Trust gives new Pier 40 team 90 days
By Josh Rogers
Downtown residents and Pier 40 field users started flooding Chris McGinnis’s email box with “pumped” congratulatory messages last Thursday, hours after the Hudson River Park Trust said it was working with his community group and a former rival to keep the popular pier running without a proposed entertainment complex.
“Goliath normally wins,” said McGinnis, a member of the Pier 40 Partnership. “There are at least 1,000 Davids that get eaten before one wins.”a
The Trust announced last week it was no longer pursuing the Related Companies’ plan for the entertainment center and that it was working together with the Partnership a well-financed group of Downtown parents formed to stop Related and with one of the two original bidders, CampGroup/Urban Dove, which wants to add day camps, youth sports activities to the pier’s existing fields and parking facilities.
Diana Taylor, the Trust’s chairperson gave the groups 90 days to come up with a joint proposal that satisfies the Trust’s financial concerns about each proposal.
“The next 90 days will be critical to this board in fleshing out the details and coming up with a revised proposal … that addresses all of the prior deficiencies,” Taylor said at the Trust’s March 27 board meeting.
The Partnership partnership would include the community group’s idea of a non-profit conservancy to run the pier. The Partnership argues that the only way to finance the pier’s estimated $120 million in repairs within the 30-year lease limit is through tax-exempt financing that does not require the same 15 percent profit a private bank would.
Related maintained its plan for Cirque du Soleil, movie theaters, music and banquet halls, restaurants and shops along with relocated fields and parking could only work if the Hudson River Park Act was amended to allow for a 49-year lease.
Both teams say they have agreed to a general outline in which a new Partnership conservancy would have the master lease and the CampGroup team would run the for-profit uses.
Jai Nanda, executive director of Urban Dove, said there a lot of details to be worked out but his group did not oppose the Partnership taking the lead.
That view may not be shared by Taylor, a gubernatorial appointee who was promoted to be chairperson by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Taylor told Downtown Express that in “some way, shape or form” the CampGroup/Urban Dove team would have to be part of the lead role since the team responded to the Trust’s formal request for proposals, but the groups’ agreement outline may be broad enough to include what Taylor and the rest of the state-city authority’s board are looking for.
Adrian Benepe, a Trust board member and the city Parks commissioner, said he thinks both groups have a can-do attitude, but he is concerned the economic downturn may make it tougher for the Partnership to raise enough money. The group expects to raise $30 million privately and $200 million in tax-free bonds. “The sense that they could raise large amounts of money just a few months ago might be somewhat tempered by the economic realities,” Benepe said.
McGinnis, in a telephone interview, said the shaky economy obviously will affect some Partnership members’ portfolios and the group’s fundraising capabilities but “there are others that will do well out of this craziness. There is a big credit crunch and it affects a lot of people…. Will it have an impact? Yes. Will we adjust? Yes.”
The pier’s roof is in need of the most immediate repairs and the Trust made the biz kids theater group vacate from most of its pier space a few weeks ago and closed Pier Park & Playground (P3)’s small office last week.
Taylor said the only investment the Trust will make in the pier now is to repair any damages that threaten the Trust’s annual $6 million in net parking revenue. She expects other groups to be forced off the pier this year and said cars also might have to be moved to other parts of the pier. She said it was possible the fields would have to close while a new plan makes its way through the approval process, which is expected to take at least the rest of the year. It was not clear if Taylor was suggesting that cars might be moved to the fields or if urgent repairs to the piles supporting the fields were possible.
Tobi Bergman, who runs sports programs on the pier as the head of P3, said losing his group’s office is not a big concern, but the Trust’s decade-long neglect of the roof is “irresponsible” because it jeopardizes the second floor parking revenue, which pays for much of the 5-mile long park’s maintenance.
“They’re allowing a very valuable building to destroy itself,” Bergman said.
Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson did not return a call for comment, nor did the Marino Organization, the Trust’s public relations firm which came under fire at last week’s board meeting.
Marc Ameruso, chairperson’s of the Hudson River Park’s advisory council, told the board that several members of the council were concerned the Trust was spending $7,500 a month on P.R. at the same time it’s struggling with finances. Ameruso said some members wondered whether Marino’s hiring at the end of last year led to pro-Related editorials in several citywide publications including the New York Times. Related has also hired Marino in the past, although Ameruso did not bring up that point.
Taylor appeared impatient for Ameruso to finish so she could answer his question. Her normally soft-spoken voice stiffened. She said she did not plan to keep Marino under contract much longer, so it will cost less than $90,000. She said it was not taxpayer money an apparent reference to the fact that the Trust’s operating expenses are paid for by revenue generated on the public park land.
“It is a city park, it is not a Lower West Side park,” she said. “The result is yes, we have had editorials in all of the major newspapers. The entire city now knows something about what is going on in this city park.”
Taylor added that editorial boards made their own judgments and the Trust ended up not picking Related.
She said she was confident the pier could be saved with a plan that will have community support, but it will be hard. “If this was easy,” she said, “it would have been done 10 years ago.”