By Lincoln Anderson
Opening the door to an alternative, community-based plan for redeveloping Pier 40, the Hudson River Park Trust is allowing a local group of very well-financed parents to come up with a specific proposal and concrete funding commitments and has given them two months to do it.
According to Arthur Schwartz, chairperson of the Pier 40 Working Group, last Friday, he and a group of community members met with the Trust’s top officials. In addition to Schwartz, the community group included Brad Hoylman, chairperson of Community Board 2; Jim Solomon, a C.B. 2 member; and Marc Ameruso, chairperson of the Hudson River Park Advisory Council. On the Trust side were Diana Taylor, the new chairperson of the Trust’s board of directors; and Connie Fishman and Noreen Doyle, the Trust’s respective president and vice president. Julie Menin, Community Board 1’s chairperson, couldn’t make the meeting, but met with Taylor separately the day before. The pier, at W. Houston St., is just north of the border between Boards 1 and 2.
Schwartz said Taylor told them she has agreed to put off a vote on The Related Companies’ $626 million Pier 40 entertainment-complex proposal until January. He said she also said the Working Group should work with Related to try to make Related’s plan more palatable to the community.
Taylor said the Trust is giving the new Pier 40 Partnership a chance to come up with an alterative plan for the pier and to prove that they can raise the $30 million for the pier that they have said they can.
Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson, confirmed Taylor gave the groups a Dec. 15 deadline for an alternative plan so the Trust’s board would have enough time to review it before the January meeting.
“The Trust needs to be assured that such contributions would be pledged in a manner that is ‘real’ and gives confidence to the board that the pier repairs would be undertaken in a timely fashion if the Trust were to pursue [the Partnership’s] alternate development scenario,” Martin also wrote in an email to Downtown Express.
“I think it was a tremendous step forward,” Schwartz said of the meeting. “It reflected an openness toward public input that is refreshing.
“I’ll meet with Related she asked us to do that, so we’ll do that but Related knows we prefer the alternative of having incremental development on Pier 40, without having one major developer involved.
“Is there an alternative yet?” Schwartz said. “No. It’s got to be developed. … Well, it’s going to include a lot of ball fields and parking.”
One individual who was at the meeting but requested anonymity said the Trust’s immediate pressing concern, expressed at the meeting, is Pier 40’s roof, which they feel needs $15 million in repairs.
Hoylman said, “I’m hopeful that the Trust will give the Pier 40 Partnership adequate time to put together a nonprofit/philanthropic proposal.” Of the Partnership, he said, “I really admire their effort to create a pier that responds to the Village’s needs for recreational and passive uses. The fact that they would do this on their own, I think, speaks highly of their commitment to the project and the creativity that they’re demonstrating so far. It’s an impressive group of people with varied backgrounds and I think the community board welcomes their efforts. I don’t know what the outcome will be but the Trust hasn’t dismissed them out of hand. This is a different approach, outside the R.F.P. process.”
The Related proposal is one of two competing plans in a request for proposals, or R.F.P., process the Trust is close to concluding to find a developer for the 14-acre pier. Under the park’s founding legislation, 50 percent of Pier 40’s footprint is supposed to be developed commercially to provide revenue for the 5-mile-long park. Related’s plan features a Cirque du Soleil theater, movieplex, music hall and high-end restaurants. The other proposal vying for the pier is The People’s Pier, which would add a summer day camp, possibly a school and more recreational uses to the pier.
Contacted on Monday, Julie Nadel, a Trust board member, said it was the first she’d heard that the vote on Pier 40 was being delayed till January and that the Partnership additionally was being given a chance to make their pitch.
“I assumed we would be voting on [Pier 40] in November,” she said, “because how long can this process go on? I would prefer to see this process not drag out and would prefer to close this and start a new chapter, start fresh at Pier 40. Because at this point I don’t know how you can salvage what’s been done and said how you can make Related’s plan acceptable to the elected officials and the community. The People’s Pier seems to have slipped off the screen.”
Fred Wilson, a partner in Union Square Ventures, a high-powered venture-capitalist firm, and a member of the Partnership, said no one from the Partnership was at the meeting last Friday, so, for starters, they need more information. He noted, however, that he had spoken on the phone with individuals from both sides who were at the meeting about what transpired.
“We’re not sure exactly what to make of the meeting,” Wilson said. “If this is an opening for us to present something with the chance to move the process in another direction, it’s great. I’m reluctant to really read anything into it until we can really figure out what this means. It’s certainly not bad news; we hope it’s good news. We’re going to talk to the Trust. And if there’s something we can do in the timeframe, we’re going to do it.
“What we wanted to do all along was a feasibility study to find out the best use for the community. … We would like to facilitate a proposal that is viable, politically and financially, and fits within the Hudson River Park.”
Wilson said he is “absolutely confident” they can raise millions of dollars from the community for a Pier 40 plan, and that the Partnership members, himself included, also will chip in their share but that first they have to have a specific plan.
“No one’s going to chip in until we know what we’re going to do,” he said.