Volume 17 • Issue 18 | SEPTEMBER 24 - 30, 2004

Downtown Express file photo by Elisabeth Robert

Pier 57 at W. 15th St.

Trust considers two plans for Pier 57

By Albert Amateau

Citing doubts about the financial feasibility of two of the four proposals to redevelop Pier 57 at 15th St., the Hudson River Park Trust this week eliminated from the project Original Ventures, a consortium of private and community groups proposing a Hudson River Performing Arts Center, and Discover 57, made up of community and environmental groups and private developers.

The decision left Chelsea Piers Management and Leonardo at Pier 57 (a consortium of the Cipriani restaurant group with Plaza Construction Corp. and The Witkoff Group) as the only proposals presented to the public at the Trust’s Sept. 22 hearing.

The 300,000 sq. ft pier, a city bus garage until last year, was most recently used to detain people arrested in connection with protests during the Republican National Convention. The Wednesday hearing was a step in the process to convert the pier into a mixed commercial and public destination in the riverfront park being built between Chambers and 59th Sts.

Elected officials and some members of the local Pier 57 working group, which advised the Trust on the selection of the original four proposals, were dismayed at the decision to eliminate the two development teams that had significant involvement of not-for-profit agencies.

Connie Fishman, president of the Hudson River Park Trust, said the two development teams were eliminated because they did not meet the financial requirements written into the Request for Proposals in July. The two teams also failed to respond to questions the Trust asked on Sept. 8 and Sept. 10 about financial details, Fishman said.

The two surviving proposals, like the eliminated plans, include an array of community activities, berthing for historic boats and public walkways.

Steve Witkoff, who owns Lower Manhattan’s landmark Woolworth Building, and Giuseppe Cipriani, principals in the Leonardo on Pier 57 plan, made the presentation Wednesday with a major change from an earlier public presentation: the addition of a pedestrian bridge from the High Line at 10th Ave. and 15th St. over the West Side Highway to Pier 57.

The High Line, the derelict elevated railroad that runs from Gansevoort St. to 33rd St. along the west side of 10th Ave., is to be converted into a 1.5-miled elevated park as part of the redevelopment of West Chelsea and the Hudson Yards district to the north.

Cipriani would also establish a floating swimming pool, which could serve in winter as an ice rink, on a barge at 14th St. just south of Pier 57. In addition, the barge now on the north side of Pier 63 and operated as Pier 63 Maritime by John Krevey, would become Pier 57 Maritime and move to the end of the swimming pool barge. Pier 57 Maritime would have a flotilla of historic ships including the Lightship Frying Pan, the Fireboat John J. Harvey and the sailing vessel Anne, whose owner and builder, Reid Stowe, testified on Wednesday for the Cipriani project.

An Italian crafts, retail and cultural center in a two-story arcade simulating an Italian street is the central feature of Leonardo at Pier 57. The plan also has a restaurant, event space and a marina and nautical store. The plan also calls for parking for more than 300 cars, in the deep caissons that secure the east and west ends of the pier.

The Chelsea Piers proposal for Pier 57 would have a covered tennis center with nine courts on the roof of the pier. Tentative plans call for a public area between the fourth and fifth courts, but the kind of structure has not been determined. It could be a fabric bubble or a solid structure, or even a combination of solid and fabric sections, Roland Betts, chairperson of Chelsea Piers, said.

However, several Chelsea residents at the Wednesday hearing feared the tennis center would obstruct the view corridor.

Chelsea Piers Management plans an aquatics center with a competition-size pool and a 16-ft. deep diving section. Boating, a row of art galleries, studios and a 40,000-sq.-ft. dance center is also part of the plan, along with an arts center with classes in plastic and visual arts.

The Chelsea Piers plan also calls for parking in the caisson that supports the shore end of the pier. The caisson that supports the west end of the pier would be leased to the city or a federal agency like FEMA for use as an emergency center, according to David Tewksbury, vice president of Chelsea Piers.

