Honing Pier 40 plans as deadline nears

By Josh Rogers

There are new details about all three plans for Pier 40’s future.

The Pier 40 Partnership, the newest group to enter the picture, will propose stacking cars in the existing garage to increase parking revenue on the 14-acre Houston St. pier, which has Downtown’s largest playing fields. The Partnership is made up of local parents who are raising money for the pier. The group is likely to propose several recommendations made at a recent meeting of block associations to discuss the pier — indoor recreation space, a school or an arts center, according to the Partnership’s Rich Caccappolo.

CampGroup and Urban Dove, which submitted their “People’s Pier” plan to the Hudson River Park Trust a year ago, are no longer planning to charge non-profit organizations for the pier’s roof field, and this field may now be expanded from 110 feet to 130 feet wide. The firms are considering a small bridge to separate pedestrians from traffic. They have also provided additional financing documents to the Hudson River Park Trust in response to Trust concerns about the plan’s viability, and would add an additional $8 million to repair the pier.

Related Companies has made relatively minor changes to their plan, according to Partnership members who met with the developer four times. The firm refused to consider eliminating any of five revenue-generating components of their plan – a Cirque du Soleil theater, a movie theater, banquet hall, concert hall or retail shops. Related did say they would add ivy wind protection to the pier’s proposed roof fields and remove a large sign at the front of the pier, according to the Partnership. Related, like the other plans, would retain the pier’s parking facilities.

“We tried very hard to get Related to understand why the community opposed their plan and what we wanted changed,” said the Partnership’s Fred Wilson. “They just couldn’t do it. It’s not that they didn’t want to — it’s just the financial burdens of a $625 million plan.”

In separate telephone interviews, Caccappolo and the Partnership’s Craig Balsam gave similar accounts of their talks with Related.

Joanna Rose, Related’s spokesperson, did not confirm or deny the Partnership’s assertions. She did say Related made unspecified changes as a result of the meetings in a prepared statement last week. She said the Trust hopes to meet more with the Partnership, other local groups and the Trust, in a subsequent statement Wednesday.

“We look forward to continued conversations with the Pier 40 Working Group, Pier 40 Partnership, H.R.P.T. and the community to secure Pier 40’s long-term future and ensure it remains a spectacular sports location for the city’s families with larger, high performance fields,” Rose wrote.

In the spring, Trust staff said there were traffic problems with both the Related and People’s plan, and a Related executive acknowledged their traffic plan needed to be changed. Partnership members said Related did not mention any traffic changes, nor did Rose in her statements.

Jai Nanda, founder and executive director of Urban Dove, said his team is now considering a pedestrian bridge or other safety improvements. They have already added landscaping and reduced the size of the car turnaround in front of the pier, which Nanda thought will also have some safety benefits. His team’s plan includes adding day camp and indoor recreation space to the pier’s parking and field space.

The Partnership is likely to suggest indoor recreation too, although the group has not decided how much time would be free to local groups and how much would be for paid adult leagues. Wilson said they worked on their own plan because of widespread concern that CampGroup/Urban Dove did not have the money to proceed.

“We have picked up on a lot of skepticism on the Trust’s staff, its board and community groups about the viability of the People’s Pier plan,” he said.

Wilson said he likes the People plan and he thinks the Partnership would be willing to help them if the Trust thought a combined effort was the best solution.

Nanda and Mark Benerofe of CampGroup said they had productive meetings with the Partnership and are open to entering into a formal agreement with them if the details can be worked out. “It makes sense, but how would it work,” Nanda said.

In response to Trust concerns raised in the spring, the People team submitted documents showing they could raise “well in excess of the $160 million” needed to build its plan, Nanda said. CampGroup submitted documents showing it had $20 million of equity for the plan and Urban Dove had an additional $5 million. Nanda said he felt the group satisfied all of the Trust’s financial questions at a meeting about a month ago.

“They asked pointed questions so it did seem like they were still considering us,” he said.

The Partnership’s plan was due Sat., Dec. 15 but Caccappolo said they expect to get the entire weekend to finish it and plan to submit it on Mon., Dec. 17. The group has hired HR&A Advisors, an economic consulting firm that worked on the High Line park plan.

The Trust board hopes to make a decision by the end of January. Related had seemed like the favored plan for quite some time, but two sources who speak often with the Trust decision makers said it now seems like the public authority is cooling to the plan.

Caccappolo said the Partnership, which includes some wealthy members, would be able to cover short-term financial “holes” needed to repair the pier until the revenue plans were fully in place. The group wants to give the Trust a low-impact plan to continue the sports uses, rather than run the pier itself, he added.

Members are still crunching the numbers, Caccappolo said, and they are not sure if an art center would generate enough money or if the city would be willing to pay some of the pier’s repair costs to build a school.

The Partnership formed this year after community uproar over the Related plan, dubbed “Vegas on the Hudson” by critics. About 1,500 people showed up to a Trust meeting on the plans in the spring. Parents and children from Battery Park City and Tribeca took buses to the Village meeting, which also drew parents from all over Downtown.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick said she had concerns about private individuals raising money to influence plans for a public park, but given the alternatives and the Partnership’s civic mindedness, the group may be the best option.

“If I can work with private folks who want to keep public space for public use rather than sell it off to a developer, which is public space for private use,” Glick said, “I don’t really have the same problems.”