Pier 40: Which plan is best for the community?

In 2003, the effort to redevelop Pier 40 at the end of W. Houston St. into a park and commercial complex crashed. Before that happened, however, four years ago, hundreds of engaged Villagers packed public forums at which the development groups presented their plans.

In the end, opposition to the world’s largest oceanarium and to any kind of big-box stores, even in return for sports fields for local youth leagues, doomed the process, and the Hudson River Park Trust — citing “economic conditions” — didn’t pick any of the developers. Instead, under an interim plan for the enormous 14-acre pier, its inner courtyard was carpeted with an artificial-grass surface. Young athletes embraced the pier’s new, expanded sports facilities, which have become a focal point in many local families’ lives.

Meanwhile, the Trust, the state-city authority that is building and operates the park, last year issued another request for proposals for Pier 40.

The Trust wants the pier to generate more revenue for the park, although the Trust has never done the overall planning necessary to say how much more it needs, or what percentage of the overall park revenues Pier 40 should generate. The pier’s parking operation currently generates $5 million annually for the Trust.

This time, only two realistic plans were submitted, The People’s Pier and Pier 40 Performing Arts Center, or PAC. So far, though, the community doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to the goings-on.

Pier 40 PAC clearly would have the greater impact. It’s budgeted at $626 million, more than the whole, 5-mile Hudson River Park from Chambers St. to 59th St. Spearheaded by The Related Companies, it includes an 84,000-square-foot Cirque du Soleil theater and 60,000-square-foot independent movie theater that would be the Tribeca Film Festival’s base and would draw 2.7 annual visitors.

The plan would include some sports fields, relocated to the pier’s roof.

The more modest People’s Pier keeps with the pier’s present uses of developing young people, physically, and — with new educational facilities added in the People’s Pier plan — intellectually. This plan would keep the pier’s 300,000 square feet of recreation space, adding 85,000 square feet of fields, plus 500 parking spaces.

The People’s Pier’s impact seems low. But Pier 40 PAC — with a 42-story Trump Soho condo-hotel currently rising just blocks away — threatens to spark a change that will radically alter this neighborhood forever, turning it into, well, Las Vegas on the Hudson. We’re talking mega-size entertainment venues and glitz in a heretofore-small venue Village environment.

We know that, with Governor Spitzer’s election, this is a transitional period for the Trust’s 13-member board, on which Spitzer has five appointments.

Still, it behooves Downtowners to start mobilizing on this issue. We hear there may be a public hearing in as soon as six weeks on Pier 40. If Related’s plan is eventually picked, we’re in for major changes in our way of life here.