“Come to the meeting” e-mailed Arthur Schwartz who heads the Advisory Committee of the Hudson River Park Trust. I drove 100 miles from Bridgehampton, parked my car at Pier 40 and discovered my awaiting bike had a flat and no, they could not take it in the HRPT golf cart to the bike shop – “insurance, you know.”
So, I walked a flat, wobbly and resistant bike home in the heat and humidity and then returned to the very same Pier 40 to a second floor meeting room with a roaring ineffectual air conditioner. The room filled with representatives of organizations in and around the five mile long bike path park and also included State Assemblyman Dick Gottfried and a representative for Assemblymember Deborah Glick.
HRPT Vice President Noreen Doyle distributed a seven page document “DRAFT RESOLUTION ON PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE HUSDSON RIVER PARK ACT” as Arthur explained the attempt to change the possible uses of the two piers that allowed profit making commercial activity on Piers 40 and 76. Currently, they can only be used for parking, retail and entertainment. The activist, Task Force, wants to allow apartments and a hotel (defensively they quickly add “and other uses” but the Pier 40 sports groups paid $150,000 to Tishman Construction for the “ideal” solution that is – 600 to 750 apartments and a 150 room hotel – the most profit and least traffic.).
Arthur went on to explain that the June attempt to pass the law to allow for apartments and a hotel had been stopped by Assemblymember Debora Glick (she does not go for the apartments). However, if the Governor or the Speaker demanded a special session in December, then it might be passed, otherwise the next date is March 2013.
It is rare at a meeting like this that we have a for-real politician. Dick Gottfried is an exception. He confessed to Dr. Kaufman and me his concern that perhaps he made himself “too available.” At 23, he was the youngest Assemblymember ever elected and has been with the Assembly for 42 years (you can add up his age and no, he has no plans to retire). Arthur quite rightly deferred and asked him pivotal questions and Gottfried in turn, asked HRPT President Madelyn Wils about the extra $15million for which she was asking. She explained that she “had been asked how much did she require to make needed repairs to Pier 40 for the next few months and I said $10 million but that was never the number of cost to fix the roof but to buy a few more months before the legislation got passed.”
The physical decay of the 14.5 acre pier on West Houston Street is very real. So much so, it is demanding millions of dollars of repairs and the money is not coming from parking and lease revenue and not from the City and State who are only charged with supplying money for actually building the park. Furthermore, with the economy what it is, the money to do park-like things on the remaining unfinished piers decreases in priority and hence less and less money is allocated.
However, even if Deborah Glick approves the new uses for Pier 40 and it is then incorporated in a new law, that law, as we said, cannot be voted on until March 2013 and then the HRPT has to retain a company to write a Request for Proposal (they’ve done this twice before). Then the actual proposals with elaborate renderings have to be prepared and submitted to the several community boards for lengthy discussions and a vote. The HRPT board has to formally give it a “yes” or “no” after which there is the State Environmental Quality Review followed by the Uniform Land Use Review with more discussion and approvals from the several community boards bordering the park. It also requires the Borough President’s contribution, the City Planning Commission’s stamp of approval and the City Council’s “yes.” Finally, the Mayor’s review; Arthur Schwartz echoed my concern with the time needed in a trailing coda “years, years, years.”
Sadly, there are no years available. The crumbling roof on Pier 40 is causing it to lose parking which use to account for 40% of the Park’s revenue; it now sits at 30%. (A recent management solution was to raise parking fees. One parking clerk admitted that since the pier is remote, it is rapidly losing drivers who would rather pay another $30 more and park near their home.)
As I listened to my recording of the meeting, I heard myself muttering “this is nuts – this is crazy.” Here we have Madelyn Wils talking about having the steel piles checked for corrosion next year and Gottfried is saying “if we patch the roof on Pier 40, in a handful of years the pilings will crumble and the pier will fall into the water, what will be the environmental clean up costs be?”
As Arthur Schwartz observed, the Village is known for its ability to prevent something from happening. However, there was no political power or will in that room to make something happen – none.
Despite the heat, a few speakers felt ego-compelled to preen their knowledge of bureau-speak, but one heard the message – why are we doing this if you are going to run out of money long before you can change the law?
One of the reasons NYU’s Vice President Lynne Brown rejected the WestView proposal to put the NYU expansion on Pier 40 was the $100 million or more needed to encase the corroding steel piles in cement and replace the hundreds of concrete roof slabs. Madelyn Wils speculated that with $15 million, they might keep the pier open for another year or so. Without the infusion of millions, the pier will be condemned and the $4-5 million of revenue from parking will end and with it, probably the life of the Hudson River Park Trust; what remains of the Park would be turned over to the Park Department, which already performs the security and maintenance.
Fifteen years ago, the role of the Trust was to carry out demands of the community to build a park and not the federal-backed West Way, which they saw as a Moses-like highway. If the lawsuit to preserve the breeding ground of the stripe bass had not triggered the withdrawal of $2 billion from Washington, we would now have a park stretching 500 ft. out into the Hudson with a suppressed muffled highway. You could have rolled a baby carriage from Greenwich Street to the river’s edge.
Although they now blame the community, the HRPT management and board has, in ten years, failed to accept a developer’s proposal to build a commercially profitable complex on Pier 40 and now they will soon run out of cash to pay themselves salaries and do even minimum maintenance.
I found myself speaking,
“Two weeks ago, Mayor Bloomberg announced a city sponsored project to build 300 sq. ft. apartments which are currently not legal. When I called the City Hall press office, I was told that there would be no problem since they are to be built on a city owned parking lot on East 27th Street. Mayor Bloomberg cited this as the future – young people from all over the world who want to make it in New York will be able to rent a 300 sq. ft. space for just $2000 a month. It is hot in here but why isn’t Diane Taylor sitting over there – isn’t she the Chairwoman of the Hudson River Park Trust?
If you ask what this community wants on Pier 40, I’m going to bet what they want – they want a hospital – they want a replacement for St. Vincent’s. Now if Mayor Bloomberg who can create illegal 300 sq. ft. apartments were to say I want a hospital, we would have a hospital; Diane Taylor has access to the Mayor.”
I turned to Assemblyman Gottfried,
“Dick, don’t you want a hospital?”
“I want a hospital in the area I am not doing site selection,” came his flip rejoinder.
An unidentified speaker offered “So let’s assume for the next 21 months we are sitting here talking about what happens in month 21 if nothing is done.”
I think Diane Taylor or better, Mayor Bloomberg should answer that question.