Lower Manhattan is on the verge of gaining a another great public space, thanks to the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT). Pier 26, along the Hudson River waterfront in Tribeca (between North Moore and Hubert Streets), is currently a blank slate. Apart from providing homes for the City Vineyards wine bar and the Downtown Boathouse at its upland end, the dock is an 80,000-square-foot concrete slab.
Last Wednesday, a team of Trust officials and designers from landscape architecture firm OLIN, revealed their plans to change that, at a meeting of the Tribeca Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1). HRPT and the architects intend to populate the 790-foot length of Pier 26 with grassy meadows, shaded paths, playing fields, recreation nets, ridges of sand dunes, and a marine science station. The OLIN design team said that the lawn could also double as a special-events venue — for example, hosting movie nights for upward of 700 people.
The project is slated to cost approximately $30 million, but HRPT officials had good news on this front, as well: The entire budget is already allocated, thanks to three grants (of $10 million each), from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the de Blasio Administration, and Citigroup, which occupies an office tower directly adjacent to Pier 26. (That structure was known to a previous generation of Lower Manhattan residents as the “Umbrella Building,” when it was the headquarters of the Travelers Insurance company.)
The OLIN landscape design firm has a long history with Lower Manhattan. In Battery Park City, the company collaborated on the 1979 master plan that has governed development in the community for decades, and played a leading role in two of the neighborhood’s signature public spaces: the Esplanade and Wagner Park.
Very nearly the only element of the HRPT’s and Olin’s vision for Pier 26 that members of CB1 expressed reservations about at the Wednesday meeting was the plan to install wind turbines on the dock to meet all (or most) of the facility’s need for electrical power. Members of the Tribeca Committee raised concerns about noise and danger to birds from this element of the design.
Some questions remains unanswered about the future of Pier 26, however. Among them is the design of the 12,000-square-foot marine science and education center, which will be called an “estuarium.” The structure that will house this facility is being designed by celebrity architect Rafael Viñoly, who is donating his services to HRPT. But the final plan for this building, its budget, and its source of funding all have yet to be made public. Also ambiguous is who will operate the estuarium. HPRT has announced that it will be run by a partnership between Clarkson University, the New York Hall of Science, and the historic Hudson River sloop, Clearwater. Still unknown is what role, if any, will be played by the River Project, the highly regarded, Lower Manhattan-based non-profit that invented the “estuarium” model in Tribeca, and expanded it on Pier 26 in the 1990s.
The River Project was forced to vacate Pier 26 in 2008, when the HPRT demolished and rebuilt the dock. Since then, it has been based at Pier 40 (near Houston Street), but the organization’s directors have repeatedly expressed their desire to return to Tribeca.
A century ago, Pier 26 was used as a dock for large passenger ships. By the 1990s, however, it had fallen into disrepair. Rebuilt by HRPT eight years ago, it has been the subject of a public outreach process (to solicit design ideas) for several years. The Trust now hopes to begin construction of the amenities showcased at the Wednesday meeting before the end of 2017, and to complete the outdoor facilities sometime in 2019.