Big plans for popular piers

BY Aline Reynolds

If all goes as planned, Piers 26 and 15 will serve as animated, educational hubs on the West and East Side waterfronts.

The City University of New York plans to present an interim environmental program at Pier 26 containing science labs, offices, classrooms, and an exhibit space.

“It’ll bring people from the city of New York to that kind of environment physically or virtually, so they can understand what science means and how it plays a role in their lives,” explained Ron Spalter, deputy chief operating officer of C.U.N.Y.

The structure would run off solar and wind power, leaving behind a low carbon footprint.

Noreen Doyle, executive vice president of the Hudson River Park Trust, the entity in charge of renovating the pier, showed interest in the project at a recent Community Board 1 Waterfront Committee meeting.

“It’s an opportunity to have science made accessible to the general public at the pier,” said Doyle.

Spalter assured the committee that the plans for the estuary are not yet set in stone. “We’re coming to you with thoughts and constructs, but no commitment to capital money,” said Spalter.

Before the project can become a reality, C.U.N.Y. has to decide on the programming and find the funding.

“We didn’t want to develop a plan that goes and sits on the shelf, without people writing the checks to build it,” said Spalter.

“We’re still in the very early stages of this, but it’s very exciting to have a partnership with C.U.N.Y. and with the Trust,” said Cathy Drew, executive director of the River Project.

Students from C.U.N.Y. are currently working on an $800,000 Solar Roof Pod, a model they’ll be entering into the 2011 Solar Decathlon competition. So far, the students have about half of the $800,000 they need to complete the structure.

The pier’s boathouse, currently under construction, will be completed in 2012. However permanent plans for a science education facility on the premises remain unclear, according to Doyle, until more funding trickles in.

The New York/New Jersey Port Authority has chipped in $5 million for the project, while the New York State Department of State has committed $335 million. The entire project would require a minimum of $15 million. “It may involve C.U.N.Y., depending on what planning process turns out,” Doyle said.

Spalter said C.U.N.Y. would like to partake in the programming of the future facility, if they were chosen to do so. “If C.U.N.Y is invited to participate in the planning for a permanent structure, we’d be happy to,” Spalter said. “[The H.R.P.T.] would have to invite us.”

Committee member Joseph Lerner is afraid the contributors could withdraw funding if it is not spent immediately. “I’d hate to see the money supposedly earmarked for that program disappear,” he said. “My point is, maybe you should start the preliminary planning and spend some of that money.”

Doyle assured Lerner that the money is reserved for the estuarium.

Bob Townley, chair of the Waterfront Committee, asked, “What is the vision for the River Project,” a marine science field station that the pier hosted for years beginning in 1986. Doyle said she would ask the D.E.C. to reach out to the organization, which is currently located at Pier 40 in Hudson River Park. It was previously at Pier 26, before it was demolished in 2005.

Meanwhile, officials from Rivers Alive, a nonprofit devoted to providing public access on the East River, hopes to win the bid for an educational maritime center at Pier 15.

The two-level pier would measure around 2,250 square feet, and would offer two-to-three hour tours of the harbor, where visitors would learn about the history of vessels and how they operate. Rivers Alive would install ramps along the pier to accommodate the disabled.

“The idea is to have an exciting, changing program of ships that come into this pier, to draw people to it,” said Al Landzberg, co-founder of Rivers Alive. “We visualize this particular maritime center as operating in effect day and night.”

Though the maritime center might be closed down in the late evening, electronic kiosks would be streaming information about the environment and upcoming exhibits in the various ships. The pier would also feature evening entertainment that would shed light on New York’s maritime history.

Landzberg and his team is one of several candidates the New York City Economic Development Corporation is considering for the large-scale project.

Some committee members didn’t want to vouch for one pier candidate without hearing the proposals of the others.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to endorse a particular project of one of the finalists,” Landzberg said. “To have one submitter make a presentation, and not to hear any of the others, I have difficulty with that.” He also noted the committee isn’t allowed to weigh in on the distribution of the L.M.D.C. funds.

And though a finalist has not been selected, the R.A. is ready to go, already brainstorming creative ways to fund and maintain the project.

“We believe we can make it financially sustainable, and something we can get going in a year-and-a-half,” Landzberg said.