On Thursday, the City Council approved a deal that will bring a massive capital infusion to Pier 40 — a recreational facility considered vital by youth athletic leagues serving Lower Manhattan — which has been slowing falling into the Hudson River for decades. Located at Houston and West Streets, Pier 40 has been suffering from a deteriorating substructure (in the form of thousand of timber pilings that support the pier, which are slowly disintegrating) since before the Hudson River Park, within which the facility is located, was created in 1998. The Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT), the City-State agency that operates the four-mile-long waterfront park, has been seeking funds to repair it (a project that is estimated to cost more than $100 million) for almost that long.
The deal approved yesterday will allow HPRT to transfer 200,000 square feet of unused air rights to St. John’s Terminal, a three-block long structure that straddles Houston Street and is bounded by West, Clarkson, Greenwich, and Charlton Streets. Within the footprint of the St John’s Terminal site, developers plan to erect a complex of five skyscrapers, which will include more that one million square feet of residential and retail space. Most of this project would be legally impossible without the air rights form Pier 40.
In exchange, the developers (Westbrook Partners and Atlas Capital) will pay $100 million to HRPT, for use in repairing Pier 40. As part of this arrangement, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has also agreed to allocate an additional $14 million.
Real estate developers who have agreed to purchase air rights from Pier 40 for $100 million would use these to build a complex of residential skyscrapers that would include more than 1,500 new apartments, of which 476 units will be permanently affordable.
The deal approved by the City Council is a compromise that springs from years of negotiation. Among the additional benefits that the developers have now agreed to are 476 new units of permanently affordable housing, of which 175 will be set aside for low-income seniors. Many community leaders had voiced reservations about the 700-plus parking spaces the developers planned to create within the new project. This number has now been scaled back to 425. The plans for the project have also been revised to include a new 15,000-square-foot public, indoor recreation center and roughly 20,000 square feet of new open space. Several elected officials had raised concerns about retail within the project, and the impact that “big box” stores can have on local small businesses, as well as on traffic. In response, the compromise announced on Thursday bans so-called ‘destination’ retail from the project, and limits most retail units at the site to 10,000 square feet or less. The deal also requires that a new supermarket be created within the project.
A phalanx of public officials who previously opposed the transfer to air rights from Pier 40 to enable development at the St. John’s Terminal site voiced support for the deal approved by the City Council.
“It’s no secret that I’ve had major concerns about this project and the major increase in density it represented,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “If we are going to ask a neighborhood to accept this kind of density, we have to make sure we have done everything we can to maximize its benefits, address the community’s needs, and mitigate any negative impacts. I think this project finally meets that standard.”
State Assembly member Deborah Glick said, “This final plan provides much-needed affordable and senior affordable housing for our community, $114 million to repair Pier 40 pilings, and additional indoor recreation space. With this success, it is imperative for Hudson River Park Trust to move swiftly to repair all of the pilings under Pier 40 to ensure stability of the pier for years to come.”
“Pier 40 is a community necessity that’s at risk of becoming a casualty of neglect,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron. “That’s why we worked to ensure the pier would get the dollars it needs.”
U.S. Congressman Jerry Nadler said, “preserving and investing in Pier 40, which has long needed significant investment in its infrastructure, is critical for our communities. I applaud securing the pier’s future and community benefits such as affordable housing and an indoor recreation center.”
HRPT president Madelyn Wils said, “a goal the Trust has long worked toward has been met: the critically needed repairs to the pier’s piles will be made, and the pier will stay open. Our focus now turns to using the remainder of Pier 40’s development rights on the pier itself, which the Council supported in its resolution.”
This was a reference to an additional 380,000 square feet of air rights at Pier 40 not purchased by the developers of the St. John’s Terminal project. These are estimated to be worth another $140 million, but the deal approved by the City Council on Thursday prevents HRPT from selling such development rights anywhere between Canal Street and West 14th Street. This effectively precludes another transfer of air rights from Pier 40, because the law requires that such conveyances take place only between properties that are either directly adjacent to one another, or very close by. As a result, any further development using these rights will necessarily have to be on Pier 40 itself.
What the HPRT plans to do with another 380,000 feet of possible development within the footprint of Pier 40 itself remain to be seen.