Welcome to Disneyland Tribeca

BY Tom Goodkind

I’m not looking to diss a Pier. The recently opened Pier 25 in Tribeca is very nice, clean and filled with children under 12 and their parents who must have been famished for family fare during the five years the original Pier (with no such age restrictions) was removed and rebuilt. I’m so glad it’s up and running filled with our great deserving neighbors and visitors. 

But this is not at all the old Pier 25 — not even close. And although it is a very handsome park, it is generic, cold and sadly void of its local identity. The standard equipment and isolating metal caging used is the same as what is used nationally. Except for the views seen when one gets to the very end of the Pier, it’s hard to tell if you are actually in Tribeca or Hempstead, Long Island or even Dayton, Ohio.  

 The old Pier 25 was pure Tribeca and even living in Battery Park City, I could not help but notice it. It drew residents and stoppers by who left thrilled in discovering it, with its personality and warm welcome.  

The first time I noticed Pier 25 was soon after I moved downtown from the Village and heard screams from my window. Using my binoculars I saw investment bankers bungee jumping from a crane. By then Pier 25 was already a Tribeca institution. The very funky Pier in the 1980s drew thousands to its driving range and watering hole. More than this, it defined the attraction of Tribeca as a new creative community founded by its loft artists, families, and market and downtown workers.

But now, a generation later, similar to what I noticed during my time in the Village, such funky low-rent neighborhood attractions would bring in a gentrifying class destined to not object to removal of that which they came for. 

And so goes Pier 25.

Pier 25’s spirit helped create the neighborhood, which in turn destroyed it.  The designer of its recently opened replacement stated “there was always a desire to retain an informality and a spontaneity on Pier 25. We’re going to take that very seriously and apply ourselves to achieve that.”

Well, to this goal, the builders of the new pier failed.

Why did we as a community spend countless millions of dollars destroying and then hundreds of volunteer and paid hours attempting to recreate “informality and a spontaneity?” 

Are we that bored?  

For the Hudson River Park Trust to even have contemplated anything but a refurbishment of this neighborhood amenity was a huge error in judgment. They have told us that the removal of our pier was due to the judgment of paid engineers. But anyone familiar with the good works of the Municipal Arts Society of New York can tell you: different engineers will give you different opinions, and the opinion of an engineer is not a valid reason for destroying a neighborhood icon. The M.A.S. has recently helped save Coney Island, the Domino Sugar building, and parts of the South Street Seaport. They did not save our precious Tribeca pier. 

So what happened?

Before 9/11, during most of the 1990s, our pier was in full swing, being used by all of Manhattan as a place where chickens roosted, kids played mini-golf and visitors waited on the barbeque line with our own Bob Townley at the grill; it was always a long line and it was well worth the wait. There were volleyball players, visitors to the historic Yankee Ferry, outdoor sculptors and artists and children running under the great sprinklers. There were outdoor movies and memorable fun neighborhood parties. Bikers and joggers would stop for long periods to enjoy this Tribeca treasure, and they always felt as if they stumbled on a secret slice of real New York.

After 9/11 the pier was shut down by our government for use as a place to deposit the remnants of the World Trade Center. With great neighborhood fanfare though, the pier was reopening for the 2002 season. Still funky, wooden and run-down, it still had its cool, and everyone flocked back.

Torn down in 2005, the area was closed for five long years and $70 million of federal money earmarked to help the neighborhood rebuild after 9/11 came from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to tear down our pier and then try to redo something identical. 

Two years later, by 2007, with the new pier still not in place, the $70 million disappeared and the project ran out of money. There was much finger pointing and confusion as to why and delays resulted. Taxpayers were tapped for additional millions of dollars to cover the costs to finish.

Is this new pier as fantastic as all the published press releases say? Yes. But is it better than what we had? It has taken so long and cost so much time and money to bring this pier back that many living here and reporting on this pier have left, or simply may not remember for it to be compared. 

Many of our reporters, who typically don’t live in this neighborhood, are new and have no memory of this Tribeca icon. Even the leadership in charge of the new pier from the Hudson River Park Trust has changed since the decision to tear down was made. Recent media coverage has heralded the new pier with press quotes from politicians and their 501c3 beneficiaries who have a stake in the success of this gentrification project. 

What can we learn from this? Is having a “community approved design” enough to allow a group using our tax dollars to rip the cool out of a neighborhood? This would never have stood in Coney Island, which thankfully will not be replaced with a Six Flags. I am quite frankly surprised that it happened here Downtown, where we have such a bright and active community.

Welcome to Disney Tribeca. Pier 25 was the heart of our neighborhood. It was perfect or imperfectly perfect the way it was. I have no sympathy for those who destroyed our pier and then tried to recreate it. My sympathy goes out to our wonderful community, which has lost this fantastic space forever.

Pier 25, Tribeca, is dead. Long live Pier 25. Welcome to Disneyland Tribeca