Volume 19 Issue 50 | April 27 - May 3, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Milo Hess

A new sign seemingly directing Hudson River Park joggers and cyclists into the water might also be applied to the park’s current state of affairs. Officials no longer think they have enough money to rebuild the park’s amenities on Piers 25 and 26 in Tribeca.

With $70M spent, no money to reopen park’s Tribeca piers

By Skye H. McFarlane

There was a deep sadness in Bob Townley’s eyes as he looked out over the Hudson River Tuesday night. Out in the river stood two quiet fields of wooden piles, the decaying remains of Piers 25 and 26.

“People miss what we had there,” Townley said of Pier 25, which he used to run with his organization Manhattan Youth. “We have to do whatever’s necessary to get it done and get them back on line.”

Based on new estimates, the Hudson River Park Trust does not have the money to rebuild what he had on the piers. It will take a figure well over $20 million and several more years before neighborhood residents can return to play miniature golf, volleyball or soccer on the rebuilt Pier 25. Meanwhile, the Trust is embroiled in a dispute with local boaters and community board members over the design of Pier 26.

Last summer, the community rejoiced as work finally began on the Tribeca segment of the riverfront park, also called segment three. In 2005, the Trust was promised $70 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. The money was meant to pay for the entirety of segment three, including the esplanade from Pier 40 down to Chambers St., sport and playground facilities and a marina on Pier 25, and a boathouse, eatery and river study center on Pier 26. The old piers were torn down in 2006.

But as many Downtown construction projects are learning, $70 million just isn’t what it used to be. With the costs of construction skyrocketing, the Trust began to realize last fall that it would need more money to complete the piers. In October, Trust President Connie Fishman announced that there was no longer enough money in the budget to build the boathouse, estuarium or restaurant on Pier 26.

Last month, she notified members of the park’s advisory council that the Trust did not have the money to build the playground and other amenities on Pier 25 or the upland area in front of 25 and 26.

In a January letter to Community Board 1 chairperson Julie Menin, Fishman said she was confident that the new city and state budgets would contain enough money to build the Pier 26 boathouse. In an interview Wednesday with the Downtown Express, Fishman confirmed that the Trust received a combined $10 million from the city and state. However, that money may never make its way to Tribeca. If bids for construction in other parts of the park run over, Fishman said, then the money will have to be used to fill those gaps first.

The park as a whole suffers, Fishman noted, because in-water construction can only be done from May 1 to Nov. 1. Each time another season passes, construction prices go up.

“The whole project undergoes a cost penalty because we can only do certain projects six months per year,” Fishman said.

Though she did not have any current estimates, Fishman said that the park as a whole still needs at least $120 million to finish its current projects. Segment three, specifically, needs more than $20 million — the Trust’s estimate of the cost overrun on Pier 26 alone. The Trust has applied for another L.M.D.C. grant and plans to apply for funds from the Port Authority, the State Department of Transportation and possibly the Federal government. The Friends of Hudson River Park group also does private fundraising for the park.

As it stands now, however, the new Tribeca esplanade is slated to open in fall 2008. Around the same time, in-water construction on Piers 25 and 26 would be complete, leaving two blank, concrete-topped piers and an upland area of worn-down asphalt.

Asked when that blank concrete slate could be filled in with buildings and recreation, Fishman said, “If someone walked in with a giant pot of money tomorrow, then the earliest [the piers could be finished] would be in early 2010,” a year behind the previous schedule.

Absent the pot of money, Fishman said she wasn’t sure how long the project would take. However, she was hesitant to say that the community could use the blank piers for interim activities and for river views. She hopes that by the time the blank piers are in place, the Trust will have the money to begin the remaining construction.

“If we knew it was going to be quite a while, we would consider it,” Fishman said of the interim use. “It would depend upon the schedule and, of course, what uses you’d be talking about.”

Even though Fishman reports to the Trust’s board of trustees, one of its members, Julie Nadel, said Fishman never disclosed to her that there was no money left to build the field and play areas on Pier 25.

