By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
Years of debate went into how our westside riverfront should be designed. Many of our readers will recall when the Hudson River Park (HRP) opened 20 years ago, or even 12 years ago, when the public esplanade had a string of sturdy masonry comfort stations plus an elegant little concession building, all carefully matching in materials and design. The seasonal concession stand, seasonally serving waffles and other snacks, had a few picnic benches where members of the public could relax and linger. That atmosphere in our beautifully designed park has now changed drastically.
When Pier 55 aka Barry Diller’s “Little Island” was approved for construction in 2018, the private-public partnership was given a sweetheart deal to consume a very sizable chunk of the park at 12th Street, with carte blanche programming set by the private developer, not the public.
Now the concession area at Pier 45, just north of Christopher Street, is going in the same direction. A large bar was added for serving alcohol on the north side, then a masonry pizza oven was built at the back with a long, tall vent stack added. Wooden barricades are placed to reserve a huge area on both sides of the building for paying customers only.
This year, during the pandemic shutdown, we noticed what at first seemed boarding up of the windows to avoid vandalism.
But then more work continued, almost doubling the building size, incorporating an addition that reaches back to the bike path to the east. New serving bars are built on both the north and the south sides, with more esplanade off-limits to the public, according to Bill Rettig, Senior Director of Facilities for HRP Trust.
A simple white wooden box now covers the lovely brick, stone, and clerestory glass compositions, losing any relationship to the adjacent buildings. Gone are the picnic tables, the pizza, the waffles. Don’t plan on drifting in to the café area to relax if you are not a paying customer. You may find Drift In on the internet to pre-order or see the high-end menu before you go.
At least the controversial Shake Shack in Madison Square Park leaves all seating areas open to the public, but they are not at HRP.