Volume 20, Number 50 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | APRIL 25 - MAY 1, 2008

City to begin search for E. River waterfront operators

By Clark Merrefield and Julie Shapiro

Underneath the fume-laden FDR Drive near Rutgers Slip, the city is planning two new pavilions where ping-pong, aerobics, tango and karate could become the norm. 

The community-centric outdoor plazas would be added to the promenade that winds along Manhattan’s southeastern shoreline, amid the thump of vehicles speeding over expansion joints. On the current promenade, groups of Chinese and Hispanic men fish, young professionals jog and skateboarders practice their ollies. Most simply sit on the wood-and-metal benches and gaze at the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn’s northwestern shore.  

Renderings by the city’s Economic Development Corporation show a similar promenade alongside the proposed pavilions, which are part of the East River Waterfront Access project. Community Board 3’s Waterfront Subcommittee overwhelmingly supports using the pavilions for dance, exercise and recreation, according to an E.D.C. report issued at a public meeting earlier this month.

“We need the waterfront for everyone in this community,” Winiford Schuchman, a local resident, said at the subcommittee’s April 8 meeting. 

The definition of who exactly will be part of ‘the community’ in coming years needs to be considered, pointed out Laurel May Turbin, waterfront coordinator for CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities. 

“What’s happening is that the city is really leading the development that’s happening throughout the city, especially in the Lower East Side and Chinatown,” she noted.

This development is changing the demographics of these traditionally immigrant communities, and calls into question who will use the pavilions, Turbin said.  

In June, E.D.C. will determine interest and, through a request for proposals, or R.F.P., solicit ideas for the pavilions that are designed for nonprofit, community use. Preference will be given to Lower East Side nonprofit groups. By summer or fall of next year, a bidder will be selected and by summer 2010 the completed pavilions will be open to the public. 

The E.D.C. came to Community Board 1’s Waterfront Committee this week to give updates on two additional pavilions: the one near Maiden Lane and South St. and the one on Pier 15.

The 3,300-square-foot pavilion on Pier 15 will focus on maritime education, said Scott Barnholt, who is working on the pavilions for E.D.C. He expects the E.D.C. to release a request for expressions of interest, or R.F.E.I., this summer, which will be due in fall 2008. The E.D.C. prefers non-profits with experience providing maritime education programs. Barnholt hopes the programs in the pavilion will pay for the pavilion’s operation, but he does not expect the operators to have additional revenue to give the E.D.C. to support the esplanade as a whole.

“We hope [the maritime pavilion] will create a node of activity to attract people to the pier,” Barnholt said.

If the E.D.C. wants to see more detailed plans, they may issue an R.F.P. for the pavilion in spring 2009 that would be due that summer. Then they would select an operator by fall 2009, close the following spring and allow the operator to start construction in the summer of 2010. Barnholt expects the maritime education center to begin operating by late 2010 or early 2011.

Leaders of the South Street Seaport Museum have repeatedly said they have a historic right to the pier and expect to operate the educational programs there, but it looks like they will have to submit the R.F.E.I. along with any other interested operators. Barnholt would not name any specific nonprofits with which he had discussed the pavilion.

The design for Pier 15 has been the most controversial element of the East River Waterfront plan at C.B. 1. The redesign of Pier 15 is still under review by the Arts Commission, Barnholt said.

The E.D.C. will also release an R.F.P. for the 5,600-square-foot pavilion just to the south of the intersection of Maiden Lane and South St. Barnholt expects a commercial tenant to operate that pavilion and pay rent to the E.D.C., money that would support the rest of the waterfront.

Some examples of uses the E.D.C. would consider include a dance studio, a restaurant, a performance space, a gallery and a specialty retail shop. In response to a board member’s question, Barnholt said he would not consider a cell phone store, no matter how much revenue it could bring the park.

The E.D.C. will release the R.F.P. for the Maiden Lane pavilion this summer and select an operator by next spring. Barnholt hopes the operator could begin fitting out the pavilion in spring 2010 and open it that summer.

There are seven pavilions in the East River Waterfront project, with staggered R.F.P.s and opening dates, Barnholt said.

At an earlier, Jan. 15 C.B. 3 meeting, some residents said they were worried the pavilions would be used as office space. E.D.C. officials refuted this concern. 

“[The pavilions] will never be an office for any agency,” the agency’s Nicole Dooskin said at the April 8 C.B. 3 meeting. “This is not meant to be a not-for-profit’s office.” 

In addition to recreation, residents have asked that the pavilions be used for education and general social interaction. 

“Various uses were proposed, including miniature golf, a bike rental space, a food court, a skating rink and space available for functions, such as weddings and parties,” E.D.C.’s report said. 

But some are skeptical that the city will follow through on its promise to keep the pavilions open to the community. 

“The devil is in the details,” said Laine Romero-Alston, who works with a coalition of community groups called O.U.R. Waterfront. “The renderings are nice and pretty and beautiful, but what’s going to happen, what’s going to go in there, is what’s to be seen.”




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