Monday, June 11, 2007


When you've got multi-billion dollar companies looking to cash in on the newly discovered development mines Downtown, people start to see what they want to see - or, rather, what they are paid to see. Or, fail to see.

Two of the most objectionable projects that are currently in the process of being foisted up residents of Hudson Square and SoHo are Trump SoHo and the Related development of Pier 40. While the sell-out involving Trump SoHo is well known and currently in progress - with both the construction and the anticipated legal action against it -- few really have a feel for the complexity of the Pier 40 deal.

Thus far, the Hudson River Park Trust Board has not made any decision. At least, not publicly. The Advisory to the Trust, a group of community leaders, a mixture of representatives of the Elected Officials, and Community Board members from Boards 1, 2 and 4, -- has had numerous meetings and hosted a Town Hall style hearing which has all added up to a consensus. The two potential developers, Camp Group and the Related Companies proposal miss the mark for a number of reasons. Camp Group seems to be on shaky financial ground; and, Related seems to want to build something like an adult Disneyland to draw even more tourists Downtown.

The insanity of trying to draw more traffic through Manhattan streets to Pier 40 when congestion pricing is high on the Mayor's fast track list - seems maniacally absurd. Unless, of course, the $8 per day fee is really only about generating more money and not about reducing traffic or clearing the pollution.

The essentials from the Trust viewpoint is that Pier 40 needs repairs. Roughly 10 percent of the pilings holding up the pier need to be replaced or substantially repaired. Over time, the usable space on the pier has been reduced as a result of deterioration. While it's not going to fall into the river, repair work needs to start relatively soon. We are not into year 4 of the two recent rounds of RFP's and proposal reviews. The prior hearings resulted in much ado about nothing and the $30 million dollar hole in the previous community-approved plan, is once again raising its ugly head. The number repeatedly used by the Trust officials, when asked what it will cost to renovated the pier is $30 to $35 million dollars - plus.

This is where the two plans on the table - Camp Group and Related - start to part ways. Camp Group is fuzzy on the numbers for pier renovation and restoration. Related clearly has the money. Camp Group is clearly more community oriented (and certainly more kid-friendly). Related sings to the tune of Disneyland for adults. Or, as Andrew Bergman of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) calls it, "Vegas on the Hudson."

This plan involves an entertainment center with Cirque du Soleil, plus an 1800 seat concert hall, a 3500 seat banquet hall, 12 movie theaters, 5 large restaurants, and 40,000 square feet of retail. There is also provision for ballfields that initially replaced what is currently on the pier - but now maintains, in essence, what is there now.

Well, but, not exactly.

Instead of the $5 million dollar ballfield renovations that were completed less than 2 years ago - which the kids have just started to use - Related wants us to move them onto the roof and they can continue to play ball while the construction gets underway.

Now, have you ever tried to live in your apartment while renovation was going on? Have you ever lived next door to a construction site? Have you ever been downwind of the new building going up next door?

Well, picture hundreds of kids on the roof of a pier, or worse, on the same level, with the wind off the water and the dust and debris blowing in their faces as construction begins on a pier built with materials that were legal, from 50 years ago. You're right, "Not my kid." And, then, try to get them there among construction rigs and trucks.

A straw poll taken at the Advisory to the HRPT, a group which admittedly has only an advisory capacity in relation to the Trust decision - had no members in favor of either plan. Community Board #1 has come out against the plans. The community has rejected the Related plan with hundreds of families and kids appearing at the PS 141 hearing. The Related plan, especially with the attempt to keep the ballfields open during construction is merely putting lipstick on a pig.

But what is more of a concern for Downtown residents is the marginally subtle attempt to force-feed the residents. There is now a big push to get this deal done.

The belief of many activists is that this is Doctoroff's particular pig. Not only is he a member of the Trust Board, which is a concern, but some interesting "consultants" have recently come out of the closet to join the process.

Shep Messing and Jay Kriegel, both part of the 2012 Olympics effort which was killed, are now part of the Related team, reportedly with the help of and as a favor to Doctoroff - who may feel that he owes them as a result of the failed bid for the Olympics.

As an added push, Jim Capalino, a smart, folksy Village PR guy has been contacting people in the community to sing the praises of Related to those who are unaware of how good this will be for all of us.

But, just so everyone does not get too misty-eyed for Related, consider this.

Hudson Square and SoHo families have NO parks for their kids. We spent $5 Large on ballfields and have parking for cars that have practically nowhere else to go since development is quickly depleting garage space. And, don't kid yourself, once a contract is awarded, the changes will come fast and furious. Things that were promised will disappear as fast as that last Pringle's chip.

Whether a Conservancy is established, or there is an appeal for State and/or Federal funds, or there is an increase in income from parking and fees, or appeal is made to the Legislature to allow a bond issue - we need to keep Pier 40 for the ballfields that exist there now, parking that is there now and community passive space that will be there as the pier is reclaimed. As the Trust considered just after the previous round of plans failed, the Pier could be repaired over time and uses should be added as the structure and community review approves each new use.

This is not a site where the Community should be pressured to sell off another prized asset to a developer. No matter who stands to benefit from the deal.

Unless it is the community.

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