Trust must reject Related, give Partnership a chance

By Deborah J. Glick 

In joining together to fight for the creation of Hudson River Park just over 10 years ago, the community and its elected officials made substantial efforts to ensure that the park would not be overdeveloped. At that time, and again today, it was clear that what Manhattan needed was not more dining, nightlife or entertainment venues; Manhattan sorely needed more park space. To ensure that Hudson River Park actually became and remained a park, the legislation creating it was very carefully crafted, balancing the need to generate revenue with the intense desire to limit commercial encroachments into the park and maximize actual park space. Today, the community has joined together once again to ensure that the overdevelopment we feared then does not become a reality today at Pier 40.

There is little disagreement that Pier 40 is in need of repair. The challenge is to find ways in which the pier can be shored up for the long term, while preserving it largely as parkland. This preservation is crucial both to fulfill its mission as a community park for surrounding park-starved neighborhoods and as a “world-class park” for visitors from within and outside of New York City. These visitors come to the park for an experience different from the entertainment experiences they may seek in areas like Times Square. The park serves as a respite from the buzz of the city, allowing visitors to enjoy the beautiful green spaces and unparalleled river views the park offers. To turn Pier 40 into what would largely be another entertainment attraction would be a grave mistake both for the community that depends on the park and for the visitors who come to enjoy it.

Unfortunately, Related’s latest proposal for Pier 40, though it has improved from previous versions, remains one for a mega-entertainment center, complete with Cirque du Soleil as the anchor tenant, a huge banquet hall, 12 movie theaters and several large restaurants. Such large-scale uses do not belong on a pier in the midst of a park and bear no relationship to the park. Uses like Cirque du Soleil are not water-dependent and serve no local need. They could be just as easily — and more appropriately — located on 42nd St. or 52nd St. Related’s latest plan, which is expected to draw 2.7 million visitors each year to Pier 40, would substantially impair the park’s ability to serve as a safe and quiet respite, since it would bring large numbers of vehicles across the busy bike lane, endangering walkers, runners and bikers. In addition, the proposal would only add to the area’s congestion issues, running counter to the city’s traffic mitigation efforts in Lower Manhattan.

One of the State Legislature’s purposes in creating Hudson River Park was to “increase the quality of life in the adjoining community and the state as a whole.” The park has indeed been fulfilling this mission, helping to advance residential living on the West Side and bringing new life to these neighborhoods. While enjoying this improved quality of life, Pier 40’s West Village community united to protect the neighborhood’s unique, historic, low-rise character, winning an extension of its landmark district just two years ago. Locating a large, glassy, out-of-scale and use-intensive development at Pier 40 would run counter to the park’s purpose, reverse some of the advances brought by the park and clash with the neighborhood’s character.

Two years ago, a Bay Area Economics market scan of Pier 40 commissioned by Hudson River Park Trust examined reuse scenarios through which H.R.P.T. could meet community objectives and generate long-term revenues for the park. One possible reuse option presented in the study was for a nonprofit, special-purpose organization to plan, design, develop and lease the spaces on Pier 40, similar to Seattle’s highly successful Pike Place Market. By removing the developer and their profit-margin requirements, such scenarios are best able to provide the balance of uses that meet the needs and desires of the community, the park’s mission and the need for revenue generation. We are fortunate that a group of residents, motivated by a strong belief that neither of the two development proposals was appropriate for the park or the neighborhood, joined together as the Pier 40 Partnership to further study a nonprofit scenario like that presented in B.A.E.’s study.

In the five weeks given by the Trust to complete a feasibility study of community development of Pier 40, the Partnership and its well-respected consultants accomplished an astounding amount of work. Their study makes the strong case that a mix of low-impact, community-friendly and park-appropriate uses can pay for needed repairs and generate necessary revenues. While the five-week study may not answer every question that needs to be answered, it sets a solid framework within which appropriate development can take place. It would be a tragic, missed opportunity if the Trust moved precipitously to walk away from this amazing possibility. 

On Jan. 31, the H.R.P.T. board of directors will meet. During this meeting, the board has a number of options for Pier 40. First and least appropriately, the Trust could ignore B.A.E.’s report and the Partnership’s work and select one of the two formal respondents. By designating one of the two respondents on Jan. 31, the board would make a grave mistake that will forever change Hudson River Park and lead to development that would permanently damage the park’s surrounding neighborhood.

Second, the board may reject both of the two respondents since they do not enhance the park or its community — and Related’s proposal would actually be detrimental to both. By rejecting these inappropriate proposals, the board would eliminate the specter of designation, allowing the Partnership to move forward with its promised fundraising so it may provide the Trust with the necessary level of comfort that the Partnership is prepared to move forward. Rejection of the two existing proposals is best for the community and the park and would allow us to work together to make community development of Pier 40 a reality.

It is crucial that the Trust not close the door on a development framework that meets the Trust’s needs, enhances the park, is best for the community and remains potentially viable. At the very least, the board must postpone a decision on Pier 40, demonstrating its continued good faith in exploring the community-development framework laid out by the Partnership and overwhelmingly supported by the community.

H.R.P.T. has a difficult task before it, but it also has a unique opportunity to make Pier 40 a model of community-friendly, municipal waterfront development. The H.R.P.T. board is not just entrusted with the financial stability of the park; its pre-eminent duty is to protect it as parkland. If the board chooses one of the two inappropriate proposals before it on Jan. 31, the board would fail in this duty, making a tragic error that will change the nature of the park and its neighborhood forever. Instead, the board must demonstrate its creative leadership next week by keeping the door open to development through the Partnership’s innovative community-development framework.

Glick is the assemblymember for the 66th District