Ice storm rages on as Trust still plans a rink

By Lincoln Anderson

Despite the opposition of Assemblymember Deborah Glick, the Friends of Hudson River Park and Community Board 2, the Hudson River Park Trust plans to go ahead with construction of a $2.3 million ice-skating rink just south of Pier 40 on the Lower West Side waterfront.

At its Oct. 23 full board meeting, in a close vote, Board 2 approved a resolution asking the Trust to explore putting the rink in or on Pier 40 instead of at the proposed site near Spring St. between the bikeway and esplanade.

C.B. 2’s resolution said the rink, which as designed would narrow the 30-ft.-wide pedestrian promenade along the water by 12 ft., “would be a public nuisance at the proposed location.”

The board’s vote was 18 yes, 15 no and one abstention, overturning an earlier resolution of the board’s Waterfront Committee, which passed 7-2, in support of the rink.

Before the board voted, Glick had given an impassioned speech, saying she was “deeply, deeply troubled by the process — or lack of process — about the skating rink.” Glick feels the promenade is too heavily used from spring to fall for it to be narrowed to accommodate the rink. Like C.B. 2’s resolution, Glick suggests the Trust put the rink on Pier 40.

However, Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson, said that despite C.B. 2’s opposition, the Trust still intends to build the rink at Spring St.

“The Trust is appreciative of the approval of the Waterfront Committee and for the feedback from the community regarding the ice rink,” Martin said Monday. “This is all an important part of the process in creating amenities for all park users. The rink is still slated for construction just south of Pier 40; however the Trust will be considering the community’s input and making changes, if appropriate, to the design, which will be presented to our board of directors at our next board meeting later this month.”

In the park’s 1997 master design guidelines, the proposed rink site is designated for an “undulating lawn and gardens.”

Madelyn Wils, a Trust board of directors member and chairperson of Community Board 1 — which covers the area south of Canal St., as opposed to Board 2, which covers the West Side between Canal and 14th Sts. — had characterized Board 2’s vote on the rink as “very close,” “not an overwhelming vote” and “basically split,” as if to downplay it.

Yet, speaking last week, Jim Smith, Board 2’s chairperson — who, in fact, voted for the rink plan — said the board’s vote should be respected.

“As far as I’m concerned, as the chairman of the board, the board has spoken — over and out,” Smith said. He noted that on a contentious issue such as the rink, it’s rare to get a vote that’s 50-0 (provided all the board members are present). “It’s not a split vote; it’s a majority,” Smith stressed.

Asked how the board would react if the Trust defies its resolution and goes ahead with its plan, Smith said, “We won’t be happy about it if the Trust builds [the rink] at Spring St.”

Glick didn’t take kindly to Wils’ calling Board 2’s vote “split,” either.

“I’m going to have to ask her what hat she’s wearing and which hat she’s willing to give up,” Glick said. “I think it would be shocking to have a community board chairperson saying you can’t have the board take a position unless there’s a two-thirds majority.”

The Hudson River Park Advisory Council met last Tuesday, but did not vote on the rink, though it did offer suggestions on improving its design.

Lawrence B. Goldberg, the Advisory Council’s president and a C.B. 2 member, who supports the Trust’s rink plan, said the Advisory Council had a very long meeting and discussion about the rink. However, he said the Trust’s vice president attended and told them that despite Board 2’s resolution the project is still on.

“We were told that the Trust may go ahead and build this thing anyway by Connie Fishman at the Advisory Council meeting,” Goldberg said.

The Advisory Council asked the Trust to improve certain problem areas of the design, including the eight-ft.-tall chain-link fence around the rink and congestion at car drop-off points by Pier 40.

“I think an ice rink in the park is a good amenity for parents and kids and families,” Goldberg said. “But it has to be designed properly, be beautiful, [have] safe drop-off points and it has to fit.”

Governor Pataki is the driving force behind the ice rink, which is one of his key “quality of life” improvements for rebuilding Lower Manhattan. The rink was listed on a timeline for rebuilding projects funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. that was handed out last April; at that time it was planned in Board 1 at Pier 25, with a scheduled completion date of winter 2003-’04.

Last Thursday, at a speech on Lower Manhattan the governor gave at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Battery Park City, a timeline of L.M.D.C. projects was again distributed, and “Hudson River Park Skating Rink” was again listed with a scheduled winter 2003-’04 opening.

However, the Trust plans to start construction on the rink in November and it would not be completed until March — behind the L.M.D.C. benchmark dates and, at any rate, too late for this winter’s skating season.

Julie Nadel, a Trust board of directors member, said a few days ago she asked Robert Balachandran, the Trust’s president, “Is this rink important to you?” According to Nadel, Balachandran responded, “It’s important to the governor.”

“He wants it,” Nadel said of Pataki. “It’s part of his build up Lower Manhattan [effort]. It’s a quantifiable entity you can take a picture of, and you can ribbon-cut and you can point to it and say, ‘I brought this to Lower Manhattan.’ ”

Personally, Nadel said she’s concerned about “overprogramming, where every square inch [of the park] has something going on. If there’s a permanent ice rink there, that part of the park will never be used for anything else.”

Noting the painstaking design process the park underwent over years, Nadel said, “This ice-skating rink came from outer space, out of the blue.”

In addition to Glick, state Senator Martin Connor supports Board 2’s position. Connor feels before anything is done, there should be a study to determine if there is demand for a rink.

City Councilmember Christine Quinn offered her thoughts last Sunday.

“I think the ice-skating rink is a horrible idea,” Quinn said. “People in the Village and Tribeca have made very clear what they want on the waterfront. I’ve never heard an outcry for a skating rink.”

As to the rink being a cornerstone quality of life project in Pataki’s Downtown rebuilding plan, Quinn said, “I think the Trust needs to be responsive to the community and listen to the community. It’s not the governor’s park. It’s a park for the Village and the people on the Lower West Side. There’s a process to determine what does or doesn’t get built.”

Dan Wilson, a spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, who appoints three of the Trust’s 13 board members, said Fields was still studying the issue.

Trust board member Henry Stern, the city’s former Parks commissioner, didn’t support the rink when it was first presented as a permanent enclosed structure, but he approves of the current design, which doesn’t have a roof.

“We have a Greek chorus of dissent in Greenwich Village and whatever is proposed by the authorities is likely to have tough sledding,” Stern said. “It’s harmless. At $2 million…it’ll have a 10-year life and it will then be located at a site that satisfies more people.”

As to putting the rink on Pier 40, Stern said it could take years to get a rink there because of the complications surrounding the pier’s development, and would also “encumber” the pier, inhibiting its eventual development, since nothing else would be able to go where the rink is.

Albert Butzel, Friends of Hudson River Parks’ executive director, said he feels that the ice rink should have had a full review as a “significant” change to the park plan, as mandated in the Hudson River Park Act. This would include a Trust-sponsored public hearing, review by Boards 1, 2 and 4 and the City Planning Commission and notification of elected officials and local community groups.

“A process is a process. It’s usually to everyone’s advantage if you go through it,” Butzel said. “We don’t think that’s the right location for a skating rink. We think that there are other locations that will do, including Pier 40. It’s hard to put a facility of this size on an esplanade that’s 100-ft. wide.” Butzel said Pier 57 at 17th St., even though north of the Houston St. boundary for L.M.D.C. allocations, could potentially be a site for the rink.

Asked if the Friends might file a legal challenge if the facility does get built at Spring St., Butzel recalled how they dropped their lawsuit against the Trust last month over the failed Pier 40 development process.

“We don’t seem to be in a lawsuit mood,” Butzel said. “Our board hasn’t met to decide, but I’m doubtful.”

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