By Sally Curtis
The future of Pier 40 in Hudson River Park is once again on the table following the sale of its air rights to a developer for $100 million. The money will be used to replace the badly deteriorated piles, so the pier will no longer be in danger of collapsing into the Hudson River. Now that there is funding to stabilize the piles, plans for redevelopment of the massive 15-acre structure will be considered through a Request for Proposals (RFP). The Village Community Boathouse (VCB), the last remaining boathouse on the pier, is actively fighting to keep what it has—a boathouse and shop on the south side of the pier.
The VCB is an all-volunteer nonprofit that provides free public access to the waterways of Hudson River Park, utilizing a fleet of traditional wooden rowboats, most of them built in its shop on Pier 40 in conjunction with local school groups. Every year, thousands of students, local residents, and international visitors join VCB volunteers in voyages on the waters of Hudson River Park. These trips allow participants to engage the City from a new perspective and experience a physical connection to the water and nature.
For more than a decade, plans for the development of Pier 40 have been a bone of contention among developers, the Hudson River Park Trust (the authority that administers the park), and the community. Under the legislation that created the waterfront park, Pier 40 is intended to be one of several sites that generate revenue through commercial uses, help support the rest of the park, and provide essential public open space. This creates tension between the need for the park to create revenue and the community need for open space.
The community has twice rejected proposals for the development of the pier. To avoid a repeat, Community Board 2 (CB2) formed the Future of Pier 40 Working Group, chaired by Tobi Bergman, former CB2 Chairman and longtime advocate for youth team sports and the athletic fields on Pier 40. The goal of the Working Group is to reach a consensus among the neighboring communities and Pier 40 stakeholders about the future of Pier 40. Developers will thus be informed about what the community will accept to avoid a repeat of the public meetings attended by passionate advocates for ball fields and boathouses. To that end, the Working Group has released a survey to help determine what the neighboring communities and Pier 40 stakeholders want for the development of Pier 40. (The survey can be found at: surveymonkey.com/r/community-P40F.)
The Pier 40 athletic fields are a treasured resource to the CB2 community and the results of the survey will most likely reflect that. However, in order to be consistent with the legislation that created the park, plans for development must “encourage, promote, and expand public access to the river, promote water-based recreation, and enhance the natural, cultural, and historic aspects of the Hudson River.” The free public rowing programs offered by the VCB do all of that and more. Rowing and youth team sports on the ball fields of Pier 40 are both valuable uses of open space on the pier, but only rowing is a water-based recreational use that enhances public access to the Hudson River.
Sally Curtis is the President of the Village Community Boathouse (VCB). To learn more about the VCB, visit: villagecommunityboathouse.org.