Volume 16 • Issue 33 | January 16 - 22, 2004


A good case for supporting Pier 40 lawsuit

What’s to be made of waterfront activist Arthur Schwartz’s filing a lawsuit, essentially on his own, against the Hudson River Park Trust over the failed Pier 40 redevelopment process?

There seems to be a leeriness being expressed by community members and even politicians at the Greenwich Village Democratic district leader’s action.

Although the Friends of Hudson River Park decided in October not to file the lawsuit, their attorney, Schwartz, in fact, did file it, and now has activated it, with his playgrounds organization as plaintiff and with a court date set for Feb. 3.

Yet, local youth sports leagues are anxious to get a full-size field built on the W. Houston St. pier for use by this summer and others are curious to see what the Hudson River Park Trust will offer in the way of an interim plan for the pier. The general outlines of the interim plan are familiar: the field and more parking spaces. The field, pegged at $5 million, would take up to two months to build.

However, we think the lawsuit has potentially more positives than negatives. The Trust missed a deadline to come up with a plan to create more open space on Pier 40 last year. After over a year invested on the project in which at least three and perhaps more development teams invested hundreds of thousands dollars worth of consultants and materials, and there was tremendous community input, the authority finally decided not to pick anyone.

The Trust continues to be vague on when a new request for proposals for developers for the pier will be issued — or if one will be issued at all. A marketing study may be done at some point, we are told. In the meanwhile, the interim use plan for the pier is set to last for up to seven years and maybe longer. Exactly how long, no one really knows.

Because the Trust botched the developer search last year, one wonders how much time will have to pass before park developers are willing to invest the money and effort to come up with a “permanent plan.” It is at least possible this so-called interim Pier 40 plan will be there for decades, in which case the community needs to maximize its input. The lawsuit may be the best way. It could force the Trust to show its hand — and, in the case a weak one exists, to set some concrete benchmarks, in the form of a real timetable for the pier’s development. And the suit could also do what Schwartz ultimately wants: compel the Trust to either pick a developer from the last round of proposals it rejected or reissue a new R.F.P. for the pier.

Schwartz was one of the leaders of a broader group that sued over Pier 40 seven years ago. The state was forced to build the first fields on the pier’s roof to settle that suit.

To the fears of some that Schwartz will end up the only one at the negotiating table with the Trust if the suit succeeds, he offers assurance that he would include the local elected officials and community members who want to be involved. That’s obviously an important consideration.

Now that Connie Fishman has taken over as the Trust’s new president, she has an opportunity — and an obligation — to address the ongoing problems that have plagued the Trust over the past year, from the implosion of the Pier 40 process to the lack of communication with the public and community boards that resulted in the ice-skating rink mess.

This lawsuit may also help clarify and open up the way the Trust operates. It’s high time the Trust met its obligations at Pier 40 — and in its operation of the park in general. Rather than circle the wagons, Fishman should use this occasion to figure out how to move the park forward sensibly and effectively.

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