Volume 16 • Issue 18 | Sept 30 - Oct 06, 2003

Trust springs rink surprise

By Lincoln Anderson

The Trust’s proposed ice rink just south of Pier 40

Recent complaints about lack of communication between the Hudson River Park Trust and the community were highlighted at last Thursday’s Trust board of directors meeting, when an enclosed ice-skating rink was proposed for a location inside Community Board 2 — even though Board 2 had never been notified or consulted. In addition, the Hudson River Park Advisory Council never reviewed the plan. In fact, the Trust’s own board even seemed surprised by the proposal.

The enclosed rink would be a permanent park structure just north of Spring St.

Also, the general outlines of the Trust’s interim plan for Pier 40 near Houston St. became clearer last week. The plan would include adding 600 more cars of residential parking and installing one huge multipurpose field covered by artificial grass in the pier’s courtyard.

In addition, the Friends of Hudson River Park voted earlier the same morning to file a lawsuit over the Trust’s failure to pick a developer for Pier 40 by a deadline in June.

At last Thursday’s meeting, Robert Balachandran, the Trust’s president and C.E.O., presented to the Trust’s board the plan for the rink, to be enclosed by a tensile, fabric-structure roof and to be located just south of Pier 40 slightly north of Spring St. The rink, slated for a Dec. 30 opening, would be used for ice-skating in winter and rollerblading and other events in summer. The building’s design includes sliding windows and rollup doors to lend an open feeling, as opposed to a tennis bubble-type covering without openings.

The project cost would be $2.6 million, to be reimbursed by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the agency funding post-9/11 projects in Lower Manhattan.

An L.M.D.C.-funded $600,000 project for interim tennis courts in the same area has been delayed a year so repairs to the bulkhead (seawall) and infrastructure can be made first, allowing the courts to be permanent.

Trust board member Henry Stern, former Parks Department chairperson, immediately expressed concern, noting, “This is not an ice rink. This is an icehouse. And that’s not what parks are about. Parks are about open space. The idea of new open space and putting a building on it is a problem.”

Likening the building to a “suburban Quonset hut,” Stern noted, “If we proposed to do this in Central Park, the landmarks community would be outraged.”

Balachandran said the covering was needed to keep the rink cool, which is the main operating cost.

“It’s a structure,” Balachandran added. “A building sounds too pejorative.”

Balachandran said that unlike Central Park or Rockefeller Center, the Hudson River waterfront gets “brutally cold in the winter.”

Stern asked why putting the rink in one of the park’s existing pier-shed houses wasn’t considered. The L.M.D.C. grant money extends as far north as Houston St., which makes Pier 40 an eligible site. But Balachandran said they didn’t want to put it on Pier 40 because it could complicate the pier’s development.

Asked by Trust board member Julie Nadel how long the structure would be in the park, Balachandran said, “This is forever. This would be a permanent structure.”

Nadel asked if the Hudson River Park Advisory Council had seen the plan. Balachandran said no, but that Governor Pataki has “had it in the works for several months.”

Former state Senator Franz Leichter, a Trust board member, asked if the proposal had every gone before the community boards. Connie Fishman, the Trust’s vice president, said yes — Board 1. However, Judy Duffy, Board 1’s assistant district manager, said only the rink, not the structure, had been presented to the board. (Duffy later said a tennis bubble had been shown, but that it wasn’t anything like the structure.)

Balachadran acknowledged that the plan had not been shown to Board 2.

Arthur Schwartz, former chairperson of Board 2’s Waterfront Committee, passed a reporter a note that read: “This proposal is outrageous — a permanent facility without any public process. This is in C.B. 2 and C.B. 2 has never discussed it. It isn’t in Board 1.” Canal St. is the boundary between Boards 2 and 1.

Trip Dorkey, Trust chairperson, said they should defer voting on the matter but that he might bring it up over the phone with them at some point in the next two months. Board member Diana Taylor, an appointee of Pataki who is Mayor Bloomberg’s companion, wanted to know if there was a time limit on using the L.M.D.C. money for the ice rink. Dorkey said they’d check.

Last year, the Trust had been considering Pier 25 at N. Moore St. in Tribeca, or a spot nearby, as the site for the rink. But the electricity at the site apparently was not sufficient, Duffy said.

