Volume 23, Number 12 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 28 - August 3, 2010Downtown Express photos by Milo Hess
FROM THE ARCHIVES
The waterfront of our dreams, 20 years ago
In July of 1990, the Downtown Express ran a two-page spread by Jere Hester titled “The waterfront of our dreams.” It detailed a proposal from the West Side Waterfront Panel, a seven-member body created to determine the future of the decaying waterfront, to create “the largest—and greatest—waterfront park in the world. And by the year 2000 no less.”
Almost exactly 20 years later, the southern end of Hudson River Park stands as one of Lower Manhattan’s finest resources for nature, play and relaxation. But the vision of the 1990 panel differs from the reality of the park’s present design in many significant ways; some of the most familiar locations on the downtown waterfront were originally intended for different use.
Hester reported that, while downtown residents were excited to learn of the panel’s plans to build the massive park from Battery Park City to 59th Street and shore up 13 deteriorating piers, they were concerned with the plan’s reliance upon money from developers. Waterfront advocates dedicated to the idea suggested, “with some creativity and hard work, enough government money—especially more federal funds—could be scrounged up over the next decade to keep developers away.”
One source of concern was the proposed use of Greenwich Village Pier 40 for “1,000 units of housing, as well as commercial space.” Now, that 14-acre space is home to several public athletic fields, a trapeze center, and seasonal moorings for ships among other popular sporting programs. In addition, the pier is operated by the Hudson River Park Trust as part of the larger park rather than by a single developer. H.R.P.T. was formed at the recommendation of the West Side Waterfront Panel and oversaw the park’s development from 1992 onward. Clearly, the concerns of those who protested the presence of a real-estate juggernaut on the waterfront impacted the park’s design.
Another space the panel recommended for sale to developers stirred up complaints; Hester’s article states “three Chelsea piers would also be up for residential development.” Those piers, running from 18th to 21st streets along the water, became an essential part of the downtown landscape: Chelsea Piers, the sports and entertainment entity. Once predicted to become a spacious residential complex with “20 percent of the piers devoted to open space” according to Hester’s article, the sports facility is hardly a roomy housing locale. The Chelsea Piers website boasts, “This $100 million, privately-financed project has transformed the historic, but long-neglected, Chelsea Piers into a major center for public recreation and waterfront access.” In this case, developers triumphed over waterfront purists, but different ones than the 1990 panel expected.
The panel did have some luck in predicting the future of Tribeca’s piers, however. Hester reported that Pier 25 was intended as “a public recreation space” in the panel’s plans, and, after renovations are completed in October, it will be just that. H.R.P.T.’s website describes plans for the pier to hold “a miniature golf course, beach volleyball courts, children’s playground, town dock and moorings, locations for historic boats and a flexible artificial lawn on the western end.”
The future of its neighbor, Pier 26, is less certain. A recent Downtown Express article by Michael Mandelkern states “As for Pier 26, funding seems to be the hold up. There isn’t enough money yet to open the planned estuarium, a hands-on ecology wet lab, despite a $5 million grant the H.R.P.T. received solely for the project.”
In 1990, the intent for the space was the same. Hester’s article describes the panel’s plans to use the pier as “a public recreation space that may also serve as a home to marine research.” But, as 20 years of development gives proof, nothing is quite certain in the ongoing saga of Hudson River Park.
— compiled by Joseph Rearick
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