A discussion at the March 26 meeting of Community Board 1 (CB1) reviewed recent progress on the long-awaited redevelopment of Pier 26, by the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT). Paul Goldstein, chair of CB1’s Waterfront, Parks, and Cultural Committee, explained that, “work is underway on the playground at Pier 26. It’s going to be a great playground with different types of elements and activities for children of different ages.”
This was a reference to the design by the landscape architectural firm OLIN, which envisions transforming the 790-foot length of Pier 26 (located on the Tribeca waterfront, between Hubert and North Moore Streets) into a park replete with grassy meadows, shaded paths, playing fields, recreation nets, ridges of sand dunes, and a marine science station. The OLIN design team also expects the lawn to double as a special-events venue — for example, hosting movie nights for upward of 700 people.
Pier 26 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 has been an empty 80,000-square-foot concrete slab for almost a decade.
Mr. Goldstein noted that cranes began laying new concrete panels on the pier throughout March. Once the marine construction phase is complete (a milestone that is expected to be completed shortly), landscaping work will commence on top of these panels, and continue throughout the warm weather months. After a hiatus during winter, construction will resume next spring, “and will be complete in the fall of 2020,” Mr. Goldstein noted.
He added that the dock’s design contains a unique resiliency feature: “It is built to flood. HRPT is using materials that they believe, if the pier is overwhelmed by water, can be easily restored.”
The project is slated to cost approximately $30 million, but 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.
Some questions remain 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.” “They are trying to raise money to make that part of the project happen,” Mr. Goldstein said. “They have $10 million in the bank, but they are trying to raise additional tens of millions.”
Also unresolved is the question of 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 Estuarium operated as a community facility at Pier 26, in Tribeca, from 1986 through 2005, when it was demolished as part of the larger plan by HRPT to refurbish the dock. This move was made amid expectations by community leaders and elected officials that the River Project and the Estuarium would be welcomed back to Pier 26, once the rebuilding was complete.
That assumption was cast into doubt at a meeting of CB1’s Waterfront, Parks, and Resiliency Committee in 2018, when HRPT president Madelyn Wils, offered an update about Pier 26. Turning to the Estuarium, she said, “we have a very ambitious plan right now for a two-story facility that would house two kindergarten-through-eighth grade classrooms, three college or post-graduate classrooms, and a significantly sized technology exhibit — a museum-quality type of facility, with a small aquarium.”
“It’s a $50-million project, and we have $10 million toward it,” Ms. Wils continued. “We are currently looking for an anchor donation,” for the remaining $40 million. “So we’re looking for a significant amount. But, if we are not able to get the kind of anchor contributions that we’re looking at, then we will scale back the project.”
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 was the subject of a public outreach process (to solicit design ideas) for several years. HRPT originally hoped to begin construction of the amenities in the OLIN plan before the end of 2017, and to complete the outdoor facilities sometime in 2019. That schedule now appears to have been pushed back by approximately 12 months.
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