By George Capsis
“The community board is having a meeting tonight about what to do with Pier 40 and you have to go,” demanded Dusty. And so we walked to The Village Community School on 10th Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets on Thursday, September 28th, one of the last warm nights. We arrived a bit late to discover the Community Board 2 (CB2) core committee meeting around a conference table with a few rows of visitors all suffering the same complaint, “Can you speak louder? We can’t hear you!”
Maybe that sums up the meeting because it began with a discussion of a questionnaire CB2 had sent out to “hear” what the community wanted in the park and ended up with the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) telling us what we were going to get, at least on Pier 40—commercial real estate.
This message came from HRPT President Madelyn Wils and David Kurtz, the Chief Financial Officer of both Finance and “Real Estate.” And boy, Kurtz knows his real estate and spoke mellifluously about what commercial tenants were looking for—the Google open layout so programmers can get up, walk to the snack table, and munch. We quickly left the desultory attempts to divine what the community wanted and what Madelyn wanted, which was as many square feet of office space as humanly possible.
(After we published Michael Sorkin’s idyllic renderings of what Pier 40 could look like, in the September issue of Westview, we received a euphoric letter by a reader who loved the pool (“make it as big as possible”). They were saddened to see the almost-touching carpet of young sunbathers on the Christopher Street pier that can’t make it to the Hamptons. (Give them a big pool on Pier 40!)
The HRPT team soon became synchronous with the CB2 members; both sought to project how high and fat they might build. Madelyn, in a very expensive, blue leather, designer jacket, offered that she had a cooperative architect who would offer, for free, demo sketches to show how even a million square feet of office space might be acceptable, distributed, and now resonating to a sympathetic audience, let fall (not letting another Diller Island disaster happen).
So, okay, that still is the big news: Barry Diller called Madelyn Wils just days before this meeting to say that he was withdrawing his offer to invest $250 million in a 2.7-acre concrete entertainment island off 15th Street. Bang—that was it! After years and years of legal quibbling by the attorneys of The City Club of New York, and after they had just given in and allowed Diller to build in exchange for a beach on Gansevoort and a pier for historic ships, it was all over. No $250 million. Madelyn said, “It was like an out-of-body experience.”
Hey wait a minute. The Hudson River Park is a City/State park. Why is it trying to get a Rudin-like developer to sign a 100-year lease to build a Rockefeller Center by the Hudson? Because that is the way the charter was written. The City and State put in their budgets—an ever diminishing sum of money—to pay for new park benches and stuff like Madelyn Wils’ and Diane Taylor’s salaries. The rest of the “maintenance” comes from leasing space, rental deals, and, oh yes, parking on Pier 40.
What makes me mad is how they got de Blasio and Cuomo to come out and say, “Everybody wants Diller Island,” and, “What a shame it is that a few old guys in The City Club of New York and yes, developer Doug Durst, are against it.”
That is what this is all about. Central Park was built by the City before the Civil War. The Hudson River Park, with views of the wide Hudson estuary and the Statue of Liberty, should have been built by the City and State and not left to requests for proposals. (If I don’t like them, too bad for you.)
In my mind, what made Diller Island unacceptable was that it was so monstrously ugly. I simply cannot trust anybody who is willing to accept a 2.7-acre, 75-foot-high avatar structure that was Diller Island, which brings us to billionaires without judgment or taste (no, I’m not talking about Trump).
Finally, after numerous articles in the Times and elsewhere on the end of Diller Island, I discovered an “advertisement” on September 27th on, of all places, the Op-Ed page of the Times, defending those who fought Diller Island—wow! We recently confirmed that the article was written by James Ward, an Italian Studies scholar and a weekend boater off Pier 40.
Right now, the only thing about Pier 40 which is certain is that the 3,500 steel piles holding it up are corroding. This, fortunately, gives Wils and Taylor an incentive to unload the pier to a developer before it plops into the Hudson.
This presents, once again, the triumph of the inevitable over the vagaries of collective indecision.