Hudson Park bill allows air-rights transfers, longer leases, boat ticket tax, restaurants, carousels

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | As the State Legislature’s session drew to a close, a sweeping bill to modify the Hudson River Park Act in a variety ways was quietly passed by both the Assembly and the state Senate.

The bill was approved by the Assembly 96-5 on Thursday around noon.

Then, after a marathon session that began Friday and turned into an all-nighter, the bill finally came up before the Senate on Saturday morning, and at 5:18 a.m. was passed unanimously 57-0.

The governor’s signature is still required, though his approval is expected.

The bill’s sponsors were Richard Gottfried and Deborah Glick in the Assembly. In the state Senate the sponsor was listed simply as the Rules Committee.

Approval of the bill will allow the Hudson River Park to sell unused air rights for development up to one block inland of the West Side Highway — with the proceeds from Pier 40’s air rights specifically earmarked for that pier’s sorely needed repairs; to extend the lease terms for commercial uses in the park to 49 years, and in some cases, for larger developments, up to 99 years; for the city to give Pier 76 fully to the Hudson River Park Trust; for the imposition of a surcharge of up to $2 on tickets for all commercial vessels (entertainment, sightseeing, day or dinner cruises), which embark or disembark within the park, with this tax paid directly to the Trust; for a heliport terminal to be built within the park, though not on land but on a floating structure in the Hudson River; and to allow Pier 54 to be rebuilt wider than its original footprint.

Said Gottfried, “The bill is certainly a compromise. It does several important things for the financial viability of the park and for the quality of the park. However, most of the provisions relating particularly to Pier 40 or Pier 76 were deleted [from the bill’s final version]. We will hopefully take up issues relating to those piers next year. I felt it was better to do that than enact some very inadequate provisions that would then be very difficult to change in the future.”

The bill doesn’t allow things at Pier 76 that Gottfried favored, such as hotel and residential use, and at the same time doesn’t permit something that Glick wanted at Pier 40, commercial office use. Local youth sports leagues last year put on a major push to change the park’s legislation to allow residential use on or next to Pier 40 — feeling it was the best way to ensure funding to fix up the sports pier. However, lack of political support sunk that idea.

“The provision allowing the Trust to sell unused development rights of the park to adjoining properties can potentially provide considerable revenue for the park,” Gottfried said.

lights back on
About two weeks ago, the Hudson River Park Trust restored electrical power in the park’s Greenwich Village section. Hurricane Sandy devastated the park’s electrical infrastructure, much of which had been located belowground and was susceptible to flooding. Photo by Lincoln Anderson

“At Pier 76,” the assemblymember continued, “the bill will require that once the tow pound is removed, the city will turn over the whole pier to the park, not just half of it. That means the whole pier will be subject to the Hudson River Park Act’s protections. When the pier is transferred to the park, at least half the pier must be devoted to open-space park use. The remainder can be used for park-commercial purposes (a tighter restriction than would apply to the pier if the city kept it), and any revenue will go to the park.

“The bill also provides for moving the 30th St. Heliport off the land and out into the river,” Gottfried noted, “where it will have less detrimental impact on park users and the community.”

Furthermore, the bill expands allowable revenue-generating uses at the park’s designated commercial piers to include restaurants, media and film studio facilities, commercial amusements, performing arts, schools and educational facilities.

For state Senator Brad Hoylman, satisfaction at the bill’s passage was tempered by what he criticized as a lack of transparency in the process.

“The amended Hudson River Park Act isn’t perfect,” Hoylman said, “but it provides critical new sources of revenue to facilitate the park’s completion, operation and maintenance, and on balance it’s good for my constituents, many of whom are among the millions of people who visit Hudson River Park each year.

“That said,” Hoylman continued, “I am disappointed by some of the provisions, and particularly by the lack of transparency or opportunity for public consultation on major portions of the bill.

