.
The Pataki administration is leaving in January, which is the most logical explanation for the urgency. The probable new governor, Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, would likely shake up the Trust’s directors board by making up to five new appointments. Is the Trust’s G.O.P.-packed board trying to ram this R.F.P. through and sign a binding 49-year contract with a megadeveloper before Spitzer is elected? With this timeframe, how can anyone think otherwise?
This seems just the latest case of a New York authority circumventing the public will. Slow down the process, and, even better, as we said before shelve it. And if the process must move forward, then, for heaven’s sake, involve the public.