By Brian J. Pape, AIA
The last regulatory agency approvals have been granted this week to a planned recreational pier in the Hudson River Park. Heavily promoted and widely criticized, Pier 55 was publicly announced in 2014 to a shocked set of interested parties, including members of the Friends of Hudson River Park, government officeholders, and neighborhood preservation groups.
The Hudson River community was shut out of all consideration. The Assembly- woman whose district includes the site of the planned Pier 55, Deborah Glick, has raised concerns about the secrecy of the Pier 55 process, as have many other civic groups. Everyone thought that a public park development needed to go through public hearings for community input.
With a reported $113 million contribution to the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT, a joint NY state and local government entity) from Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, money talks louder than proper procedure. The park-on-a-pier was planned and designed by Thomas Heatherwick’s London office, but the real battle plans were made behind closed doors right here in New York by the cabal of HRPT and the Diller family foundation.
WestView News has reported that the Diller offer of an entertainment venue will not be free, either initially or in the long run, costing taxpayers $39.5 million to build two causeways to the island, and making the Hudson River Park responsible to pay for the piling structure maintenance. The HRPT is already deeply in debt, and needs an estimated $40 million just to repair pilings at Pier 40, and this new attraction contributes nothing to the cost of maintaining the park.
Now that the Army Corps of Engineers has joined the NY Department of Environmental Conservation in giving approval to proceed, construction could begin this summer. Most previous attempts to build piers have run into environmental complications, especially because shading the waters with new structures, or even boat docking, have negative effects on the marine habitat. Even the City Club of New York had its lawsuit to stop Pier 55 dismissed by a Manhattan judge in April. City Club attorneys plan to appeal the judge’s ruling, which will be the last chance to stop this poorly conceived Pier 55.
Will the park actually be open to all, or instead will it be a privately-managed tourist attraction likely to require advance booking and paid admissions? Will the quality of the Hudson River esplanade be degraded by the rush of tourists, like the High Line tourists have crowded out lo-cals? What is left but to appeal to the noblesse oblige of our wealthy neighbors?