The following is a defense of the plan to build a 1,500-apartment complex opposite Pier 40. Prefacing it are George Capsis’ comments.
I do not agree with your premises to back the Pier 40 Emerald City. If the community had a choice between building 300 “affordable” apartments that they will never enjoy and building a hospital, they would build a hospital.
If they had the choice of saving a playing field for mostly private school kids or building a hospital, they would choose a hospital.
The developer is interested in profit and profit only. He must prove to the bank that he will make a profit in order to use its money. Taxpayers will pay for Emerald City via 35 years of tax abatement.
Corey Johnson should use his position to locate the proposed 70-bed new Beth Israel hospital on the St. John’s site.
December may bring with it a holiday present for those in the community who want to see some affordable housing built in the Village, and for the hundreds of children who want to see the Pier 40 recreational mecca repaired before it falls into the Hudson River.
In December, the City Council will be clear to vote on whether to approve the creation of a special zoning district, which would allow the developers to build 1,500 rental units in return for a $100 million payment for “air rights” towards the renovation of Pier 40 and an agreement to make 35% of the apartments “affordable.” (Barry Benepe explains air rights in a separate article on page 18 of this issue.)
Some of what needs to be worked out was further clarified—or made murkier, for many—at a City Council hearing held on November 1st.
Before the hearing, City Council Member Corey Johnson, whose lead the City Council will follow, added a condition: In exchange for his approval, he wants an agreement that would prohibit the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT), the public-benefit corporation that oversees Pier 40, from selling any more development air rights within the surrounding neighborhoods, including the West Village, Greenwich Village, and SoHo. This, he says, is because, after the sale of St. John’s, Pier 40 will have 380,000 square feet of air rights remaining (worth $140 million), and he wants no more riverfront development in the area. Such a restriction would make it difficult to sell the remaining development rights at all, since it would require the HRPT to sell to properties at unprecedented distances now prohibited by land use laws. Johnson has also made the City’s approval of a 10-block extension to the West Village Historic District a condition of his approval.
The HRPT, not surprisingly, opposes Johnson’s condition, but on this one, he holds the cards.
Johnson is playing an extremely creative role in this process, bargaining for what he perceives is best for the surrounding community, but sensitive to moves that could kill the deal. The developers could scrap the plan and just build a hotel, which they have the right to do without paying the HRPT anything.
The developers behind the proposed 1.7 million-square-foot redevelopment of St. John’s are apparently considering delaying a major element of the plan, which includes five buildings holding a mix of luxury condos and both market-rate and affordable housing.
At the City Council hearing, Council Member Johnson said that developers Westbrook Partners and Atlas Capital Group were apparently exploring a “hybrid plan” due to the choppy luxury market. This plan would delay the development of some of the housing, Johnson said.
Johnson also expressed concern that the delay would prevent the HRPT from getting the funds it needs to repair the pilings under Pier 40. But in response to Johnson’s concerns about the possibility of the $100 million for the piling repairs not coming through, land use attorney Michael Sillerman said his clients would offer to keep the money in escrow and sign the purchase and sale agreement in advance of the Council’s approval.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village.