‘People’s Pier’ vs. Performing Arts Center pitched for Pier 40


By Lincoln Anderson

A glitzy “Downtown Lincoln Center” on the Hudson — with stilt-walking Cirque du Soleil performers clomping over soccer fields adding festive atmosphere to the Tribeca Film Festival’s new maritime home — or a teeming sports, day-camp and academic complex devoted to building healthy young bodies and minds, are the two competing redevelopment proposals for Pier 40.

The Pier 40 Working Group got its first look at the proposals for the 14-acre W. Houston St. pier last week. It turns out what was believed to have been four legitimate submissions are in fact only two, with the other two being “not serious,” according to Arthur Schwartz, the working group’s chairperson.

The pair of competing proposals couldn’t be more different. One — a joint venture of The Related Companies, Cirque du Soleil and the Tribeca Film Festival — calls for turning Pier 40 into the Pier 40 Performing Arts Center, or Pier 40 PAC, for short. Drawing a projected 2.7 million visitors a year, it would have a high impact on the Hudson River Park and surrounding neighborhood.

Dubbed Pier 40 – The People’s Pier, the other proposal — by Urban Dove and CampGroup — would augment the pier’s already substantial sports facilities, while adding space for high school and college academic programs. As opposed to the PAC, it would have a relatively low impact on the area and park.

In September, the Hudson River Park Trust issued a request for proposals, or R.F.P., from developers for the pier, with a Nov. 17 deadline. A similar R.F.P. process for the pier two years ago was a failure, ending without any developer being chosen. But the Trust, the state-city authority that operates and is building the 5-mile-long waterfront park, is giving it another try because it wants the pier to generate more revenue for the park, which is intended to be self-sustaining. (The parking operation on the pier currently generates $5 million annually for the Trust.) Also, the 44-year-old pier needs a renovation, which the Pier 40 master-lease holder would have to finance, as well as funding the pier’s upkeep over the term of the lease, which would be from 30 to 49 years.

Two years ago, some of the R.F.P. submissions included big-box stores, which sparked massive opposition among neighboring residents. In response, the Trust’s latest R.F.P. specifically stated that big-box stores would not be permitted, which might explain why there were fewer proposals this time.

Pier 40 PAC is the more ambitious proposal in terms of the sheer amount of construction involved and its price tag — $626 million — which is more than the cost of the entire park itself.

According to the R.F.P. submission, done by The Related Companies, Pier 40 PAC “will become the premier destination spot for evening activity in Downtown Manhattan, delivering an exciting combination of entertainment activities, bustling with activity…. Practically, 600,000 square feet of continuous development site is near impossible to assemble in New York City. The opportunity here is powerful,” the proposal states.

The PAC plan includes an 84,000-square-foot Cirque du Soleil theater — home to 75 acrobats and dancers — as well as a 10,000-square-foot Cirque du Soleil restaurant, 30,000-square-foot Cirque nightclub, a V.I.P. lounge and 9,000-square-foot Cirque CD’s shop.

Also part of the complex would be a 60,000-square-foot multiplex movie theater programmed by the Tribeca Film Festival, which would be a screening venue for the festival, while showing art films and independent films the rest of the year. Additionally, the Cirque theater would be used for four weeks each year as a screening venue for the film festival.

During the film festival, the actual Cirque shows in the theater would go on hiatus, but the Cirque performers would still be busy; the buskers, acrobats and dancers would “spill out onto the environment,” enlivening the pier, the proposal notes.

A 45,0000-square-foot music hall for live performances is another component of the PAC proposal.

And a 45,000-square-foot grand ballroom/event space would be suitable, the proposal notes, for “after-parties for the Grammy Awards, the MTV Music Awards and the VH1 Diva Awards” or even spillover for events from the Auto Show at the Javits Center.

Plans also call for a 15,000-square-foot space called the “Beach Club,” but there is no description of what exactly it would be.

There would also be 37,000 square feet of small-scale “destination” and “specialty” retail, 58,000 square feet of restaurant space and a 50-slip marina.

