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Battle of Pier 40 Heats Up Over Big Developments

Battle of Pier 40 Heats Up Over Big Developments

New York Sun 4/27/2007

By Eliot Brown

A showdown on the future of a West Side pier is set for next week, as community residents are pledging to turn out in force for a public hearing regarding two development proposals.

One of the city’s largest developers wants to radically transform a large West Side pier that serves mostly as a parking garage and soccer fields into a giant hub of activity comprising an independent film theater, restaurants, retail shops, and a venue for the Cirque du Soleil.

A public hearing is scheduled for next week. Critics are vowing to fight against the proposal, which they have dubbed “Vegas on the Hudson.”

Earlier this month, the Related Companies submitted its revised and final plan for the 14-acre pier: a more than $600 million proposal for Pier 40, just off West Houston Street, which would create a giant hub of activity along the mostly tranquil strip of parkland and bring a destination-entertainment complex to the mainly undeveloped side of the West Side Highway. Related is proposing to completely overhaul the pier with its planned complex, trumpeting the presence of recreational fields, open space, about 65,000 square feet of retail shops, and a farmer’s market.

Seemingly in an attempt to leverage the popularity of two cultural institutions, the developer is pushing the presence of a year-round home for the Tribeca Film Festival and the colorful Cirque du Soleil within its plan.

The competing developer, the Camp Group, is proposing a more modest recreational and education facility that has attracted less attention.

Because the designs were first released late last year, community opposition has been tough and unified, with critics decrying the idea of a tourist hot-spot that would take the place of community recreation space and spread uncharacteristic development to the adjacent neighborhood.

“Clearly this is a regional tourist destination that would have little connection to the neighborhood and would solely be an attraction to tourists,” the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Andrew Berman, said of Related’s proposal. “If you have Vegas on the Hudson next door, the tendency will be to look to develop similar uses in the inland area — and that would be totally unacceptable.”

Defenders of recreational space also have rallied against the proposal, saying tourists would detract from the character of the recreational facility and field that would have to be moved to what they say is a windy roof from the pier interior.

Related insists its development would better the facilities, adding recreational space and improving the field while giving much needed renovation to the pier.

Calling the development “uniquely New York,” a spokeswoman for Related, Joanna Rose, said the project offers “vibrant community recreational uses with unparalleled access to the waterfront while presenting new cultural amenities desperately needed downtown, including a home for the TriBeCa Film Festival.”

The pier currently holds a large yellow-brick, two-story building constructed in the 1960s, serving mostly as a parking lot and facility for soccer and other recreation in its open-air center.

The state- and city-managed Hudson River Park Trust owns the site. It issued a request for proposals from developers last year in an attempt to redevelop the onetime ocean liner terminal, ideally creating a revenue-generating facility that would help finance the park. The agency recognizes about $5 million a year in revenue from the site, a spokesman for the Hudson River Park Trust, Christopher Martin, said.

There are no assurances that any development would get built, as the Hudson River Park Trust could reject both proposals, and the City Council or Planning Commission could overturn zoning changes that would likely be required.

Mr. Martin said the proposals are being reviewed and that community input will play a role in the selection.

“We’re certainly open to any kind of revenue that the pier can bring in, but we want it to be something that’s amenable to the public,” he said.

While community opposition has gathered around Related’s proposal, the far more modest $145 million plan from the Camp Group has garnered significantly less attention. As it includes less revenue-generating services, such as recreational fields, a school, some retail and a marina, many in the community question the development company’s ability to make any return on its investment while also offering adequate funding for the park trust.

A co-developer of the project, Jai Nanda, said the finances are indeed solid, especially supported by the inclusion of a day camp for children. “I know that the rumor is out there that we’re not financially viable, but I think a lot of that is just perception,” Mr. Nanda said. “People don’t really realize that there’s very strong and profitable businesses.”