Since the old Piers 25 and 26 were torn down, the community has been clamoring to reclaim the recreational and educational uses that they once served. However, issues with the Trust’s plan for Pier 26 prompted C.B. 1 to pass a resolution asking the Trust not to fund or build the structures on that pier until the design details can be revised with the board’s input.

“Some people may think we’re crazy,” said Nadel, who is also chairperson of C.B. 1’s Waterfront Committee and a leader in the fight to redesign Pier 26. “But we just want to pause the process long enough to get it right. I think most people would rather have nothing than have something that’s really expensive and screwed up.”

The community board is concerned that if money is found to build the current plans, the boathouse, would not be large enough to hold many of the kayaks it is meant to store. The estuarium has been removed from the plans completely, and a large commercial restaurant on the pier may not be in keeping with the Hudson River Park Act, which established Pier 26 as a “park only” area.

Responding to those concerns Wednesday, Fishman said that the Trust would revisit its boathouse plans to see if it can make the desired changes. Fishman hopes that the kayaks can be accommodated by changing the boathouse’s internal layout, since moving the structure’s walls would require paying to redesign the building.

The estuarium will be designed after an operator is chosen through a formal Request For Proposals (R.F.P.) process. The process, Fishman said, will ensure that the estuarium design can accommodate whatever tanks or machinery the marine study center might need. However, to build the estuarium later, the Trust will likely have to tear up part of Pier 26 a second time to install additional piles.

As for the restaurant, Fishman insisted that it will be a family-friendly place that people would be “comfortable getting off their bikes, sweaty or whatever, to go in and eat.” Fishman said she’d like the place to have the same feel as Hudson River Café in Riverside Park — a seasonal outdoor eatery whose operators recently won a contract to put a café on Pier 84 in the Hudson River Park. The food vendor will also be selected through an R.F.P.

Though the community would eventually be able to comment on both R.F.P.s, Fishman said that the community board would have to get permission from the Trust’s board of trustees if it wants to have a more active role in the R.F.P. process.

In its March resolution, the board did ask for a more open park planning process and more community involvement — concerns that seemed to strike a nerve with the Trust and its supporters. Former Trust advisory council member Yvonne Morrow wrote a letter to this paper citing meetings between the Trust and the board and resolutions passed by the board in favor of the segment three schematic design (the board’s current questions concern the more detailed architectural designs). Fishman herself also sent out an extensive packet of information and old C.B. 1 resolutions to demonstrate the Trust’s commitment to community involvement.

“The one thing that’s clear is that there’s been an unbelievable level of involvement with the community over the years,” Fishman said, though she admitted that some community members might be upset that their suggestions were not incorporated into the final design.

Nadel said the new information does little to change what the community wants for the pier in the future — a functional boathouse; a modest, non-destination eatery; and a vibrant educational center built with community involvement.

At least one member of the Friends group has voiced concerns that the community board’s current opposition on Pier 26 could hinder the park’s fundraising campaigns. Both Nadel and Fishman, who agree on little else, adamantly denied that claim, saying that government agencies do not consider such minutia in their funding decisions.

Still, both sides want to move forward quickly to resolve their differences. On Monday night, Fishman and the Trust’s design team will appear before the Waterfront Committee to answer questions. Some committee members, including Nadel, also plan to meet with the designers at the Trust’s offices, to go over design plans in detail.

Meanwhile Townley will wait and watch the river for the day (presumably May 1) when the barges will come to begin reconstructing his pier. He will continue hoping that the money will be there to finish. He said that the smaller design details can — and must — be worked out so that the community has a functional set of piers. The bigger picture is making sure that they get funded and built in the first place.

“People have to dig in. It’s going to be about hard work in getting it done. Hard work with communication, openness, …and motivation,” Townley said. “If we have to, we’ll get the governor and the speaker and the officials involved and we’ll get it done.”

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