Taylor promises to ‘talk to community’ on Pier 40


By Lincoln Anderson

With its new chairperson, Diana Taylor, firmly at the helm, the board of directors of the Hudson River Park Trust did not vote at their bimonthly meeting last Thursday on whether to select The Related Companies’ hotly debated Cirque du Soleil plan for Pier 40. However, in comments made after the meeting, Taylor said the Trust’s board will vote on the issue “sometime in the fall.”

In her opening remarks, Taylor, a Trust board member since 1999, sounded a positive note.

“This is my first board meeting as chairperson of this board,” she said. “I am very mindful of the duty that this represents, and I think this a great, great park, and I’m delighted to be here. And I’m hoping that we can get a lot accomplished over the next couple of years. It will be in everybody’s interest — I think everybody wants to see this park developed — as a park.”

Looking out at the packed meeting room with about 50 people in attendance, she said, “I’m very happy to see that there’s so much public participation here.” The audience of park activists heartily applauded her recognition and encouragement of their participation.

Former State Senator Franz Leichter — co-author of the parks’ founding legislation — who had also sought the chairpersonship, said he was “delighted” to see Taylor in her new position, and that they and the rest of the board members would “continue the good work of building the park.”

Throughout the meeting, the future of Pier 40 at W. Houston St. — the 14-acre, former Holland-America Line cruise-ship pier — was a frequent topic. Playing off the Trust’s upcoming Pier of Fear kids’ Halloween attraction at Pier 54 at W. 13th St., Marc Ameruso, president of the Hudson River Park Advisory Council, in his remarks, called Pier 40 potentially the real “pier of fear.”

“The community continues to believe that incremental development [of Pier 40] is better than large, shopping-mall scale [development],” Ameruso said.

Related Companies, one of the nation’s largest developers — builder of the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, among others — is proposing a $626 million plan under which the pier would be converted into a Lincoln Center-type Downtown entertainment destination, albeit with ball fields for local youth sports leagues on the rooftop. Estimates are the complex would attract 7,400 visitors per day and as many as 2.7 million per year.

Related’s plan is one of two competing visions for the pier. The development schemes were solicited last year by the Trust in a requests-for-proposal, or R.F.P., process.

Ameruso urged the Trust to scrap the Pier 40 R.F.P. process, adding, “What you should fear is the wrath of the public if you support Related.”

Ameruso then ceded part of his time at the microphone to Assemblymember Deborah Glick, who told the Trust that it must stop taking as “an article of faith” that the 5-mile-long waterfront park’s maintenance and operations must be 100 percent funded by revenue generated within the park.

Glick read aloud the relevant section of the 1998 Hudson River Park Trust Act in which it states of the park’s financing: “It is intended that to the extent practicable…the costs of the operation and maintenance of the park be paid by revenues generated within the Hudson River Park. … Additional funding by the state and city may be allocated as necessary to meet the costs of operating and maintaining the park.”

The reason the Trust says it is seeking a private developer for Pier 40 is to generate at least $5 million to $6 million annually for the park (which is what the pier’s current parking operation pays to the park in rent) and also to have the private developer invest millions into fixing the early-1960s pier’s roof and support piles. But Glick, in effect, said she foresees the Trust just upping the ante with each new, bigger development, requiring the state-city authority to keep adding more developments to meet ever-increasing maintenance and operation costs.

“The notion that this is a world-class park and therefore might imply that some additional premium is required for the maintenance of the park, leads us to be concerned that there will be an endless chasing of our tail, that more commercial development that is generated to create the revenue needed to maintain the park…will lead to larger and larger development,” Glick told the Trust’s board. “We need to move away from repeating the notion that all revenues that are needed for the park must solely be raised within the park. … We want to be clear that going forward, revenues generated are balanced with people’s ability — in the community, the city and from throughout the world — to enjoy the park.”

Taylor assured Glick: “I think there is a panoply of courses that we could take on Pier 40. And I will give you every assurance that the pros and cons of each course of action will be looked at and that we will be talking to the community as we go forward.”

In her report to the board of directors, Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president — who heads the Trust’s paid staff, which is building and operating the park — noted Trust staff and several board members recently met with the Pier 40 Partnership, a new group of local private citizens concerned about the pier’s future. The Pier 40 Partnership is asking that the Trust refrain from picking either the Related proposal or the competing plan, The People’s Pier — “particularly the Related team’s proposal, in that they feel it would overwhelm the park and the neighborhood,” Fishman said.

She noted that the Partnership members say they hope to raise from $10 million to $30 million in private donations from the local community for the pier’s maintenance needs. Fishman said the Pier 40 Partnership would like to see the Trust, instead of a private developer, develop Pier 40 “incrementally.”

Asked her thoughts about the Pier 40 Partnership after the meeting, Taylor said $10 million to $30 million is “a lot of money,” and that the Partnership hasn’t raised any of it yet.

“It’s a big park to maintain — and we need to maintain it,” she said of the need to have the park generate revenue. “I think they are concerned citizens. I’m hoping that we can come up with a compromise. We’ll vote on [the Pier 40 issue] sometime in the fall — when we have something to vote on,” she said. Taylor said the Trust is still working on the Pier 40 issue.

Asked about scuttling the current R.F.P. process, she said, “That’s an option,” adding, “but there are consequences” for not doing anything with the pier.

Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson, added that the Trust is still accepting public comments on the Pier 40 R.F.P. process. No date has been set for a vote, he said.

In addition, at the meeting, Ameruso called for ladders, ropes or other devices to be installed along the park’s bulwark so that people who fall or jump in the river can save themselves. Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, a board member of the Trust, replied, however, that ladders could be used by people to go down into the water, rather than come up, resulting in more people potentially being put in harm’s way. But Ameruso said saving lives takes precedence. Taylor said it was an important subject that requires an in-depth discussion and that the board would do so at a later date.