By George Capsis
I asked this question when, on December 14, I read a Times editorial actually endorsing a plan by two investment real estate developers to build a massive three-block long towering river complex of 1586 apartments that will shadow the historic West Village for a century or more.
Our Times editorialist buys the argument that it is a good deal for the Hudson River Park to take $100 million for the air rights of the 15 acre Pier 40 whose 3600 steel pilings are dangerously corroding in the salty Hudson estuary waters. Additionally, the reinforced concrete slabs that form the three levels of decking have, after 53 years of freezing and thawing, dangerously crumbled, bleeding calcium deposits on the parked cars below. Sections of the pier are now closed, preventing damage which would further diminish the $5 million in parking revenue the park used to enjoy.
The Times writer gets a little muddled when he or she says that “the pier is supposed to provide a revenue stream for the entire park.” No, the three piers designated for rental to a developer, of which Pier 40 is one, supply cash flow just to maintain the park. The actual building out and planting of the remaining derelict piers was and is to be paid for by the City and State who have been giving the park less and less each year.
The Times editorial offers that The Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) “has struggled for years to manage and build the still unfinished four mile riverfront Park.” What the park’s management and board have really done is fail to accept a developer for Pier 40 after 20 years and two elaborate, protracted, and expensive Requests For Proposals, as well as a scattering of informal ones. I mean, isn’t it the responsibility of the HRPT board appointed by the Mayor and Governor to make a DECISION and to pick, just PICK, a development proposal? Management now blames us, the community, because we did not like a permanent home for Cirque du Soleil, the aquarium, or a big box store, which the new developers will build in its towering Emerald City complex without the HRPT board’s nor our permission.
The fact is that the developers do not need to write out a check for $100 million to HRPT head, Marilyn Wils for the “air rights” of the pier. They have plenty of zone-authorized building heights above the only three-story St. John’s terminal which was the terminal for the “High Line.” And here is a story of contrast: The two-track High Line is less than two miles long and oddly planted with obstacle course patches of vegetation. However, it now gets 5 million visitors a year and has blossomed a museum and a panoply of restaurants to become a must-see New York attraction. And they never put out an RFP.
Our Times editorial writer now offers that the developers will get “1.7 million square feet and 1500 apartments and de Blasio will get credit for revitalizing the pier and significant number[s] of apartments will be set aside for low and moderate income renters and the elderly.”
Yes, well, the pier will not be “revitalized.” The corroded steel piles will be jacketed and waterproof concrete will be forced in to save them perhaps $60 million. The pier will simply revert to a slightly discounted parking lot for 5000 cars—No developer for the old pier.
Thanks to Assemblyman Corey Johnson, the developers have agreed to set aside 30% of the apartments for “low and moderate income [renters] and the elderly.” The elderly will even have their own building with support services, which I guess means a live-in nurse practitioner. The apartments will be available via a lottery for those who have good credit and can pay the “affordable” rents. (I never win lotteries.)
Ah but here is the good part. Our Times writer says that we West Villagers are difficult, that whatever anyone proposes we are against it. “[T]he deeply ingrained not-in-my-backyard sentiments have helped to sink a succession of proposals for this star-crossed pier.” You see, we are blamed for not allowing in a developer. I mean, I don’t remember when we voted to have TV chef Anthony Bourdain take over Pier 57 at 15th Street to recreate global street markets and bring together 100 food vendors—a fabulous idea and a sure success. I mean, there was no RFP, just the sudden announcement on September 28th by Florence Fabricant in The Times.
The Times then despairingly quotes and dismisses Assemblymember Debora Glick “with a laundry list of worries” and ends with “This we know: Hudson River Park is troubled, and the trust needs to find innovative ways to generate large amounts of revenue, which the air rights deal promises to do.”
And now our Times “editorial,” writer like a paid PR hack, demonstrates the impact of word selection: “Affordable housing is critically important, and the trust must find innovative ways to generate large amounts of revenue, which this air rights deal promises to do.”
And, finally, “[t]he protestors and worriers will have their say, but in the end they and others with a stake in the neighborhood should be prepared to support a deal that gives Hudson River Park, all four precious miles of it, a stronger and more secure future.”
Let’s stay with that phrase “a secure future…”
We have a new editor at WestView who told me of a medical emergency a few years ago when she might have had only minutes to live. Her future was certainly not secure and her life was saved in the emergency room of St. Vincent’s Hospital. But now, where that emergency room once stood is a towering collection of multi million dollar co-ops.
I am less interested in the “secure future” of Pier 40 than the secure future of we who live in the West Village. If Kenneth Langone could give only $200 million to NYU to have it rename its hospital after him I see no reason why our developers cannot buy the air rights of Pier 40 and several other piers for $200 million to build a medical research center and a new hospital.
This will save Pier 40 and the lives of Villagers still not born.