Volume 19 Issue 42 | March 2 - 8, 2007

Don’t pimp out Pier 40, advocates tell Related

By Skye H. McFarlane

The BlackBerries were buzzing Tuesday afternoon as a score of representatives from The Related Companies appeared before the Pier 40 Working Group to discuss the Related proposal to turn the pier into a performing arts center with retail and dining.

Though the most intriguing aspect of the Related plan is its permanent Cirque du Soleil theater — tickets to the shows would be $75 to $100 — most of the discussion Tuesday centered around the project’s public spaces, as well as quality of life issues like traffic and pedestrian flow.

Throughout the presentation, the Pier 40 Performing Arts Center team — which included Related President Jeff Blau, architect David Rockwell and Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Craig Hatkoff — stressed the economic strength of their $626 million proposal and their willingness to work with the community to create open space and inexpensive programming to complement the complex’s high-end offerings.

As a demonstration of their flexibility, the team had already responded to some of the Pier 40 Working Group’s questions by modifying their proposal, which was first submitted to the Hudson River Park Trust in December. The changes included adding low-cost concession stands to the glass-enclosed “winter garden” on the second floor of the structure, eliminating a proposed nightclub and creating an interim plan to keep two athletic fields open on the northern roof of the building during construction. The interim field plan would provide about 60 percent of the pier’s current playing-field space. The PAC plan’s final field configuration would offer the same amount of space as the pier’s current fields.

“We’re trying to let the programming enliven the space and let this really become a destination for the neighborhood,” said Ken Himmel of Related.

The word “destination,” however, was a sticking point for some community members, who questioned the philosophy of the project as a whole.

“I enjoy, when I’m in Boston, going to Quincy Market. But my friends who live in Boston can’t stand Quincy Market,” said Carol Feinman of the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront. “The last thing people who live in historic districts need is a ‘destination.’ You may as well say ‘whorehouse’ — they’re going to look at you the same.”

The Pier 40 PAC plan is one of two finalists in the Hudson River Park Trust’s second request for proposals to redevelop the pier at the western end of Houston St. The first R.F.P. ended in 2003 without a winning proposal, due in large part to community objections to increased traffic and big-box retail. In addition to the PAC proposal, the Trust is reviewing a joint proposal from Urban Dove and CampGroup, dubbed The People’s Pier.

Both proposals are required by the Hudson River Park Act to keep space equivalent to 50 percent of the pier’s footprint open for public, noncommercial use. Both development groups are proposing to add about 500 spaces to the pier’s current 2,000-space parking facility. The People’s Pier plan would increase the athletic field space, and add basketball courts, pools and educational classrooms. The PAC proposal would keep the current allotment of athletic field space (roughly 250,000 square feet) by building three regulation-size soccer fields on the northeast corner of the pier’s rooftop. Rockwell, a self-described soccer dad who lives in Tribeca, stressed that the PAC plan fields would be made of state-of-the-art artificial turf. Blau added that the fields would be free of charge and could be enclosed in an inflatable bubble roof to allow winter use.

The rest of the PAC plan includes two 1,800-seat theaters — one for Cirque du Soleil and one for mixed programming — an eight-to-12-screen AMC movie theater that would serve as a permanent home to the Tribeca Film Festival and show a mix of first-run and art-house films throughout the year; 26,800 square feet of “destination retail,” which would not include a big-box store, but rather a number of smaller stores; and five or six restaurants. The plan also includes space for the New York Trapeze School and a sailing or marine educational space. In all, Related projects that the PAC would create 9,000 jobs and generate $128 million in annual tax revenue for the city and state.

Though the plan also includes a marina, the Related representatives did not discuss the water uses in detail, because, they said, those proposals would have to undergo a separate set of marine agency approvals.

As for public space, Rockwell compared the project’s semicircular southern facade to the Spanish Steps in Rome. Conceived as a series of wide steps leading up to the restaurant level, the space could also double as an outdoor amphitheater. At the bottom of the steps, the PAC team envisions a summertime greenmarket and a wintertime skating rink. The southern half of Pier 40’s existing pier-shed structure would be removed under the plan.

Though several community members had questions about the traffic the PAC would generate, the Related team tried to downplay the project’s impact. The development group stressed that Related, as the sole leaseholder, could have direct control over event timing to prevent congestive overlap. The team also said they would solicit bus and ferry service to the site to encourage visitors to use public transit. Cabs and limos would drop off passengers at the site itself, with entrances at both Houston and Clarkson Sts. Under the plan, the crossings leading from West St. to the pier would be widened, with five lanes crossing the bike path at Clarkson St. and four lanes crossing the bike path at Houston St. The developers said they would add curbs and larger traffic lights to make it clear to cyclists and pedestrians that these were “real intersections.”

After viewing the PAC proposal, Noreen Doyle, the Trust’s vice president, said it was “premature” to say whether either the PAC plan or The People’s Pier would meet the needs laid out by the Trust in its R.F.P. She stressed that the substance of the plans, as well as their feasibility and their reception from the community would all factor heavily in the Trust’s ultimate decision. The Trust will sponsor a public forum on the proposals sometime soon — likely in late March.

“We all have our work cut out for us,” said Jim Solomon, a member of the Pier 40 Working Group, who encouraged community members to come to the upcoming forums and make their voices heard. “Both were significant, thoughtful proposals,” he said, “but it’s like comparing apples and oranges.”

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