Volume 20, Number 35 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | January 18 - 24, 2008

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Reading Trust’s tea leaves, Pier 40 group is hopeful

By Lincoln Anderson

The Pier 40 Partnership is feeling upbeat after a pair of meetings with the Hudson River Park Trust’s board of directors last week. About half of the Trust’s board of directors attended each meeting, held at the Trust’s Pier 40 offices, at which several Partnership members and their consultant from HR&A

Advisors made a slide-show presentation and answered questions. The second meeting, in particular, gave the Partnership hope that the Trust is warming to their proposal for a nonprofit Pier 40 conservancy backed by tax-exempt bonds, with a school and visual arts center added to the Houston St. pier’s current mix of uses.

“I think we were very encouraged and heartened by their response,” said Gary Ginsberg, one of three Partnership members who attended the second meeting, last Thursday. Ginsberg — who is executive vice president for global marketing and corporate affairs for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation — said, among the Trust board members, former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff’s reaction seemed particularly positive.

“Certainly, what he said and his body language indicated he was surprised at how thoughtful our plan was,” said Ginsberg. “He had some quibbles about our numbers — the bonding requirements, what rate you’d get these I.D.A. bonds…questions that anyone in his position would ask — questions that we can answer.”

Ginsberg said the Partnership will provide Doctoroff with the answers by this week, since the Partnership is working on “an expedited timeline.” Asked to gauge the reaction of Diana Taylor, the Trust’s chairperson, who led both meetings, Ginsberg said, “I think she wants to make a decision. Her biggest fear is delay. She’s just looking for a viable path. Of the three proposals, our plan is the only one with financial viability, plus we have the community’s support. We don’t need any extending of the lease — our numbers work. Our plan does not need any amendments to any existing rules, regs, ordinance, etc. Our plan is in compliance.”

The two other proposals include The Related Companies’ Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, which critics fear would have a huge impact on the pier and surrounding community, and “The People’s Pier” by CampGroup and Urban Dove, which the Trust has branded financially unviable. Related says its not sure if its plan would work unless the Hudson River Park Act is changed to allow a 49-year lease, instead of a 30-year lease, for the pier.

Meanwhile, Ginsberg said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the Department of Education and the School Construction Authority are all “interested” in the Pier 40 Partnership’s idea of putting a 100,000-square-foot high school on the pier as part of the Partnership plan. Ginsberg said it’s too early to get into specifics about the type or size of school, but he noted that high schools typically have about 450 students per class.

He also noted that Bob Kerrey, The New School’s president and former senator from Nebraska, is also gung-ho on the Partnership’s plan and has offered to pay 30 years’ rent upfront for the space, which would definitely help their plan’s financials. Ginsberg said the Partnership hasn’t committed to anyone for the school space yet, since their proposal is “just a study,” at this point.

He said another Trust board member at the second meeting, former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, also seemed “very intrigued” by their proposal.

“I can’t discuss what went on,” Stern said in a telephone interview. Asked if he thought the Partnership’s financial plan would work, he said, “How do I know? If I knew, I would be on Wall St. making a lot of money.”

The Trust’s board plans to vote on Jan. 31 on whether to designate the Related or CampGroup/Urban Dove plan for Pier 40.

The Partnership is hoping the Trust rejects both plans and instead greenlights the Partnership to move ahead with its nonprofit conservancy proposal for the pier. For its part, Related recently announced another round of last-minute changes to its plan.

“They’re clearly afraid, they’re scurrying,” said Ginsberg. The Partnership’s ultra-high-powered members all are local parents with young children who play sports at Pier 40 and who don’t want to see the sports pier turned into an entertainment pier with sports uses secondary. “Pier 40 is vital to Lower Manhattan,” Ginsberg said, “and to lose it would be a tragedy.”

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