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, co-author of the 1998 Hudson River Park Act that established the Trust as the state-city agency building the five-mile-long park, said at the Wednesday hearing that the two rejected applicants should be reinstated and given a chance to deal with financial feasibility questions again.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick said in a prepared statement that although she is a member of the Pier 57 working group, she was not told until the day before the hearing that two proposals were being cut. The two teams, she said, should continue through the development process. The Trust has rushed the Pier 57 development process, Glick contended. “Instead of working to ensure that the most appropriate proposal is chosen, the Trust seems overly concerned with quickly developing Pier 57 so that they will no longer have to make monthly maintenance and operation payments for the pier,” she said.

Congressmember Jerrold Nadler also issued a statement that he was dismayed and urged the Trust to reinstate the two bids.

In private banter, Hudson River Park activists were saying this week that the contest between the two remaining contenders is a duel between two Republican power centers: “Ortenzio vs. Betts.”

Betts, a former business partner of George W. Bush and a classmate and fellow member of Skull and Bones at Yale with the president, is a founder of Chelsea Piers Management, which has been operating the sports and entertainment complex on Piers 59, 60, 61 and 62 just north of Pier 57 for nearly 10 years. Betts is also an appointee of Governor George Pataki on the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. board of directors. He made the presentation on Wednesday of the Chelsea Piers Pier 57 proposal.

James Ortenzio, a prominent Republican fundraiser and ally of Governor Pataki, was quoted earlier this year in Crain’s New York Business as supporting the Leonardo proposal. Perhaps only coincidentally, his park name, bestowed a few years ago by the then city Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, is “Leonardo.”

Ortenzio, former chairperson of the Hudson River Park Trust board of directors, said in a telephone interview that the Crain’s quote was taken from remarks he made supporting any developer who offers the highest annual rent for Pier 57.

“I would be in favor of a government of Finland proposal to keep reindeer or cheese on part of the pier if they paid $3 million or more a year. At the same time I’d convince them to include a lot of great public uses on the pier,” he remarked.

The Leonardo financial package includes an extremely high offer of annual rent, and Ortenzio said he sees revenue from commercial uses on Pier 57 as vital for maintaining the entire Hudson River Park being built between Chambers and 59th Sts. The Pier 57 developer should be the one that offers the highest annual rent, Ortenzio said.

Pier 40 is to be permanently redeveloped with at least 50 percent of its 14 acres for park uses and the rest for commercial uses that will also generate revenues for the entire park. But proposals for the Pier 40 redevelopment were rejected last year and the Trust is installing interim playing fields with public parking as the only revenue-producing source.

However, even after Pier 40 is permanently redeveloped in the as-yet-unspecified future, it would not be enough to maintain the park, according to Ortenzio. “I’ve always seen Pier 57 as the second source of major revenue for the park. You don’t want to wait and go begging to the city or the state for money and a park like this requires maintenance,” he said.

Nevertheless, the elimination of Discover 57 and Hudson River Performing Arts Center from consideration dismayed local activists.

“Many of us are not completely surprised but we’re unhappy that two community-based groups have not made the cut,” Edward Kirkland, a member of Community Board 4 and head of the Pier 57 working group, said the day before the hearing.

Hudson River Performing Arts Center, one of the rejected proposals, includes Hudson Guild, the National Maritime Historical Society and Riverkeeper, the nonprofit group headed by Robert Kennedy, Jr. Michael Kramer, a Chelsea resident and former member of Community Board 4, is a partner.

Discover 57, the other rejected proposal, includes LCOR Development Services, Bovis Lend Lease as project managers and Meta Brunzema, a member of Community Board 4 as architect. John Doswell, also a member of Community Board 4 and a founder of Friends of Hudson River Park, is a partner.

The Trust will accept written testimony on the two proposals until Oct. 18 and the plans will be on display from Sept. 15-Oct. 18 in the lobby of the Trust headquarters on Pier 40 at Houston St. A decision could come by the end of November.


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