Pier 40, a recreational facility that youth athletic leagues serving Lower Manhattan depend upon is slowing falling into the Hudson River, but nobody knows exactly how much it will cost to repair. And that unanswered question makes it impossible to know whether a proposed air-rights deal that will allow real estate developers to build a 1.7-million square foot project adjacent to the site is a fair trade of public assets for public benefits.
Pier 40 (located at Houston and West Streets) has been suffering from a deteriorating substructure 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 for almost that long.
In 2013, the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo announced tentative plans to sell 200,000 square feet of unused air rights from the 14-acre dock to real estate developers for $100 million. These developers, who had purchased the St. John’s Terminal Building, directly across West Street from Pier 40, would then demolish the latter structure (which runs for three blocks, between Charlton and Clarkson Streets, straddling Houston Street) and erect a complex of five skyscrapers there, including more that 1.7 million square feet of residential and retail space.
But the HPRT has yet to produce a specific estimate of what repairs to Pier 40 will cost. In November, 2015, U.S. Congressman Jerry Nadler, State Senator Daniel Squadron, State Assembly member Deborah Glick, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer requested such an estimate from HRPT and the Department of City Planning. In May of this year, they co-signed a letter to both agencies, saying, “while we have received the air rights appraisal, we have not yet received a list of the outstanding repairs needed at Pier 40 and their associated costs. As such, it is still unclear if the proposed payment from the developer to the Park of $100 million will be sufficient to cover the necessary repairs to the pier.”
HRPT took a step toward producing such a list and budget in July, when it hired Colorado-based engineering firm Ch2m to conduct a study and create a design for plan for rehabilitating the facility. That project is slated to be completed shortly after the start of 2017. Whether the actual construction required to implement such a plan will follow depends on whether the proposal to transfer air rights from Pier 40 to the St. John’s building is approved.
But this remains an open question, based on community opposition to the development plan for St. John’s Terminal. “I, like many in this community am flabbergasted by the size, bulk, and intensity of this project,” says Ms. Glick. “At their tallest, the buildings would be 480 feet.”
In an August letter to City Planning Commission chair Carl Weisbrod, Ms. Brewer said, “I believe government should find creative ways to fund the operation and maintenance of its own property assets. All too often, though, it appears that the default financing mechanism is to cede that responsibility to a private developer. As a result, the developer has a private interest that is paramount to any public interest. Here, in order to fund necessary and urgent repairs to Pier 40 and have a real chance to create affordable apartments in this neighborhood, I am told I must accept this project at this height and density. But I believe looking at the project in this manner sets up a false premise which I cannot accept.”
The City Planning Commission is slated to vote on approving, rejecting, or modifying the St. John’s Terminal plan on October 17.