By Brian J Pape, AIA
A crowd of over 100 anxiously awaited the unveiling of new concept designs for the Gansevoort Peninsula part of Hudson River Park (HRP) on July 24. The joint meeting of the CB2 Parks Committee and the HRP Trust (HRPT) commenced at the new 75 Morton middle school cafeteria, overlooking Morton Street activity at nearly eye level. School PTA Co-president Stella Chang was the first speaker, emphasizing the needs of her school, like all the other schools in the neighborhood that lack adequate outdoor activity space, and pleading for HRPT to utilize this opportunity to provide desperately needed playfields. Students now commute two hours to be able to play on regulation fields at East River Park! This theme of desperation was to be repeated for the rest of the evening.
HRPT has held several community meetings this year and provided an online public outreach tool to get public input. As James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) stated in their report, the goal is “to access the water, design for resiliency and reinforce the…Estuarine Sanctuary as well as provide recreational amenities that are missing elsewhere” in HRP. JCFO went on to state “Sports fields and other programming not found elsewhere in the park (were) points made overwhelmingly by the various park users and advocates.”
A captivating slideshow of images for the new park space was then presented by Lisa Switkin of JCFO, and Mimi Hoang of nArchitects. Given site constraints for mandatory components around the edges of the 5.5-acre peninsula, the net area for placing recreation open spaces is about 3.5 acres, and the ground is now only a little above high-tide, not high enough to avoid flooding sea surges. Unstable soil and easements for a gas pipeline preclude expanding the perimeter with landfill, they reiterated, except for most of the west edge into the piling fields, where DDC will be adding piles, platforms and sheetpiling. This is an opportunity to capture some of the old pier spaces.
Several layouts were shown, and certain ‘core elements’ were repeated in each concept, such as the Whitney Museum-sponsored David Hammon’s “Day’s End” sculpture, a boat ramp and sandy play yard along the south edge, concession and maintenance utility buildings along the east street side, and a dog run adjacent to the FDNY driveway on the north edge. Both the north and south shorelines incorporate ‘salt marshes’ to buffer the ebbing tides and waves.
With these ‘core elements’, smaller fields were combined with a “River Gym” play equipment yard, a western ‘Promenade Picnic’ stretch, and a ‘Pine Grove’ in the SE corner. These latter elements are found at many other locations in HRP, even right next door at Pier 51, and are not priorities.
Finally, layouts with ‘core elements’ and a larger, U-13 size field were shown, but the audience pointed out that only an even larger U-14 field would meet middle and high-school regulation sports, which is sorely needed here. Petitions to HRPT, with over 2000 signatures, state that a 225’ x 360’ field was the HIGHEST priority for this site (JCFO Report). Although the presenters voiced several aesthetic reasons why they rejected the U-14 field, the audience insisted that the U-14 field needed to be kept, as an option, and not dismissed.
Noreen Doyle, Executive VP for HRPT, said that $50M is budgeted for completion of this part of the 4-mile-long park, thanks to increased capital funding from Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. The adjacent Pier 55 is proceeding with its construction, and will offer a variety of cultural events in the amphitheater, with a most unusual landscape rising up to 62 feet in one corner. The landmarked and restored Pier 57, anchored by Google, will feature a food market and rooftop park and restaurant for park visitors about 50’ above the water.
At several points during the Q&A period, the information shared about design elements elicited spontaneous applause from the assembly, a noteworthy expression at a Community Board committee meeting. Yet despite a generally upbeat conclusion to this public hearing, several key issues have yet to be resolved: will the community get their highest priority full-size field? Will the park be protected from flooding damage? Will the important access to the water be improved?
The last “Concept Phase” community hearing will be in early fall; stay tuned.