By Barry Benepe
In the September 2017 issue of WestView, we saw a lose-lose proposal to replace the current, income-earning parking garage at Pier 40 with a towering stadium (“The Happy Marriage of Pier 40 and Pier 55” by Michael Sorkin). This structure would block views of the park and the harbor and introduce loud, amplified music to shatter the evening waterfront peace while retaining the current, plastic-surfaced soccer field, which has all the charm of a prison yard.
That proposal would also bring in a large barge to displace the long-established Village Community Boathouse. There, handsome, brightly colored, wooden row boats are not only rowed but built to be launched on the protected south side of Pier 40. I had hoped that the sale of two million square feet of development rights to the ever-growing gigantic St. John’s Terminal Project might have resulted in a park on the waterfront with views of the Hudson River.
While the Hudson River Park Act of 1998 requires that 50% to 100% of Pier 40 be devoted to open space, the Hudson River Park Trust (Trust) has chosen to provide the lowest possible amount. However, Madelyn Wils, President and CEO of the Trust, has stated that she would like to make the pier more “park-like.” The first and obvious step would be to enlarge the hidden soccer field and expose it to the marvelous views over the harbor.
There are many models to choose from, most of which focus on the waterfront. Pier 5 in Brooklyn Bridge Park is a favorite among soccer players because of its location on the water. 32-year-old Christopher Wayne, who has played on six of these fields for seven years, describes Pier 5 as “the most beautiful place to play soccer in the City, due to views of the Manhattan skyline and the breeze from the water.” He also praised Chelsea Waterside Park as “my favorite field in the City because of its large size.” Christopher has also played at Pier 40 where he found that “the permanent surrounding structure blocks any view.”
One fact is clear. The soccer fields are not local community grass playgrounds for local parents to bring young children for kickball, or for the children to come on their own, much less for the less athletic among us to stroll as a waterfront lawn. The soccer fields must share their views of the sky and the waterfront with all of us. This can best be done by leaving broad waterside margins for strolling, sitting, and relaxing in the sun.
Bushwick Inlet Park is where Christopher played for three years over three different seasons (spring, summer, and fall), “winning three championships, finishing second a few times as well.” Bushwick offers an excellent model for Pier 40, where the park rolls out a welcome mat to the West Village, embracing the sun, the waterfront, and the sky with a field of green grass. This is clearly the way to go. The income-earning parking garage and Trust offices should be part of the development rights transfer to St. John’s Terminal. The Village Community Boathouse should remain where it is, in an appropriately enclosed boathouse.