Pier 57 plans down to 2: Chelsea Piers vs. Cipriani


By Albert Amateau

The Hudson River Park Trust this week eliminated two of the four developers whose plans had been under consideration to redevelop Pier 57 on the Chelsea waterfront as part of the 5-mile-long riverfront park.

Citing doubts about the financial feasibility of the eliminated proposals, the Trust on Monday notified Original Ventures, a consortium of private and community groups proposing a Hudson River Performing Arts Center, and Discover 57, made up of community and environmental groups and private developers, that they would not be eligible to present their plans at the Sept. 22 public hearing on the redevelopment.

The decision leaves Chelsea Piers Management and Leonardo at Pier 57 (a consortium of the Cipriani restaurant group with Plaza Construction Corp. and The Witkoff Group) contending for final designation as redevelopers Pier 57. The 300,000-sq.-ft. pier at W. 15th St., a former city bus garage, was most recently used to detain people arrested in connection with protests during the Republican National Convention.

“Many of us are not completely surprised but we’re unhappy that two community-based groups have not made the cut,” said Edward Kirkland, a member of Community Board 4 and the Pier 57 Working Group of the Hudson River Park Advisory Council.

“Leonardo is a fine application but it’s not very appropriate for the park or the community,” Kirkland said. “We’re concerned about Chelsea Piers’ plan to add another story to Pier 57 for tennis courts,” he said. Chelsea Piers Management has operated the sports and entertainment complex on Piers 59, 60, 61 and 62 under a state lease for more than 10 years.

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, also a member of the Pier 57 Working Group, said on Tuesday that he was “dismayed” that the Hudson River Performing Arts Center — which includes Hudson Guild — and Discover 57 — which includes Community Board 4 members architect Meta Brunzema and John Doswell, a member of Friends of Hudson River Park — were eliminated just before the Sept. 22 hearing with no formal notice. He called for the two proposals to be restored for further consideration.

In private banter, Chelsea activists are saying the contest between the two remaining contenders is a duel between two Republican power centers: “Ortenzio vs. Betts.” Roland Betts, a former business partner of George W. Bush and a classmate and fellow member of Skull and Bones at Yale with the president, is a partner in Chelsea Piers. James Ortenzio, a prominent Republican fundraiser and ally of Governor George Pataki, was quoted earlier this year in Crain’s New York Business as supporting the Leonardo proposal.

But Ortenzio, former chairperson of the Hudson River Park Trust board of directors, said the quote was misleading. “I would be in favor of a government of Finland proposal to keep reindeer or cheese on the pier if they paid $3 million a year. At the same time I’d convince them to include a lot of great public uses on the pier,” he quipped.

The Leonardo financial package includes an extremely high offer of annual rent, and Ortenzio said he sees revenue from commercial uses on Pier 57 as vital for maintaining the entire Hudson River Park being built between Chambers and 59th Sts. The Pier 57 developer should be the one that offers the highest annual rent, Ortenzio said.

Located at W. Houston St., Pier 40, which is to be permanently redeveloped with at least 50 percent of its 14 acres for park uses, will also generate revenues for the entire park, but not enough, Ortenzio said. “I’ve always seen Pier 57 as the second source of major revenue for the park. You don’t want to wait and go begging to the city or the state for money, and a park like this requires maintenance,” he said.

The two surviving proposals, like the eliminated plans, include an array of community activities, berthing for historic boats and public walkways. The Trust will accept written testimony on the two proposals until Oct. 18 and the plans will be on display from Sept. 15-Oct. 18 in the lobby of the Trust headquarters on Pier 40.

Chelsea Piers Management plans a row of art galleries, studios and a 40,000-sq.-ft. dance center on Pier 57. An arts center with classes in plastic and visual arts plus an aquatics center are also in the Chelsea Piers plan. A tennis center on an added level and docking for historic vessels and a small boat marina are in the plan as well.

Leonardo at Pier 57 plans to feature an Italian crafts, retail and cultural center in a two-story arcade that simulates an Italian street. The plan also has a restaurant, event space and a marina and nautical store. Pier 63 Maritime, the town dock on a barge currently on the north side of Pier 63 at 23rd St., would find a home on Pier 57 under the Leonardo plan. The barge is not included in Chelsea Piers’ project.