If you want to know how and who will save the Hudson River Park, look to money. More and more, it is the people with money who dictate solutions and those are usually in their interest. We have, right here in the West Village, another example of money and the lack of it dictating a solution.
I received a rendering of Pier 40 showing two 15 story apartment buildings perched on the edge of the West Side highway and a truncated 2 story parking garage pushed to the northwest corner. The rest of the rendering was the color that anesthetizes the coiled-for-the-jugular activist – green. It included the nearly four acre courtyard field, a 100 x 200 ft. rooftop field, a Liberty View Park, a South Gate Park, a North Gate park and a 20 ft. wide running track. How wonderful if your kid is playing on the pier; we have no acres of playing fields in Lower Manhattan (my son Doric had to climb the locked 20 ft. chain link fence around PS 41 to play on weekends).
We are told that this rendering was offered by a consortium of the sports groups who use the pier and that they have combined to seek a solution to save the decaying 50 year old pier under the uninspired pre-teen name, Pier 40 Champions. Yet wait, this is the second attempt for the sports dads. Just a few months ago they paid $150,000 to Tishman Construction to come up with the ideal solution – maximum pay off, minimum traffic – which was 600-800 market rate apartments and a 150 room hotel.
Assemblywoman Deborah Glick did not buy it and received plenty of political millage out of slamming it so the sports dads retreated to meet weekly in order to come up with what we thought was going to be an alternate solution. Instead, they came up with two 15 story apartment buildings with hundreds of market rate apartments, yet this time they only paid $25,000 for the rendering.
Now, there is a second money epicenter in this equation from developer Douglas Durst, who has an apartment complex on the river around 42nd Street and heads the Friends of Hudson River Park. Years ago, Durst did make a proposal to develop Pier 40 along with parking operator Ben Korman, but HRPT rejected it, making Durst pretty mad.
As we said, money controls events and Durst became the head of Friends of Hudson River Park and offered to become the official fundraising source for the Park; the cash-starved HRPT bought it and placed themselves in the financial hands of Durst. Furthermore, Durst has long had the idea to create a Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) to access the businesses. Apartments, houses, office buildings and even the Whitney Museum would contribute a modest yearly fee to pay for the maintenance of the Park. (Durst is now having his salaried staff start the long process to having a city charter for the NID and as the head of the NID, is donating a projected $10 million a year to the Park he owns – sweet revenge.)
Durst did not think much of the Tishman proposal because of it gross naivety. You can’t just build 600-800 market rate apartment these days, you have to throw a bone to us drowning middle class; you have to offer at least 20% of the apartments at market rate but here we have the sports dads going back to offering all of the apartments at market rates again.
Now one of the reasons the Hudson River Park twin glass apartment towers will be built on the edge of the roaring West Side Highway is that instead of building on steel piles, they can build on land – cheaper and it will not interrupt the sports seasons.
As I said, Durst sees the sports dads as amateurs and has a plan worked out with Ben Korman of concentrating all the parking on the first floor and putting the cars up on racks to concentrate them in a smaller space to make the rest of the pier open to commercial uses, for example inviting Google to build a tech center (yes, he will keep the sports field).
However, money cannot overcome the dead hand of bureaucracy. To build the glistening glass apartment towers or the Google Tech Center would mean changing laws and zoning; we are talking about time, time, time – years. So, it is the hope of the sports dads that nobody will order an inspection of the 3,600 corroding steel piles and that one of the reinforced concrete roof slabs will not drop onto the cars parked below until the laws and zoning are changed and a developer is found.
So, Durst with his NID and as head of Friends of the Hudson River Park is quietly gaining financial control of the park, the sports dads are doing better and better renderings and dropping any pretence that Pier 40 is anything else but a “Sports City.”
If you look at a map of New York City, it shows Battery Park City constructed on new land created from the excavation of the World Trade Center and the sand dredged from the harbors ship channels. It extends exactly out as far as Pier 40, some 500 ft. and ends where the Hudson River Park begins at Chambers Street. So, why not continue the dumping of dredged harbor sand and create a platform for Hudson River Park City to build market rate and affordable rent apartments and yes, sports fields.
It may be much less expensive to extend the fill than save the pier. Indeed, after the new athletic fields are built, the demolished pier could provide fill for a further extension and so on, to build a real park on fill extending up to the West Village and encompassing the area that was Pier 40. However, I don’t have any money so this solution of building a real park on fill will never happen.
They are talking about inviting us all to offer our opinions of what to do with Pier 40 and unless, like me, you own a newspaper, your opinion will only provide you a moment of ego exaltation.