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07.16.2012
Pier Pressure
Hudson River Park restrictions upheld at Pier 40.
Courtesy Hudson River Park Trust

Proposed changes to the state law that restricts development within Hudson River Park have failed to get traction in Albany, leaving a big question mark over the future of one of the city’s most significant parks.

Facing overwhelming maintenance and repair costs that are burning through its reserve fund, the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) the quasi-governmental agency that runs the park, had sent a controversial proposal to Albany seeking to change the Hudson River Park Act to remove some of the development restrictions, most notably the one against residential development.

The Trust’s proposal included a study for Pier 40 with potential redevelopment scenarios by SHoP Architects that included residential towers and a luxury hotel. The most significant threat to park finances is the 15-acre Pier 40, the largest pier in Manhattan, which suffers from rusting pilings and a leaking roof that is in the midst of an $8.8 million emergency repair job. HRPT officials estimate that it will cost about $120 million just to fix Pier 40.

“If we don’t get the state law changed, eventually we will have to start shutting down sections of Pier 40,” HRPT president Madelyn Wils said.

Some in Albany supported HRPT’s proposal, such as State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who introduced a bill to change the Hudson River Park Act in the assembly session that ended June 21. Gottfried says the proposed legislation was a compromise that did not go far enough because it did not include the complete menu of development scenarios.

“Until about three months ago, I was fully committed to the language that I helped to write in the Hudson River Park Act 14 years ago that prohibited residential development within the park,” Gottfried said. “It has now become clear to me that of all the possible uses that you might put on Pier 40 and Pier 76, housing has about the lowest traffic impact with the highest level of reliable revenue.”

HRPT’s proposal faced opposition from some community activists and legislators. “The Trust is misrepresenting the degree of the crisis. The immediate needs of Pier 40 and Pier 54 are not beyond the ability of the city and state to address,” said New York State Assemblymember Deborah Glick.

Wils says that with the current rate of capital maintenance costs, HRPT will run out of money by the end of 2015.

Alex Ulam