Pier 40 interim plan

In regard to Pier 40, Balachandran said that at the end of this year, the existing lease for the pier, held by C&K Properties, expires. FedEx and other commercial tenants, like Academy Bus and the Police Department Barrier Unit, will have to vacate the pier at that time under the Park Act. The Trust has put out a request for proposals, due back by Nov. 7, for operators for residential parking on the pier. The lease is for four years with two one-year extensions. Balachandran said a guideline has been set of 2,800 to 2,900 cars, more than the current 2,000, though the developers can come back with proposals for more or less cars, he noted. The Trust hopes to include a clause in the lease allowing 60-day cancellation.

Balachandran didn’t have any design plans for the Pier 40 interim uses to show last Thursday. He said that the Trust’s staff is currently working on the designs for public space on the pier, but he did not say when it would be built.

Chris Martin, Trust spokesperson, said there will be one “really big field” in the pier’s interior courtyard covered by FieldTurf, an artificial-grass surface. “It could be for baseball, soccer, lacrosse and football. It’s going to be multipurpose,” Martin said.Balachandran said that “absent any speed bumps in the selection process,” they should have a parking lot operator in place by Dec. 31.

Balachandran said he expects they will have some designs for the interim plan to show the Trust’s board by the next board meeting, probably to be held in November, and that before then they plan to make presentations to a committee headed by Duffy as well as to “the community.”

Balachandran had said in July that he would have a Pier 40 plan to show the board within two months. Explaining the added delays, he said, “We hadn’t sat down with the community yet. First, internally, we had to have some idea of what we wanted to do. It would be unfair to the community to go to them first… We want the fields; we want open space.”

Asked if the individual community boards would have a chance to review the Pier 40 plan, Balachandran said, “I’d say ‘capital C community.’ But we’re going to act through the Advisory Council. Everyone will have an opportunity to be heard.”

Pier 40 committee

Duffy said the Advisory Council has set up a Pier 40 committee to review the interim plan.

In addition to the need for field space on the pier, Duffy said, “I think we’d like to reclaim some of the third-floor roof space for passive recreation space. A car doesn’t have to have a river view.” An interim playground on the roof with a soft surface is an idea, too, she said, since the new Pier 51 water playground at Jane St. is always mobbed.

The hope is to have the interim active and passive recreational uses on the pier ready by the spring, she said.

However, the lack of information about the Trust’s doings remains a serious problem, said Jim Smith, chairperson of C.B. 2. He said the ice rink episode exemplifies the problem.

Told that Duffy will be heading the Pier 40 committee, Smith was dubious about it, since Duffy is an employee of C.B. 1, whose chairperson, Madelyn Wils, is on the Trust’s board of directors.

“It comes down to appearances,” Smith said. “I’m not that comfortable with having an employee of a community board acting as head of a committee that’s supposed to be a watchdog of a body, one of whose members is her boss.”

“In the end, the community boards are going to have a review,” he said. “It’ll go its appropriate way and it’ll have an appropriate process.”

As for the lawsuit by Friends of Hudson River Park on the failed Pier 40 development process, Schwartz, who is the Friends’ attorney on the case, said it will have to be filed by Oct. 10, since the statue of limitations is four months from June 10, when the Trust said it made the decision not to pick one of three development groups vying for the pier. Schwartz said he’s rounding up plaintiffs, but can’t comment on who they might be.

Summing up the basis of the lawsuit, Schwartz said: “The Trust acted in bad faith when it failed to choose a developer and attempt to negotiate final plans for Pier 40. It set back the process for too long a time, in my opinion, so they could receive greater rent from Pier 40. Pier 40 is to provide needed park and recreational space for Downtown, and not be an income generator for the park. The Trust will have a hard time explaining to a court why they couldn’t pick a developer to negotiate with. They didn’t have to pick a plan…. All they were required to do was pick a developer and have three months to negotiate. The legislation says they ‘shall pick a developer,’ not ‘may pick a developer’ or ‘ought to pick a developer.’ ”

“The ice-skating rink could draw thousands and thousands of people to the park,” Schwartz said, “and [the Trust] didn’t come before the [community] board at all. I think the Trust has the impression no one is guarding the chicken coop. And this is the middle of a period where there is so much going on.”



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