Just 25 years ago, the piers along the Hudson River waterfront running through Chelsea were a bleak landscape, a far cry from when luxury ocean liners docked on the West Side berths decades before that.
Cyclone fencing hemmed in the few ventures operating there: warehouses, parking, some industry. And, just a few blocks north, a source of consternation for thousands of New Yorkers since the mid-1970s—the Pier 76 tow pound.
‘Most Expensive Lot’
Although the riverfront’s transformation would begin in earnest in the mid-1990s with the redevelopment of the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment complex about a mile south, the tow pound remains within its 250,000-square-foot enclave.
Oroposals to move the tow pound elsewhere in Manhattan (each borough, except Staten Island, has its own facility) were raised in 1998, following legislation that established the Hudson River Park Trust, but it has proved an enduring feature of the riverfront.
Governor Cuomo intends to change that.
During a Jan. 6 speech at the Association for a Better New York, the Governor said the West Side was poised for “an explosion in growth.” He cited Hudson Yards, the Javits Center expansion and the nearby High Line as among the reasons.
For now there’s also the tow pound—“the most expensive parking lot on the globe,” in Mr. Cuomo's words.
He recalled that city officials, about the time that legislation created the River Hudson Park Trust in 1998, a joint city-state venture, said they would make a concerted effort to move the tow pound and vacate the pier.
Unwise Use of Space?
“Why [is] the NYPD using a billion-dollar parcel for a parking lot? There is no answer,” he said in answer to a question following his speech at the Association.
The Governor said he would require the NYPD to leave the pier by the end of this year, adding that he would like the Park Trust to put together a plan this year that envisions a future for both Pier 76 and Pier 40, at 14 acres the largest in Hudson River Park but for now a rundown series of playing fields.
On Dec. 31, the Governor vetoed a bill that would have authorized commercial uses for Pier 40. In his veto message, he cited both proponents and opponents of development “on what has been a largely recreational pier.”
The message also mentioned Pier 76, saying that the city would transfer the pier to the state. The site, Mr. Cuomo said, “is wholly underutilized and has tremendous potential.”
He said he would work to introduce legislation this year to ensure that both piers are redeveloped.
Solution a Challenge
According to the River Hudson Park Trust, at least 50 percent of the pier would be dedicated to expanding the park. The city would decide what to do with the other half.
But just as Mr. Cuomo said recreational and park space is at a premium in Manhattan, Mayor de Blasio intimated that finding enough acreage for a Manhattan-based tow pound was proving a challenge.
“I believe the goal here for a long time has been trying to figure out a solution,” he said to reporters on Jan. 8, adding that he would be glad to work with state officials on the issue.
“But, you know, it’s sort of the classic you can't fight something with nothing,” the Mayor said. “We've got to find a place for the tow pound and I can't see an effective way of doing that outside of Manhattan...but I don't know how you do that.
The city commissioned a study from Manhattan-based Dattner Architects on how lands now occupied by the city’s four tow pounds might best be used. The firm referred questions to the city. A spokeswoman at the Mayor’s Office said only that the study is ongoing and should be complete by spring.
According to Park Trust’s Fiscal Year 2019/20 financing plan, the trust is working with elected officials and local community boards on potential uses for Pier 76, which has “long been intended” as a revenue-producing endeavor that would yield both commercial development and “significant public open space.”
Just south of Pier 76 is “an existing soft edge” that Park Trust planners have envisioned as a “beach” that would include a “combination of habitat enhancement, environmental education and/or non-motorized boating could occur.” The Trust estimated the cost of redeveloping that area at $7.7 million.
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.