Thursday, December 14, 2006

No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition

When a politician comments about knowing “where the bones are buried,” he’s usually not talking about real estate or his landlord – although a few stories about such results due to hassling tenants are not unknown. Its more likely an unkind remark that is used to ward off threats and unpleasant gossip generated by an adversary.
Unfortunately, for the Trump SoHo project a/k/a Trump Godzilla, the 45-story behemoth about to dwarf Hudson Square and cast shadows on New Jersey, the bones are real.
It seems that in their rush to get a foundation in on Spring and Varick Streets - having bemused residents with the usual Dog and Pony show celebrating Trump luxe – the one thing they did not count on after trying to delude the politicians was bones.
Apparently the remains of ten to fifteen people thought to be of African-American origin have been unearthed -- indicating that this may have been a cemetery for the abolitionist Spring Street Presbyterian Church.

As a result of this discovery, a stop work order has been issued by the Buildings Department. Presently, there is a permit to excavate but not build. However, that work has now been halted. At the strong suggestion of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation , a full investigation is being considered.

In addition to last week’s discovery that Trump’s own website was selling “Primary, Secondary, and Investor Residences” it doesn’t help the project that the City’s own convention website was touting Trump Soho as a “year-round residence.”
Looks like the selling season may be delayed.

The waterfront is heating up again.

Arhur Schwartz, survivor par excellence, is getting a little flack over a procedural problem on the Hudson River Park Trust Advisory Council.
This Chairman of the (Advisory) Board appointed a Pier 40 Working Group – a committee to review the plans for the future and hopefully final development process for the pier at Houston Street and at least one activist, Friends of Hudson Square president David Rack, is feeling left out.
Pier 40, a 14 acre development site, is one of the largest public lots to be developed downtown and it is now about to witness its second major round of reviews of proposals (RFP’s) received by the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT). The last round of hearings and meetings involving the Pier 40 selection was the scene of major disruptions and mudslinging among politicos. There were charges of insider deals, favoritism and questionable uses, not to mention conflict of interest. Schwartz was one of those at the center of the storm during that period and has risen again, now as a State Committeeman, Chair of Community Board #2’s Parks and Waterfront Committee, Chairman of the Advisory to HRPT, and presumably now also Chairman of the Pier 40 Working Group – a committee chosen by Schwartz to review the Pier 40 contestants. One of the hotly contested questions is whether this is Schwartz’s committee, the Advisory’s committee, or some ad hoc group of individuals simply known as the Working Group – owing fealty to no one but Schwartz. Trust Board members Larry Goldberg and Julie Nadel have taken issue with Schwartz over the pedigree of the Working Group committee and resolution is not yet in sight. Given that the HRPT has made secrecy, or at least the avoidance of public scrutiny, the hallmark of its current administration (a questionable point of view for a public Trust), we may never know how this will all play out.

While rumors have been circulating that Cirque DuSoleil has the inside track on winning the contest (which the Trust Board headed by Trip Dorkey ultimately decides), a number of activists and organizations are concerned about not losing those hard won ball fields which cost $5 million and were completed only last year for the kids Downtown. Parks in SoHo and Hudson Square are about as scarce as family-sized apartments for under $3 million. Space for the Little League and Soccer Leagues are virtually non-existent south of 23rd Street – even if you offer to pay heavily at Chelsea Piers.
The review process will be focused on at the HRPT Advisory, Community Board #2 and among the Electeds Downtown. In addition, Al Butzel’s Friends of Hudson River Park,, a public interest group that carefully scrutinized and weighs in heavily on HRPT decisions, will also be a player. The Trust Board, of course, could ignore everyone and choose the developer they prefer. But, for now, since Pataki is out and since Spitzer is in and more likely to investigate than screw the community, the Pier 40 RFP is likely to be with us for a good part of 2007 before a decision is made.

Schwartz has most of the bases covered, except for the Electeds. He ran against Larry Moss for State Committee and won despite opposition from Speaker Quinn, Assembly Member Glick and Senator Duane. Since Maria Derr, Chair of Community Board #2 shares his building and Schwartz is CB#2 Parks and Waterfront Committee Chair as well Chair of the Advisory – it looks like he’s running the whole show again.

Community Board #2 apparently was asleep at the switch – or at least the Institutions Committee under the sometimes leadership of Bob Rinaolo, of former Business Committee and liquor license fame. It appears that a controversial issue, the NYU co-generation plant expansion that has Mercer Street residents up in arms, was totally missed by Institutions. In an effort to get completely off the grid, NYU is planning to generate all of its own power – at a cost, of course. The question is, who will bear the cost of this expansion (again) – could it be? Yes it could! Yes! It’s the residents again.

Stay tuned.

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