Call for 600 luxury apartments and hotel
On May 1, WestView News hit the vestibules of the West Village with our big cover article suggesting NYU be offered Pier 40 in return for building a hospital. A day later I received an e-mail from attorney and Chairman of the Advisory Committee to the Hudson River Park Trust, Arthur Schwartz, suggesting breakfast at Manatus.
Not helping me digest my easy-overs, he began revealing that, some weeks before, a task force of all of the groups using Pier 40, along with our local politicians, had come up with a very different solution to save Pier 40 and the debt blasted HRPT; that is to build 600 luxury apartments and a 150 room hotel. Arthur sketched out three 15 story buildings and a hotel at the northwest corner (I put down my fork – breakfast was over).
Wow, here we had worked so hard to come up with a two page center fold rendering of NYU on Pier 40 with a hospital with a for-real emergency room and here was Arthur, instead of saying “Hey, George you got a great solution,” trying to sell me on 600 luxury apartments and a smart hotel. This is nuts! How did this happen?
Let us step back in time to May 2005 for the inauguration of the perpetually spring green astro turf courtyard field at Pier 40. I missed Governor Pataki’s kick off, but did see and hear TV chef Mario Batali in his signature short pants savour the triumph. “What is this plump non athletic balding Mario Batali doing here I asked,” and later discovered he has two boys whose downtown private school, had, at last, found a field to play on.
Sure, we have no sports fields in downtown Manhattan. On weekends my son Doric had to climb the locked 20 ft. chain link fence surrounding the asphalt play area of PS 41 and play basketball in the stuffy, undersized indoor court at Greenwich House. Recently, 20 Manhattan private schools, including Dalton and Buckley offered $44.7 million for primetime use of more than two thirds of the 60 fields on Randall’s Island. However, East Harlem and South Bronx successfully sued them, only to see the private schools take over for free because they had the bus transportation unlike the public schools.
In February 2003, as HRPT Commissioner Diane Taylor paused and then later rejected Related’s bid to build a permanent theater for Circe du Soleil, Paul Ullman, venture capitalist and soccer dad, discovered Pier 40 when he found his son playing on it. He then successfully campaigned to get on the board (Pataki’s very last appointment) and offered a plan of $200 to $300 million to do a money-making sports complex.
Last month, I received an email from CB 2 that on Thursday May 31 there was to be a meeting in of all places, St. Paul’s Chapel, to formally present the 600 luxury apartment solution. I biked down on the Hudson River Park bike path and heard and then discovered a gaggle of banner holding chanters protesting the gas pipe line to come across Gansevoort Street (right cause wrong meeting).
St. Paul’s was completed in 1766 and is the oldest church in New York City. George Washington and the new members of Congress walked in stately pomp from the Federal building after his inauguration to solemnize the event and for the two years that New York was the capital, kept a pew. I thought of him and “I can’t tell a lie” during the interminable two hour meeting of omissions and power point visual slight of hands.
The meeting started with the new HRPT President and CEO Madelyn Wils reviewing the dire financial condition of the still unfinished Park. Both the money from the city and state to finish the park (still 30% to go) and the money to pay salaries and maintenance had slowed to such a degree that they had dipped into the $25 million reserve fund; at the rate they are going that will all be gone in 20 months – no money.
Later, dozens of speakers suggested solutions or simple demanded that the city and state come up with the money. However, the way the original law was written, the city and state were to come up with the capital improvements (money to actually build the park) and a few of the pier were designated as ones that could be leased or used commercially to produce the operating budget. The largest of these is Pier 40 and it has been producing around $5 million from car parking which is about 30% of needed operating budget.
Wils projected a graph showing the corrosion of the steel piles with red triangles indicating sever (the chart was nearly all red). The roof of the 14.5 acre pier is made up of hundreds of pre-cast concrete slabs which have been visibly corroding for 20 years and leaking impossible to remove lime deposits on the cars below. All of these repairs are in excess of $100 million.
Yet this is 14.5 acres of waterfront property next to the West Village Gold Coast with the Richard Meir glass celebrity towers – this is valuable property! The problem is when the rules were written 15 years ago about how the pier could be developed, the “Act” said no residences. One of the main reasons of the meeting was to get the community to accept that the Act had to be changed to allow for the building of 600 apartments and a 150 room hotel. However, it has to be done fast as the State legislation ends in June so there are only days for State Assemblyman Dick Gottfried to introduce an action which will expunge the restrictions of the Act and permit building (Gottfried with less than his best political wobble indicated he was ready to make the change). Later, several speakers demurred and said they were not too pleased with the idea of three 15 story buildings on the pier, but came to realize that is the only realistic solution and they accepted it.
You can imagine that with no real responsibility for signing the pay checks of the HRPT management and staff, the user groups happily and generously indulged in speculating as to how the park might be saved. To break the “you-know-what-you-ought-to-dos,” somebody decided to hire a developer (I would love to know who that is but no one will tell me) to speculate for money (paying money for an opinion lends it both weight and validity). That developer ended up being the Tishmancompany, the firm Bill Rudin has retained to convert St. Vincent’s into 360 luxury condominiums. Tishman’s recommendation was the 600 luxury apartments and a 150 room hotel.
Three of the sports groups using the Pier, Greenwich Village Little League, the Downtown United (Youth) Soccer Club, and the Pier Park and Playground Association came up with the spectacular sum of $150,000 for the one sentence answer – build expensive apartments and an expensive hotel. $100,000 came from P3 alone and its director Tobi Bergman explained that they charge kids for the programs and don’t pay rent on Pier 40. The Greenwich Little League and ——came up with the other $50,000. I don’t know how many private school kids verses public school kids are using the Pier and it does not matter, all kids should be able to play on a field (my son Doric felt I had stunted his athletic career by not moving to the suburbs so he could have played football).
I am sure it will be argued that I am only pushing for NYU and a hospital because I thought it up. My letter to NYU President Sexton was sent over to the NYU PR director Lynne P. Brown who in effect said no and that we have come this far and we think the city to going to OK our plan – nice idea but no.
I ask, what are the sports groups going to do – they paid $150,000 for the one sentence answer – build 600 luxury apartments and a hotel. Now, WestView says invite NYU to build on the pier so it will not build in the backyard of Washington Square Village.
When I started to write this article, I called Tischman’s press office to ask for a copy of the study. I was told by John Gallagher that I had to call John Kell of SKD Knickerbocker, the PR and political strategy firm that guided Bill Rudin to get St. Vincent’s and convert it into luxury condominiums – hmm.