“Recognizing the park’s urgent need for new sources of revenue, and the momentum behind the proposed legislation that emerged late last week, I worked to negotiate the best possible bill for the communities that I represent,” Hoylman said. “I’m grateful to the Assembly staff who worked on the bill for being responsive to many of the concerns that I raised, including eliminating a plan to permit residential use on Pier 76 and ensuring that any air rights transfers be subject to public review.

“I am particularly happy,” he added, “that the legislation facilitates the preservation of Pier 40 and its sports fields and ensures the entirety of Pier 76 will be incorporated into the park.”

Said Hoylman, “In particular, Assemblymember Glick skillfully negotiated many provisions of the final bill that I support, including allowing adaptive reuse of Pier 40 for new commercial or educational purposes, but not luxury residences or hotels; ensuring that revenues from the sale of development rights from Pier 40 will be used for critical infrastructure improvements; and preserving historic elements from the White Star Line on Pier 54.”

The freshman state senator also wasn’t too pleased at the all-night session, calling it a “scandalous” way to pass bills. The legislators were kept going through the night with cold cuts and pizza, he said.

Glick hailed the legislation as ensuring that inappropriate private development will not occur in the park, while at the same time providing the Trust with some new financial mechanisms to maintain the park’s upkeep.

“I have always believed that less development was appropriate for the park,” Glick said, “and I am pleased that this legislation strikes a balance between financial support and protecting public space. In particular, I am glad that any sale of the air rights from Pier 40 will directly be used to repair and secure Pier 40’s infrastructure — thus ensuring that playing fields utilized by children and adults will continue to exist for generations.”

The idea for a surcharge on commercial vessels using the park was originally Glick’s, and she claimed it could bring in $1.5 million for the Trust annually.

The legislation also provides for the preservation of historic elements — such as the surviving remnants of the pier-shed structure — at Pier 54, where the Carpathia arrived with survivors from the Titanic in 1912.

“This is not just New York history, it is world history and it is now secured,” Glick declared.

Matt Borden, Glick’s chief of staff, told The Villager, that the bill represented a compromise between things that Glick and Gottfried each wanted.

“There won’t be a change of lease terms [beyond 30 years] at Pier 40, so there won’t be inappropriate development [there],” he noted. “At Pier 76, there won’t be a giant ferris wheel or hotel or residential. And this would codify the air rights of Pier 40 to be sold one block east.”

Basically, Borden said, “Gottfried can’t have what he wanted at Pier 76, and Glick won’t get what she wanted at Pier 40. Gottfried wanted a ferris wheel, hotels and residential at Pier 76, and Glick wanted adaptive reuse at Pier 40.”

Although the bill does allow commercial office use at Pier 57 only, this would be for incidental use, for example, such as connected to artisanal food manufacturing on the pier. Otherwise, just as before, commercial office use remains prohibited in the park, including at Pier 40, meaning the plan for adaptive reuse of the massive West Houston St. pier’s three-story shed structure for a high-tech office campus by Douglas Durst couldn’t fly.

“It doesn’t have everything that we want,” Borden said of the bill, “but it ensures that there won’t be inappropriate development in the park.”

Before the Assembly voted on the legislation, Madelyn Wils, the Trust’s president, sent out a letter to politicians and park advocates, stating, in part, “Last night the Assembly and Senate each introduced a bill to amend the Hudson River Park Act, enabling legislation in line with many items discussed and introduced by the Hudson River Park Task Force over the last year and a half. Although it doesn’t represent all of the issues debated during the many hours and days that we spent together, it provides many significant and important additional rights, plus some language clarifications that will allow us to improve our bottom line and help support the park‘s viability into the future.”

Wils also noted that authorizing Pier 54 to be allowed to be built beyond its historic footprint “will allow for securing [a] significant donation to be used toward development of Pier 54 as a world-class public programming space.”

It’s been rumored that Barry Diller, husband of legendary fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, would make a multimillion-dollar matching grant to contribute to Pier 54’s renovation. Widening the pier will make it safer for big public events, especially in terms of people being able to easily enter and exit the pier, according to the Trust.