Big wheel keep on turning, proud George keep on beach yearning


By Lincoln Anderson

Amid unseasonably balmy weather and with a towering waterwheel spinning lazily next to them, Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg joined other officials and community members Monday in cutting the ribbon on the Hudson River Park’s latest addition, the new Chelsea North section.

The ceremony was held 500 feet out in the Hudson at the end of the new Pier 66, where the stainless steel waterwheel, one of two public art projects in the new section, turns unpredictably with the current. Called “Long Time,” by local artist Paul Ramirez Jonas, the waterwheel hearkens back to the river’s milling history.

The wheel’s artistic shape, its paddles glistening with water, will enhance the view of sunsets from the pier.

The new Pier 66 — the end of which noticeably shifts slightly with the water — also includes a new boathouse for kayaks and canoes, and will have slips for small sailboats. The short, renovated former B&O railroad float bridge, which once received rail cars on barges floated over from New Jersey, is also in the new $16 million Chelsea North section. Along the shoreline, the new park segment includes three blocks of landscaped park between W. 26th and W. 29th Sts., with a public-art sculpture, “Tables and Chairs,” by Allan and Ellen Wexler, near 29th St.

It was the last Hudson River Park ribbon-cutting presided over by Pataki — champion of the 5-mile-long park project during his 12 years as governor — since he only has a few more weeks left in office.

“It’s easy to have a vision,” Pataki said. “But what is truly hard is to take a vision and turn it into a reality. And that is what we’re doing here. It’s about this becoming the fabric of the lives of the people of New York — about the waterfront being a place you can touch and feel and enjoy.”

Pataki quipped that the next challenge would be to try to get the waterwheel hooked up to generate some electricity; yet in the calm tide, it was barely spinning.

The governor noted that the old float bridge, known as Pier 66a, had sunk in 1973 and was at the bottom of the river “and now it’s back for people to enjoy.” Actually, although it’s part of the new Chelsea North segment, the float bridge was renovated in 2003 after being raised in 2001.

Addressing the mayor and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Pataki said of the joint park project, “It’s been a city-state partnership from the beginning.”

Voicing his oft-repeated refrain, the governor said, “I know that someday I am going to be putting my toe in the Hudson River sandy beach at the Gansevoort Peninsula. Just keep going [building the park], because I am going to be haunting the shores of the Gansevoort Peninsula, waiting for my day.”

Plans for Gansevoort do, in fact, call for a sandy beach on the peninsula’s south side, but the peninsula can’t be developed as a park until the city removes its Sanitation truck garage.

Noting he too looks forward to joining the governor for a dip off Gansevoort, Bloomberg hailed Pataki’s contributions to the city, from backing the Javits Center expansion to helping spur job creation.

“But,” he said of Pataki, “when the future generations look back at this boy from Peekskill, I think what they will remember is his environmental legacy. And nowhere is that more evident than on the Hudson River’s West Side.” The mayor noted that the Chelsea waterfront will also soon boast a spacious lawn once the park’s Chelsea Cove section just to the south is built.

“Reclaiming our city’s waterfront is a central part of the city’s goal — to create parks, housing, jobs,” Bloomberg continued, referring to the rezoning of the Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront and plans for a new Bronx River greenway, among other projects.

Douglas Durst, chairperson of Friends of Hudson River Park, presented Trip Dorkey, chairperson of the Hudson River Park Trust’s board of directors, with a $25,000 check to be put toward funding the waterwheel sculpture.

“I’m pleased to give this check to the Trust for their hard work and I look forward to many other collaborations,” Durst said.

Parks Commissioner Benepe said people should recognize that this is simply a great time for the city’s parks.

“The last time New York had so much going on on its waterfront creating parks was in the 1930s” with the Depression-era projects. “It’s a moment. It’s a golden age and we should just appreciate it — a time when parks are expanding,” he said.

It was a feel-good event devoid of partisanship, as Democratic local officials graciously gave kudos to the outgoing Republican governor.

“As a liberal West Side Democrat, I know you many find this hard to believe: I really want to thank Governor Pataki,” said Borough President Scott Stringer. “This wasn’t about [winning] voters; the governor really wanted to build a great park here.”

Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who represents Chelsea — which has been starved for green space — rejoiced at the new section’s opening.

“It was not so long ago that you couldn’t even get to the waterfront,” she recalled. “Our beautiful Chelsea Waterside Park was a little dirt triangle — but Bob Trentlyon and Doris Corrigan [of Chelsea Waterside Park Association] kept the hope alive.”

Chelsea Waterside Park, on the east side of the West Side Highway at the end of 23rd St., was built by the State Department of Transportation as part of the highway reconstruction project, and is administered by the Hudson River Park Trust.

“We couldn’t be happier with the ribbon-cutting today, with the waterwheel,” Quinn said. “Thank you for a wonderful addition to the neighborhood — we are deeply, deeply grateful.”

The Hudson River Park, costing somewhere near half a billion dollars, has received federal funds, as well as state and city funds, and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler was also on hand at the event. Observing that the waterwheel was showing the current flowing upriver, Nadler mused that it reflected the contentious nature of the area’s residents, who never take no for an answer.

Then, with jumbo-sized scissors that could have doubled as martial arts weapons, the governor, mayor, Trust board and staff members and officials cut the ribbon, officially opening the Chelsea North section.

Asked his thoughts after the ceremony, Trentlyon beamed and said, “I just feel so full of goodwill and happiness.”

Hudson River Park’s Chelsea North section was designed by Dattner Architects and Miceli Kulik Williams, Joint Venture, under the supervision of the Trust’s Design and Construction Department and Skanska/McKissack.

The next phase of work in Chelsea will incorporate Chelsea Cove, which includes Pier 64 — currently under construction at 24th St. — and Piers 62 and 63, due to begin in spring of 2007 and slated for completion at the end of 2009. Chelsea Cove will feature more than 9 acres of open space, a 3.5-acre “great lawn,” groves of trees, a waterside garden, a skate park and carousel, a public art piece called “Stone Field” by Meg Webster and one of the park’s best vantage points for views up and down the Hudson.

Asked after the ceremony about when Gansevoort Peninsula will be freed of garbage trucks so that a park can be built there, the mayor said it’s always hard to find a place to site municipal uses, but that the city must have municipal uses, such as sanitation services. Under a lawsuit settlement, the city must remove its trucks from Gansevoort by 2012.