The Hudson River Park Trust (the “Trust,” or “HRPT”), the State-City agency that built and runs the Park, urgently needs about $200 million for “capital maintenance” – repairing and rebuilding major elements of the Park. New York City and New York State are supposed to pay to build the park, and in addition to the $400 million already paid, about $235 million more is needed to finish. That does not include maintenance.
The Park was conceived as having several sites that would generate income to support the Park. I believe in light of the failed and unpopular responses to the “requests for proposals” for Pier 40, the 1998 Hudson River Park Act should be amended to put more options on the table for those sites. This would require a bill passing the State Legislature and signed by the Governor.
Pier 40 at West Houston St. has been a major source of income for the Park. The long-term parking garage that occupies most of the massive pier building has produced about 40% of the Park’s income. The large open square surrounded by the building is used for soccer and baseball leagues – a terrific asset for New Yorkers young and old.
Pier 40 is falling apart. The roof leaks so badly that over a third of the parking slots have been closed. The pilings that hold up the pier are rapidly deteriorating. If it isn’t rebuilt, the playing fields and the building will be condemned and the pier will start to fall into the River. Repairs will cost about $125 million.
The bulkhead – the wall that keeps the West Side from falling into the Hudson – needs major work. Tropical Storm Irene tore out a chunk, costing HRPT $6 million. Another $8 million in bulkhead repairs are needed in the next 10 years.
HRPT organized a task force of community board representatives, park organization leaders, and local legislators to develop ideas for how to generate more revenue for the Park, including to look at changes to the Park Act.
The Park Act allows limited commercial uses in the areas that are meant to produce revenue for the Park. Any major action by HRPT requires public hearings and compliance with the City Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP).
Some of the task force’s recommendations are small and not very controversial: e.g., allowing the concession stands that rent skates to also sell them; allowing HRPT to rebuild Pier 54 shorter but wider than it was.
A major recommendation deals with Pier 76 at West 36th St., which is occupied by the City’s automobile tow pound and the mounted police stable. The Hudson River Park Act says that those facilities must move, and then half of Pier 76 will become open public park space and half will remain City property not part of the Park. The task force recommended that the City’s half of Pier 76 be turned over to the Park and have development on the pier produce revenue for the Park.
But some of the recommendations have produced controversy, especially about Pier 40. The task force recommended that at Pier 40 and Pier 76, the permitted commercial uses be expanded to allow additional uses including housing, hotel, and offices. The reason for these changes was to allow for more options at those piers. Any decision to implement any of these options would have to go through a “request for proposals” and an extensive planning process with community input under the existing law.
What happens at Pier 40 or 76 does not just affect the local area. The future of the whole park depends on every segment of the Park contributing to its upkeep.
A study commissioned by HRPT showed that housing on a small portion of Pier 40 or 76 would likely have the lowest traffic impact of any revenue-producing option, while generating the highest and most reliable revenue to support the Park. So housing could take up a smaller portion of the pier than other options and allow for more open public park space and views of the River where there is now none. For these reasons, housing has become an option that many want considered.
It is better than continuing the huge Pier 40 parking garage and Pier 76 tow pound, which allow no open public park space and no view. It ought to be allowed to be considered under the Park Act’s planning process.
HRPT and the community have tried – and failed – for years to find a way to redevelop Pier 40. The limit on how long a lease HRPT can offer a developer has made proposals impossible to finance. And allowing HRPT to float bonds would lower the cost of infrastructure work by taking advantage of tax-exempt municipal bond rates.
It would be great if we could get the State and City to pay for the Park’s huge capital maintenance costs as well as the cost of completing the Park. But that’s not realistic.
Towards the end of the Albany legislative session that ended on June 21, we tried to develop and pass legislation to implement the HRPT task force’s recommendations. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
I introduced a bill that is a “first take” on adopting the recommendations that had agreement among the local legislators. However, while the bill would allow office buildings on Pier 40, it would not allow housing or a hotel. Assembly Member Deborah Glick, who represents the Pier 40 area, opposes adding those provisions for Pier 40. But the bill would allow those uses at Pier 76, which is in my district.
I believe that the Pier 40 provisions should match the Pier 76 provisions. Otherwise, there will be no future for open public park space and views of the Hudson on Pier 40, the ugly pier building will stay there until the pier crumbles into the River, and the Park will be deprived of revenue it desperately needs.
The Legislature has recessed, but we may well come back for a brief session in December, and the regular session will begin in January. I hope we can use the next few months to develop broad community support for a stronger bill that can become law. The future of the wonderful Hudson River Park depends on it.