Parents group means business on Pier 40’s future


By Lincoln Anderson

When the Pier 40 Working Group recently proposed that public funds — instead of monies generated by large-scale private development on Pier 40 — be used to maintain Hudson River Park, Henry Stern, a member of the Hudson River Park Trust’s board of trustees, blasted the idea as “socialist.”

The Working Group — and community members, too, for that matter — didn’t understand the park’s financial realities, Stern said at the Trust’s August board meeting, seemingly voicing the opinion of many on the state-city authority’s 13-member board.

Since socialism clearly is not the Trust’s favored economic model, a new group is taking the opposite approach, pledging to privately raise up to $30 million to repair and maintain Pier 40.

The 14-acre pier at W. Houston St. is currently the focus of intense community concern as the Trust’s second attempt in three years to pick a developer for the pier comes down to the wire.

The new group, the Pier 40 Partnership, has a core membership of 20 parents, all of whom have children who attend local schools — both public and private — in the Village, Tribeca and Chelsea and play in youth sports leagues at Pier 40. More than a few of them are wealthy, high-powered finance types and entrepreneurs.

“We’re not oppositional,” stressed Rich Caccappolo during an interview at his office on W. Broadway in Soho. “We want to help. We love what H.R.P.T. has done up and down [the waterfront] with the park. We’d hate to see Pier 40 be a huge misstep.”

“Pier 40 is the reason a lot of people have told me they’ve stayed in the city — young and old, across all economic levels,” added Jill Hanekamp, who joined Caccappolo at the interview.

While “not oppositional,” in Caccappolo’s words, he said they do want to get one message across to the Trust loud and clear: “That we are completely against the Related proposal and that we want to find a different approach to developing Pier 40.”

Caccappolo is the new president of the Greenwich Village Little League, has been a board member of the Downtown United Soccer Club and is an active parent at P.S. 41. Before starting up Creative Commerce, an Internet investment firm, he was part of the team that built iVillage Inc., the world’s leading online destination for women.

Hanekamp is a civil-rights attorney with two children at Villager Community School.

Caccappolo helped organize the massive turnout in early May at P.S. 41 for the big public hearing on Pier 40, attended by more than 1,500 people.

Following the hearing, the Pier 40 Partnership formed and since then has been meeting every Tuesday morning over breakfast, usually at Le Pain Quotidien on W. Eighth St.

Caccappolo said they’re confident they can raise up to $30 million from the community for the pier’s upkeep. Parents from local schools, ranging from Little Red Schoolhouse and Village Community School to Friends, have all told him how successful they have been at fundraising for their individual schools.

‘Money will come out’

“There’s that money in the Village,” Caccappolo said. “And the Village is a different place than it was 30 years ago. The money will come out.”

Other leading members of the Pier 40 Partnership include Craig Balsam, of Razor and Tie, a record company on Sullivan St.; Gary Ginsberg, News Corporation’s executive vice president of investor relations and corporate communications; Fred Wilson, of Union Square Ventures, a venture-capitalist firm specializing in technological investments; Donna Zaccaro, a video producer; and Roger Ehrenberg, of Monitor 110, Inc., an Internet media-rating service. Not all among the group are so affluent.

“Millionaires and paupers” said Hanekamp with a laugh.

“We’re really quite pragmatic,” Caccappolo said. “We’re business people. We know Pier 40 needs repairs. We don’t need it to get bogged down in an endless process. And we don’t want the wrong long-term use for Pier 40, which is a tremendous asset.”

They accept the idea that Pier 40 must have commercial activity to generate revenue for the park — but they want a role in determining what shape that commercial activity and development will take.

“We’re O.K. with the act, with the parameters of the act,” said Caccappolo referring to the Hudson River Park Act, which requires that space equal to 50 percent of Pier 40’s footprint be developed commercially.

On the other hand, the Pier 40 Working Group’s recent report on the pier, Caccappolo feels, “was discounted [by the Trust] because it asked for public funding.”

Fears for field

A key concern for the Pier 40 Partnership is preserving the pier’s 3.2-acre sheltered courtyard sports field. They don’t approve of moving the field to the rooftop, as is proposed in The Related Companies’ $626 million Cirque du Soleil-based proposal.

“Related says, ‘We’re giving you the same field space.’ Yet it’s not the same space, not the same environment, on the roof,” Caccapollo said.

Eight hundred and fifty families are in G.V.L.L. alone, which has 80 teams. Many of the same families are also members of DUSC. On a Saturday morning, up to six Little League games can be held on the pier’s courtyard field at once, Caccapollo and Hanekamp said.

“It’s our community meeting place,” said Hanekamp. “It’s where every weekend I will see people who work in different fields and whose kids go to different schools. It’s just our plaza, if you will. It’s the fabric of almost everybody’s life now — if you have a kid, you’re there.”

“No one’s comfortable with the idea of dropping our kids off in this busy entertainment center,” added Caccappolo, referring to the Related plan. “We don’t think it’s safe — where tens and thousands of people would come to see the circus, interspersed with kids going in and out.”

