All quiet on the waterfront raises concerns about park

By Lincoln Anderson

The waterfront has been quiet lately. Too quiet. And Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Community Board 2 want information about what is going on, specifically what the Hudson River Park Trust is planning to develop on an interim basis at Pier 40.

At last Thursday’s C.B. 2 full board meeting, Glick stressed that both she and the board have an obligation to keep an eye on what’s happening at Pier 40, a 15-acre pier at W. Houston St., in the five-mile-long Hudson River Park.

The Trust’s process to select a developer to revamp the pier into a combination public park and commercial spot ended in June with no selection. The Trust is now reportedly working on an interim plan for the pier that will include sports fields, but there has been no concrete information so far.

Of Pier 40, Glick said, “It is for Board 2, a very, very large — physically and symbolically — struggle, we’ve been involved in for a long time.”

It’s possible the Trust will present interim Pier 40 plans for review at its Thursday board of directors meeting. Chris Martin, a Trust spokesperson, did not return calls for comment.

Also on the subject of a too-quiet waterfront, Glick has tried in vain to find out what the Trust’s long-term economic plan is for the park. Specifically, she feels Pier 40 is relied on too heavily for the park’s revenue, 50 percent, while Pier 57 at 17th St., one-quarter the size of Pier 40, is not being counted on to bring in any revenue, and Chelsea Piers contributes just 30 percent of the park’s budget.

“We’ll continue to ask, but because they’re an authority, they’ll continue not to say,” she said of her request for the long-term financial plan. Glick said Pier 57 — envisioned as a cultural and educational pier — should contribute some revenue to the park. “I don’t care if it’s two percent or five percent of the budget,” she stressed. “But everything that gets built along the waterfront” should contribute.

Glick expressed some of these concerns in a letter to the Trust several weeks ago. Similarly, Don MacPherson, chairperson of C.B. 2’s waterfront committee, and Jim Smith, the board’s chairperson, wrote to the Trust, saying C.B. 2 must be kept in the loop on the development of Pier 40’s interim plan.

At last week’s board meeting, MacPherson voiced frustration at having to get news about the park “secondhand” from Glick and The Villager.

“While I have a lot of respect for Deborah Glick, while I have a lot of respect for The Villager, we should be getting direct information from the Trust,” MacPherson said.

In addition to the Pier 40 interim plan, MacPherson also wants to know what happened to the plan — and funds raised — for an AIDS memorial in the park.

“After the development process for Pier 40 subsided, there began to be a lull in the [Trust’s] communication with the community,” MacPherson said.

Three or four weeks ago he reached out to Connie Fishman, the Trust’s vice president, to ask if Board 2 would be allowed to review the Pier 40 interim plans.

“She said, ‘I’m not sure we can avoid doing that,’ ” MacPherson said. “It seemed a bit tongue in cheek. It made me feel a little bit uneasy… that maybe…we have been left out of the loop, we don’t have a chance to offer comments or make sure the plan is community friendly.”

He said he plans in October to do some “investigative reporting,” to talk to the Trust and find out what’s going on with Pier 40 and the AIDS memorial — the latter which he said apparently has fallen by the wayside, so these and other park issues can be addressed at the November waterfront committee meeting.

MacPherson said he mainly wants to avoid what happened with the aborted Pier 40 redevelopment process.

“The last process was time-consuming, difficult, at times stressful and then it came to nothing,” he said.

In related news, a recent article in Crain’s New York Business reporting Wal-Mart is looking at Pier 40 to locate a new store has continued to prompt concern from opponents of big box-type stores on the pier, which borders the Far West Village, Hudson Sq. and Tribeca.

The story was picked up and reported by New York 1, the Daily News and other news sources. But was there any truth to it? Martin, the Trust spokesperson, said he didn’t know anything about Wal-Mart’s being interested in the pier.

Mia Masten, Wal-Mart community affairs manager for the Northeast region, said, “We don’t have any specific plans for Manhattan at this time. But we’re always looking to enter new markets and expand in existing markets. I can’t speak to whether we looked at any particular site.”

Asked if she’d seen the Crain’s article with its mention of Pier 40, she said she had and that “The article just said it in a different way” — apparently meaning Wal-Mart’s never-ending expansion plans.

Any talk about size of a Pier 40 Wal-Mart would be speculation, she said, though noting that an average store is 95,000 sq. ft. The closest Wal-Mart to the city is in Massapequa, Masten said.

Finally, attorney Arthur Schwartz, the waterfront committee’s former chairperson, said that Friends of Hudson River Park’s board will vote on Thursday morning whether to sue the Trust over the failed Pier 40 development process.

“I think the general opinion is that what the Trust did was wrong and that now they’re proceeding in a non-open, secretive manner,” Schwartz said. “It’s not just Pier 40 — but Pier 40 is the biggest project in the park.” Schwartz said their legal challenge might be that the proper environmental reviews haven’t been done for the interim plan.

“The goal would be to compel them to pick one of the developers” from the short list of three left at the end of the process, Schwartz said. On the other hand, the pier’s redevelopment wouldn’t be restricted to what the developers were formerly offering, according to Schwartz. “The Trust had to pick a developer — they didn’t have to pick a plan,” he noted.