Downtown kayakers may have to sit out the season


By Julie Shapiro

It looks like free kayaking on Pier 40 will not return next season.

The wooden dock that Downtown Boathouse has been using for years to launch New Yorkers into the Hudson River is on its last legs, founder Jim Wetteroth said.

“It’s probably not going to last the winter,” Wetteroth said at a meeting of Community Board 1’s Waterfront Committee last week. “It’s [definitely] not going to last next season.”

Wetteroth used to run the free kayaking program on Pier 26 in Tribeca before the pier was demolished in 2006. That year, Wetteroth moved his dock and the kayaks up to Pier 40, where they have been housed ever since. Staffed by volunteers, Downtown Boathouse offers free kayak rentals during the summer at Pier 40 (Houston St.), Pier 96 (56th St.) and 72nd St.

As Wetteroth recently searched for a way to keep the Pier 40 program running in 2010, he looked back to Pier 26, which the Hudson River Park Trust has since rebuilt. A new dock is already in place on the new Pier 26, although the pier remains fenced off because nothing else is complete. Wetteroth hopes to change that.

“The first thing you built there was the damn dock,” Wetteroth told Connie Fishman, president of the H.R.P.T. “It’s sitting there and people can’t use it.”

Fishman replied that the Trust needs to use that part of Pier 26 for construction staging to build the boathouse and restaurant on the pier, along with the uplands area between Laight and N. Moore Sts. Downtown Boathouse will not be able to move back to Pier 26 until 2011, Fishman said. (There may be a formal request for proposals to run a kayaking program there, but Downtown Boathouse is assumed to be the operator.)

Noreen Doyle, executive vice president of the Trust, later said that Downtown Boathouse could build a new dock at Pier 40, as long as it was not any bigger than the old one, but it seems unlikely that Wetteroth would invest in a new dock for just one season.

“It’s a real shame,” said Julie Nadel, a Tribeca resident who used to serve on the Trust’s board. Given that construction takes such a long time, Nadel said she wished the Trust could allow for interim uses like kayaking on the pier, “as opposed to having things stop dead in their tracks while [the pier] is not completed.”

Louis Kleinman, who does outreach for the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, said he was sorry to hear about the loss of any program in the city’s rivers.

But Fishman did have some good news for the community board when she presented Dec. 21: After complaints from Wetteroth and others about the planned size and configuration of the new boathouse on Pier 26, the Trust made some adjustments. The Trust added room for another 36 kayaks, bringing the boathouse’s total capacity to 120 long kayaks and 108 shorter ones. The boathouse, which includes a shower, will open for the 2011 season, Fishman said.

“This is such an incredible amenity for the city,” said Bob Townley, chairperson of C.B. 1’s Waterfront Committee.

The Trust plans to bid the boathouse contract in January and award it in March. It is important to move quickly this fiscal year just in case the state and city try to take away some of the Trust’s money in tough budget times, Fishman said. The state and city have each put $6 million in this year’s budget for the restaurant and boathouse construction.

Pier 26 is also slated to get a maritime education center called an estuarium, but it does not have enough money or a design, and it is unclear whether it will ever be built. Fishman said a steering committee of half a dozen public agencies is meeting to talk about the estuarium’s future.

Townley, who is also executive director of Manhattan Youth, used to run programs on the adjacent Pier 25, which the Trust also demolished and is rebuilding. Complete with a miniature-golf course and sand volleyball courts, Pier 25 is scheduled to reopen in fall 2010, Fishman said.

After the meeting, Doyle said that the milder this winter is, the better the chance that the new sections of the park will open on time.

“We’re hoping for a good construction winter,” she said.