Referring to the car traffic that would cross the bike path while going to and from the Related development, he added, “And we don’t think it’s appropriate for the rest of the park. A lot of cyclists and joggers go by that pier. It’s the most active bikeway in America.”

A movieplex on the pier — also part of the Related plan — would surely fail from being located so far from mass transit, Caccappolo added.

“There’s a movie theater down at the financial center and it’s a failure — they put a DSW shoe store in there,” he noted.

A competing plan, the lower-budget The People’s Pier, is more to the Pier 40 Partnership’s liking, since it keeps the existing courtyard field in place. But Caccappolo charged that the Trust has “spun” its analysis of The People’s Pier proposal so that its financial viability seems doubtful.

“It just seems like it’s not getting a fair shake,” he said.

As an alternative, the Pier 40 Partnership is proposing funding a $150,000 Pier 40 feasibility study — which would be done by the Design Trust for Public Space — to determine what kind of commercial uses could work at the pier and be acceptable to the community.

Above all, the Partnership supports an incremental approach to fixing up and developing Pier 40 — rather than, as Caccappolo put it, approaching it as “one giant project” and “just giving away” the pier to one developer.

However, when they met with Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, in June, she informed them that the Trust intends to complete the current process of evaluating — and possibly picking one of — the two competing development plans for the pier; introducing a new feasibility study now could change the process, and the Trust couldn’t even guarantee they would read the study, the Partnership members were told.

As a result, the Partnership is holding off, for now, on doing their study.

Trust weighing offer

In a subsequent telephone interview, Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson, said the authority hasn’t decided yet whether to accept the Partnership’s offer to do an independent feasibility study for the pier.

“The Trust has had two discussions with the Pier 40 Partnership to date, and we appreciate their efforts to think proactively about the future of Pier 40, including the need to generate revenue for the overall park,” he said. “That said, any decision on our board’s part to support a land-use study would have to be viewed from within the context of the R.F.P. [request for proposals from developers] process that is still underway. Our board has not yet made any decisions regarding how to proceed with Pier 40, so decisions about the offer for a land-use study have not yet been made.”

Alternative visions

As for uses that might fit well on the pier alongside the ball fields, Caccapollo personally thinks “a great arts center,” with affordable studio space, could work, as well as possibly a maritime museum. The Pier 40 Partnership feels “a mix of restaurants,” as well as musicians enlivening the atmosphere, should have a place on the pier, too, he said.

In addition to meeting with Fishman, the Pier 40 Partnership has also met with Diana Taylor, the new chairperson of the Trust’s board of directors, as well as several other Trust board members, including Joseph Rose, Julie Nadel, Franz Leichter, Lawrence Goldberg and Suzanne Mattei — who represents Pete Grannis, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, on the board — and has a meeting set with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. They have also met with local politicians, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilmember Alan Gerson, Borough President Scott Stringer, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, State Senators Tom Duane and Martin Connor and a representative of Congressmember Jerrold Nadler.

Caccappolo said they’ve found that from the Trust to the local politicians, “At the end of the day, they all have issues with the Related proposal,” and that there’s widespread skepticism that the plan will really generate more than the $5 million to $6 million for the park that the pier’s existing parking operation currently does.

They haven’t even tried to meet with Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, vice chairperson of the Trust’s board, since he has a well-documented history of close business and financial relationships with Steve Ross, head of The Related Companies; so they assume Doctoroff must be backing Related’s proposal.

“It’s a ridiculously beneficial deal for Related,” Caccappolo said, noting that, in his understanding, Related would pay just $4 rent per square foot for Pier 40, while across the street, space at the St. John’s Building goes for $30 to $40 per square foot.

“From a business point of view, this delivers very little to the Trust,” Caccappolo added. “From what we’ve heard, this Related proposal won’t bring in any more money than the parking. We don’t mind the parking at all, but we think it could be done more efficiently and made more profitable by using car stackers.”

Leaving a legacy

Although concerned about the pier’s use now and in the near future for their own children, the Pier 40 Partnership group is also looking farther ahead — and they don’t envision Related’s plan in that picture.

“From a legacy point of view, it’s not what we want to see — just a place for tourists,” Caccapollo said. “If no one does anything, it’s just going to happen. So we felt we had to come out and help the Trust come up with an alternative.

“We really don’t know anyone in the community who supports the Related project. We’re just saying, delay this thing, or reject this thing in November — and we’ll say the project won’t die.”

The sprawling sports field was created a few years ago after the first stab at a Pier 40 R.F.P. process went down in flames in the face of community opposition. It was at the time dubbed an interim use, but has since obviously become a cherished amenity.

“It’s really the only space within Hudson River Park for active sports,” Caccapollo stressed of Pier 40.

“Connie [Fishman] always tells me that ‘You can’t say you can’t live without something that’s only been here 2? years,” he said of the artificial turf field. “But it really has become integral to everyone. My response to her should have been: ‘The Hudson River Park’s only been there a few years, but I don’t think anyone would like to see the park go away.’ ”