At Tuesday’s meeting of the Waterfront, Parks and Resiliency Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1), local residents were given an update about what may eventually be Lower Manhattan’s next great public space.
Bob Townley, the founder and executive director of Manhattan Youth and a member of CB1, said, “I should tell you that Pier 26 is moving ahead with construction in the late summer.” When asked if he was referring only to preliminary building work, he said, “no, this is the whole pier,” adding that, “it’s a $30-million project.”
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. It is overseen by the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT).
Mr. Townley, who also serves on the HRPT’s Advisory Council, said more specific information about the construction schedule would be available at an April presentation to CB1 by the Park Trust. The plan they will detail, devised by the landscape architecture firm OLIN, envisions populating 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.
As Mr. Townley noted, the plan is slated to cost approximately $30 million. But the HRPT, which has struggled financially with other projects (such as the planned rehabilitation of Pier 40, near Houston Street) has fully funded the Pier 26 plan. 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 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.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Committee chair Paul Goldstein asked, “after all these years, is that still part of the plan?”
Mr. Townley replied that the estuarium remains on the drawing board, “but the money isn’t there yet.”
Another unresolved issue is who will operate the facility. In 2016, HPRT announced that it would 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 a decade ago, it has been the subject of a public outreach process (to solicit design ideas) for several years. The Trust 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 12 months.
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