The PAC plan calls for demolishing the southern half of the pier’s two-story “doughnut”-shaped pier shed structure. This southern side of the pier would feature a plaza, bordered by four restaurants. In the summer the plaza would be used by a farmers’ market, and in winter would be converted to an ice-skating rink to attract visitors to the pier during the cold weather.

The northern side of the pier shed would be left standing, and the Cirque du Soleil theater would be built on top of it at the pier’s northwest corner. Meanwhile, the pier’s western edge would see a new, glass-enclosed Winter Garden with public restrooms.

Above, a rendering of the Pier 40 Performing Arts Center, or PAC, proposal. Below, a massing diagram identifying some of the PAC proposal’s main facilities.

Filling the doughnut

In Pier 40 PAC, the pier’s central, 400-square-foot courtyard would be filled in with new construction for the complex, and the heavily used artificial-turf sports fields currently located there would be rebuilt on 227,000 square feet of space on the roof on the pier’s northern edge — with, the proposal notes, a “softer substructure” for the fields, making them safer and better.

As for preserving other existing uses on the pier, there is provision for about 1,850 parking spaces in the proposal, as well as space for the Trust’s administrative offices. The Performing Arts Center project would take three years to complete, and Related feels that by installing ramps into the courtyard, about 800 parking spaces could still function during the renovation. But the sports fields would apparently be out of commission.

Accommodation would also be made on the pier for the Trapeze School currently located in the park at DesBrosses St.

On the other hand, the Pier 40 – The People’s Park plan is less an overhaul of the pier than a preservation of the existing structure.

The proposal’s main development partners are CampGroup — owned by Benerofe Properties — and Urban Dove, a local nonprofit group helping students through athletics and other programs. The People’s Pier plan is geared more toward the surrounding community, rather than transforming the pier into a major destination.

“The People’s Pier is not just a name,” Mark Benerofe of Benerofe Properties wrote in his cover letter on their Pier 40 R.F.P. submission. “It symbolizes a belief that this extraordinary property belongs to the residents of the city that surrounds it.”

The emphasis in this proposal is athletics and education, as well as maintaining the community’s long-term pier parking. The pier’s existing sports fields would be kept where they are now in the central courtyard, where they would continue to be better sheltered from the elements than were they moved to the rooftop, the proposal states.

In total, the plan would create 33 percent more open space than required under the Hudson River Park Act, which mandates that the equivalent of 50 percent of the pier’s footprint be set aside for public open space, while the rest of the pier is allowed to be developed commercially.

With so much open space, the submission notes, “The People’s Pier will be able to host major national and regional sporting events that will showcase the city and its waterfront.” The Special Olympics New York wrote a letter of interest in the People’s plan, noting the pier “could be a centerpiece facility” for their national or international games.

Even more fields

The pier’s 300,000 square feet of existing recreation space would be preserved under the plan, while 85,000 square feet of new artificial-turf fields would be added on the pier shed’s southern rooftop.

In addition, there would be eight new indoor multi-use courts, locker rooms and related offices created in 75,000 square feet of space under a new rooftop structure to be built atop Pier 40’s northern edge; this facility would be the new home to Urban Dove’s Net Gain program, under which Urban Dove provides basketball court time for students from schools that lack courts. Urban Dove had been providing this service at Basketball City at Pier 63 for 450 students from 18 public high schools. However, in September, the Trust forced Basketball City to vacate the W. 23rd St. pier to allow construction of a park there.

Sizeable swimming pools — 4½ feet deep, two indoor, totaling 23,000 square feet, and one 24,000-square-foot outdoor pool — would be built under the People’s plan.

CampGroup would build an additional 100,000 square feet of facilities, and run a “high-quality day camp” from mid-June to mid-August each year.

The plan calls for increasing the amount of car parking spaces by about 500 to 2,584. Both The People’s Pier and Pier 40 PAC include parking stackers to use space more efficiently.

The People’s Pier proposal also calls for a 75,000-square-foot New York City public high school and an 80,000-square-foot university or college complex, both to be located — like the new basketball courts — within the new rooftop shed on the pier’s north side. Letters of interest have been sent to the project team from several schools.

Nate Dudley, principal of New York Harbor School — which focuses on marine science and marine technology — wrote that Pier 40 would be a good spot for a middle school to feed the Harbor School high school planned for Governors Island.

