Advocate floats Greenmarket idea for Pier 40

By Lincoln Anderson

A new idea for the Lower West Side waterfront could soon be taking root, namely, a Greenmarket for the massive, 14-acre Pier 40 at W. Houston St. The concept emerged from two polls of West Village residents conducted by the weekly WestView newspaper asking what uses for the pier they favored most. George Capsis, the paper’s publisher, said his “Green Pier” involves transforming Pier 40 into “the world’s largest green pier.”

For starters, though, the idea is to have a Greenmarket inside the pier’s courtyard, on its northern, or sunny, side. Eventually, he said, if it proves successful, the Greenmarket could expand around all four sides of the artificial-turf-covered, courtyard sports field, and also possibly set up on the loading dock ringing the field, as well. In winter, the vendors could move inside the pier shed.

“If it all fills out, it will be the largest green pier in the United States,” he boasted.

Asked about the youth sports leagues that currently use the sprawling sports field so heavily, Capsis downplayed any negative impact the Greenmarket might have on them — though he couldn’t resist taking a dig at what he termed the “private school kids” that dominate the pier.

“The soccer dads, all of these private schools that now own the pier during the day, they’re very nervous that the plan will erode their use of the pier,” he said. “They feel that it’s going to invade their turf. When you think about it, you have a handful of people on the field — [but] you have thousands of people in the West Village. These facilities have to be shared. I think they’ll freak out, I think they’ll resist it,” he predicted.

Capsis said even if Pier 40 becomes the world’s largest green pier, “The soccer kids will still be there, be assured.”

The Greenmarket, Capsis explained, would have a trial period, and if nobody came during the first year, then the idea would likely be scrapped. He has convinced Arthur Schwartz, chairperson of Community Board 2’s Waterfront Committee, that it’s an idea worth trying.

Schwartz has put “Greenmarket at Pier 40?” on the agenda of his Mon., March 22, committee meeting, at Village Community School, 272 W. 10th St., starting at 7 p.m. Schwartz, a labor attorney who is listed on WestView’s masthead as the paper’s “Community Editor,” said he genuinely thinks the “Green Pier” proposal could work.

The meeting will feature a report on a tour of the pier that Michael Hurwitz, director of the city’s Greenmarket program, planned to take on Wed., Mar. 17, with Capsis; Schwartz; Noreen Doyle, the vice president of the Hudson River Park Trust; and Paul Ullman, a Trust board member who has been helping lead the effort to find compatible, low-impact, revenue-generating uses for the pier.

Schwartz said he envisioned Pier 40 becoming a modern-day incarnation of the old Gansevoort Market that used to be on Gansevoort Peninsula until the mid-20th century, a place where one could buy not only produce, but fresh fish, too. Schwartz said having a Greenmarket would create a new “use group” on Pier 40 (beyond sports leagues, which don’t really produce revenue), which could help attract other commercial tenants, increasing the pier’s cash-generating capacity.

“It’s a low-cost version of what YoungWoo’s doing at Pier 57,” he said, “with lots of booths and little artisans, like a permanent street fair.” Schwartz said he imagines the Greenmarket being open weeknights and weekends. “There isn’t any other immediate plan for any other use there,” Schwartz said, “so why not try something?”

Pier 40 is literally crumbling and needs millions of dollars in repairs. Two past efforts by the Trust to find developers to overhaul the structure have failed, due to staunch community opposition and the fact that the pier’s lease isn’t long term, making it financially unattractive.

Meanwhile, Pat Shields — a member of the Bedford Downing Block Association — is floating a counterproposal for a Pier 40 stadium (to be home to “a modest and traditional, English Premier League-style Major League Soccer franchise.” The stadium, as Shields — a former Division III soccer player at Kenyon — puts it in his written pitch, “would be available at times to the public.”

To develop this sports edifice, he says, all that’s needed is to find “a group of U.S. and international luxury box lessees, raise $150 million from them, assist pier development, and attract M.L.S. ownership, with neighborhood and political priorities in place.”

The pier, Shields says, could feature “live M.L.S. matches or giant HD screenings of Champions League and other international cups.” There would be fields on two levels, plus two trams traversing a giant arch overhead— “It could be our London Eye-type attraction,” Shields muses. “And this isn’t the riverside, oversized Jets stadium project,” he adds.

Although their plans are wildly divergent, Capsis and Shields do share one thing in common, having long used the long-term parking at Pier 40 — though Shields recently sold his car.