Trust tries to tap Obama stimulus cash for Pier 40

by Lincoln Anderson

The Hudson River Park Trust has applied for $57 million in federal stimulus money to fund “shovel-ready” projects at Pier 40.

In a March 6 article in Crain’s New York Business, the Trust’s president, Connie Fishman, said it would be easier to entice a developer for the sprawling W. Houston St. pier if it didn’t require so many repairs at the outset. Crain’s reported the Trust is specifically seeking $35 million to repair the 14-acre pier’s support pilings, $20 million to fix the pier’s roof and $2 million to fender the pier’s edges to protect it from boats.

Two times in the past seven years the Trust has attempted, but failed, to find a developer for Pier 40.

Tobi Bergman, president of Pier Park and Playground, or P3, the nonprofit Pier 40 recreation complex, and a Community Board 2 member, predicted there would be a “very different kind of process” for developing the pier if stimulus money, rather than developers’ money, was used for the repairs.

“It’d be in a condition to be developed without these huge schemes of mammoth development,” Bergman said. Much-needed upgrades paid for by stimulus funds would leave room for more “incremental, pay-as-you-go type development,” Bergman added.

If the city’s School Construction Authority decides to site a school there, the youth-sports advocate continued, the stimulus money could make it possible to do so without the school needing to be integrated into a $500 million project.

Bergman feels a scaled-down development plan could actually end up bringing in more income for the Trust than recent megaprojects were predicting.

“So much of the money would have been going into financing the rebuilding of the pier that the rents would have ended up being close to what they’re getting now,” Bergman said.

Developers vying for the massive former shipping pier had also been asking for a 49-year lease, which would require the state to change the Hudson River Park Act of 1998, which allows only a 30-year lease at Pier 40.

State Senators Thomas Duane and Daniel Squadron and Assemblymember Deborah Glick wrote a letter to the state Legislature on March 9 expressing their strong support for the Trust’s request. The letter was addressed to Timothy J. Gilchrist, senior advisor for infrastructure and transportation for the state’s Economic and Recovery Reinvestment Cabinet.

The politicians highlighted the fact that portions of the pier are slowly being closed down due to hazardous conditions.

“Pier 40, the largest pier within the park, contains numerous playing fields and other amenities which are very important to park-starved Lower Manhattan communities,” the politicians wrote. “The pier also contains parking amenities, which not only serve the needs of local residents, but also provide a significant portion of the park’s overall operating funds… .

“Unfortunately, inspections have found that Pier 40’s pilings, fendering and roof are in severe disrepair and portions of the pier are slowly being closed down due to hazardous conditions….If additional sections of the parking garage are closed the important revenue stream generated by Pier 40 parking fees could be lost….[Stimulus funds] would not only maintain current H.R.P.T. positions and operations paid for by the parking garage revenue, but create construction jobs during the pier’s redevelopment as well as potentially creating numerous permanent jobs in these and future facilities.”

Assemblymember Glick said winning the funds, “would be a terrific opportunity to stabilize the pier. It could change the dynamic of how it would be developed, and change the need to have a major developer spend all kinds of money” on the pier.

Glick acknowledged, though, that “a large number of projects” statewide have been submitted for stimulus money.

“It’s not even clear what the process will be for making these determinations” on the alloacations, the assemblymember said.

Fishman and Noreen Doyle, the Trust’s vice president, did not respond to a request for comment.

With reporting