“Pier 40 is an ideal location for our first feeder middle school, and is a place that our current students already use for their maritime activities,” Dudley noted.

Akiva Kobre, Touro College senior vice president, wrote that the school has undergraduate and graduate programs focusing on health and obesity that would benefit from being located at Pier 40.

“We believe the location, the amount of space available and the synergies that exist with your other tenants makes Pier 40 an ideal location for us and our students,” Kobre wrote.

Eduardo N. del Valle, City University of New York interim vice chancellor, wrote that Pier 40 “is a unique and exciting piece of property with great potential for the type of development you [The People’s Pier] are proposing.”

Additionally, under the People’s plan, the pier’s southern promenade would be widened 10 feet, by cutting back the pier shed, and would have some commercial amenities, including a cafe on the finger pier.

Offices for the Trust, a facility for the Trapeze School and a marina would also be included.

As part of CampGroup’s proposal, a pedestrian bridge spanning the West Side Highway connecting to Pier 40 would be requested from the State Department of Transportation.

Build it and They’ll come

The People’s Pier plan is supported by The Pier Park & Playground Association, a nonprofit group based at Pier 40 that advocates for increased youth athletic opportunities on the Lower West Side. In a phone interview, Tobi Bergman, P3’s president, said the increase of existing athletic uses and the plan’s low impact are attractive. On the other hand, the Pier 40 PAC could lead to a radical transformation of the area, he contended.

“It would turn the Village into Times Square and Broadway,” Bergman said of the arts center plan. “This represents the same kind of threat to the neighborhood that the Trump condo-hotel tower [under construction at Spring and Varick Sts.] represents — to really transform the Village in a way it’s never been transformed before. It’s not just a park issue. People will start seeing what kind of other entertainment uses can come in. I want to know how they’re going to get 2.7 million people there” without detrimentally impacting the neighborhood, he said.

Schwartz of the Pier 40 Working Group said most of the group’s 18 members withheld comment on the proposals at their meeting last week, wanting to read the voluminous plans.

Noting that the Hudson River Park Act restricts the types of uses on Pier 40, Schwartz noted that the two latest proposals represent “two extremes.”

“It’s a tough project,” he said, “because you can’t have big-box retail, you can’t have commercial offices, you can’t have residential, you can’t have hotels — and where are developers putting their money these days?”

Schwartz predicted there will be “a lot of opposition” to the arts center. And he acknowledged the importance of sports to the park.

“The reason the Hudson River Park got built is because the Downtown youth sports leagues got mobilized” to push for the passage of the Hudson River Park Act in 1998, he said.

Yet, Schwartz said the working group is also reserving the right not to endorse either plan.

“For me, leaving it alone remains a distinct possibility,” he said.

By contrast, Bergman said P3 strongly hopes the Trust does decide to pick the CampGroup plan, since the pier needs the renovation.

“The pier is too valuable” not to renovate it, Bergman said. “I would like to see the pier and the existing structure improved. The facility’s functioning very well now, but it needs an upgrade.” Bergman contended the Trust would be “embarrassed” if this second Pier 40 R.F.P. process also fails, and that the Trust doesn’t want that to happen.

The Trust set a 90-day timeline for picking a developer following the Nov. 17 R.F.P. submission deadline. But it seems unlikely that schedule will be met, since the administration change in Albany with Democrat Eliot Spitzer taking over as governor from Republican George Pataki on Jan. 1 will complicate the process. The Trust’s board of directors — on which Spitzer has five appointees, including the chairperson — will be shaken up. Carol Ash, Spitzer’s new State Parks Department commissioner, has already replaced her predecessor, Bernadette Castro, on the Trust board.

“It’ll affect it a lot,” Schwartz said of Spitzer’s election on the Pier 40 process. “I expect there will be five new trustees and a new chairperson. I would think it would slow it down. Spitzer has hundreds of agency positions to fill,” he said, noting the Trust’s board is probably not the new governor’s top priority.

Asked about the R.F.P. process and where it stands, Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson, said, “Pier 40’s redevelopment is important, as its infrastructure is in need of repair and would require a substantial capital investment by the Trust to execute.” He didn’t comment on when a decision might be made.