Volume 20, Number 43 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN - MARCH 7 -- 13, 2008

Downtown Express photo by Shoshanna Bettencourt

The piles and subsurface deck of Pier 25 are done, but the Hudson River Park Trust has no money to build any of the park uses that used to be on the pier.

Spitzer puts Tribeca work in jeopardy, park advocates warn

By Josh Rogers

The governor is tying Hudson River Park funding to the sale of land near the Javits Center which could delay the opening of the Tribeca and Chelsea sections of the Hudson River Park by a year or more, advocates and officials are warning.

Last week Gov. Eliot Spitzer acceded to Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s recommendation not to sell a parcel of land just to the north of the convention center in order to leave open the possibility of the long-talked-about expansion of Javits in the future. Spitzer was planning to use $20 million from the sale for the park, and the city had pledged to match the money, as the state and city have done in the past.

Spitzer’s decision thus puts $40 million in park funding in jeopardy as well as $50 million for Governors Island because of similar matching commitments from the city. The $300 million of the governor’s recently-announced $400 million affordable housing fund that was pegged to New York City and other downstate areas will also be on hold until the money is secured some other way.

On Wednesday, a Spitzer spokesperson told Downtown Express that the governor is now pledging to take proceeds from selling land south of Javits to fund the housing, park and island. But this sale still needs to be studied and would take some time to complete, even though it is not opposed by the mayor. Javits officials say selling the southern site would leave them without a good place to put the convention center’s delivery trucks.

And Hudson River Park Trust officials and Community Board 1 are saying financing delays of months could set the park back a year or longer.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents Lower Manhattan, is also skeptical that Javits is the best way to finance the projects.

“We will do it independently and separate it from [Javits]….While the status of Javits is in flux, affordable housing is in crisis Downtown and pretty much all over the state,” Silver told Downtown Express. “I think there are serious questions about the advisability of selling the land. I think the importance of the affordable housing program can’t wait until [those] questions are answered.”

Silver, who along with the governor is a Democrat, said the Assembly budget will pass next week with money for all three projects, but it’s not clear if and when the Republican-controlled state Senate will also approve the money.

The housing and park money will be paid through bonds, Silver said, and “we need cash” for Governors Island, which he promised would be in the Assembly budget.

A Hudson River Park funding delay could push the opening of the Tribeca section until 2011 and Chelsea Cove to 2010, said Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson.

If the Trust does not get the money soon “it would hold up construction for a year,” he added. Trust contractors are currently doing work on Piers 25 and 26 in Tribeca, Pier 64 in Chelsea Cove, but had been hoping to begin work on more of the upland area in both sections relatively soon. The Trust, a state-city public authority, can’t start looking for contractors for the new work until it gets the money.

Any delay is also likely to drive up the costs of the project because the prices of construction materials continue to soar.

The Trust once had hopes of building the entire Tribeca section with a $70-million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., but the money was tied up with disputes between the administrations of Bloomberg and George Pataki, Sptizer’s predecessor. The governor and mayor spent years negotiating how the L.M.D.C. should best use the federal money it was granted after the 9/11 attack. By the time the park’s L.M.D.C. money came through in 2005, the project costs had skyrocketed, and the Trust now needs an unknown figure significantly more than $30 million to complete the Tribeca section.

“Somebody has to come to the rescue,” said Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, which ran programs on Pier 25. “It’s got to be the state.”

Townley’s group was kicked off the pier at the end of 2005 to make way for construction, which he thought at the time would take three years. The pier, which used to draw large crowds in the warm months, had film screenings, dance events, beach volleyball, a playground, an “art shack,” mini-golf, a picnic area, a small marina and the historic Yankee Ferry.

The Trust hopes to bring back many of the uses to a new longer and stronger pier if it gets additional funds. Tribeca’s Pier 26, which had a kayak boathouse and a river life study center, may also get its uses back. The Trust has driven the piles for both piers and laid the subsurface deck for all of 25 and part of 26.

Work continues on the north end of this “Tribeca” section, which actually stretches into Hudson Square to Pier 40. The Trust’s Martin said this section will have basketball and tennis courts and some plantings — all of which could open later this year even without additional funding.

In Chelsea, Martin said most if not all of the park elements between W. 22nd St. and Pier 66 were in jeopardy without more money. An open meadow with hills, a skate park, trees, a rebuilt Pier 64 are all planned for this section. Work continues on Pier 64 and other parts of Chelsea Cove, but the Trust will have to hold back on the work it was hoping to begin soon without more money, Martin said.

Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1, said she spoke with Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, last week, and as a result of the conversation, quickly sent off a letter to Spitzer asking him to sever the park’s link to Javits, because even if a sale occurred, it would delay the park funding.

“We never want to see these issues linked,” Menin said in a telephone interview. “Obviously the park is so important to all of the people who use it.”

Fishman’s call to Menin appears to be a change in strategy for the Trust. The Hudson River Park was typically funded in chunks of $15 million or more from the state under Gov. Pataki, but it only received $5 million last year in Spitzer’s first budget. Last year, C.B. 1 waterfront advocates were angry that Fishman did not tell them that the Trust no longer had enough money to build any of the Pier 25 park elements until after the budget was passed in the spring.

As for this year, Jordan Isenstadt, a Spitzer spokesperson, did not say when any of the Javits money would be available, but did say it would be coming.

“The governor is committed to fully funding Governors Island, Hudson River Park and the Housing Opportunity Fund,” Isenstadt said in a prepared statement. “The state is estimating the value of the southern parcel at Javits at nearly $450 million. Those proceeds would enable the support of $300 million for housing; $25 million for Governors Island; $20 million for Hudson River Park; and the balance for other commuter transit improvements such as Moynihan Station [on Eighth Ave.]”

John Gallagher, a Bloomberg spokesperson, in an email to Downtown Express, said “the city fully intends to come through with this funding as long as our partners in the state fulfill their commitments.”

Officials with the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp., which like the Trust is a state-city public authority, declined to comment for attribution for this article.

The $50 million in money that may be earmarked for Governors Island would cover the second phase of stabilization of the island’s historic buildings in the north, demolition of the non-historic buildings to the south and underground infrastructure over the next year. Some of the infrastructure work is seasonal and could lead to extended delays if it takes too long to secure the money.

An infrastructure delay has the potential to delay the unfunded park plan, which includes a continuous promenade and hills made from recycled materials. The initial construction estimate for the 40-acre island park being designed for the south end is $200 million. Officials hope to break ground on the park next year and plan to keep Governors’ historic north section open in the summers while construction proceeds.

Townley, who used to run Pier 25 activities, said his problems are nothing like the business owners forced to close for a Downtown train center building that now may not be built, but they should be easier to solve quickly.

“Is it the same as small businesses getting thrown out and then not having enough dough to build the Fulton Transit Center,” he asked. “Our problem is a little more solvable.”

With reporting by Julie Shapiro



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