Trust staff is skating on thin ice with rink

A proposal for an enclosed ice-skating rink in the Hudson River Park near Canal St., just south of Pier 40, got what could be called a chilly reception, to say the least, at last Thursday’s Hudson River Park Trust board of directors meeting.

The main issue was that the plan for the rink almost totally bypassed any sort of community review. Community Board 2, in which the rink would be sited, was not notified, much less given a chance to register an opinion. The Friends of Hudson River Park, a leading advocacy group, wasn’t told. Neither was the Hudson River Park Advisory Council, a group of community activists that meets regularly to consider park matters. The only local body notified was Community Board 1 — which doesn’t contain the site. Even the Trust’s 13-member board of directors seemed surprised by the proposal presented by the Trust’s staff.

The ice rink would be funded with $2.6 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, an agency spearheading Downtown post-9/11 development projects. The governor likes the ice rink and supports its construction. Perhaps the Trust’s staff, led by its president, Robert Balachandran, intentionally avoided presenting the plan to Board 2, fearing the Greenwich Village board, known for opposing commercial development on the waterfront, would not approve.

As envisioned, the ice-skating “structure,” as it is being euphemistically called, would remain up the entire year and, in fact, would be a permanent park fixture. Moreover, it would be a commercial enterprise, with ice skaters and rollerbladers charged to use it and, if necessary, charged to rent skates. Thus, a section of open parkland would be off limits to those who either don’t want to or cannot pay to use it. Whoa! is right.

The Trust’s board was right to postpone a vote on the matter, though there is apparently a possibility they may vote via phone conversations in the next two months. If the rink is suddenly approved without community review it will cause bad feelings, to say the least, and confirm the fears of those who, when the Trust was created, warned of its becoming an “unaccountable authority.”

In the past, committees made up of activists and community board members pored over design details for park elements like the lights, railings and esplanade paving, for years in some cases, and their recommendations were largely accepted. To see an attempt to ram through a major element, such as a covered ice rink, without community review does not bode well for whether the community will have much input on the Pier 40 interim plan, a far more significant part of the park.

Although a Pier 40 committee has been formed and plans to hold a hearing on the Pier 40 interim plan, we hope the community boards also get a chance to review the plan. The tail end of the Pier 40 development process, when two large public hearings were held, was a success in our view and a model of community involvement, even though no developer was ultimately chosen. We hope the handling of the rink will be the exception — not the rule.