pier pressure

Future of West Side Piers Hazy as Cuomo Pushes for Action

The NYPD tow pound at Pier 76 on the Hudson River, Jan. 7, 2020.
The NYPD tow pound at Pier 76 on the Hudson River, Jan. 7, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to put his muscle behind a pair of languishing projects on Manhattan’s West Side waterfront, pushing for development on both Pier 40 and Pier 76 in his 2020 legislative priorities.

But what will become of the massive waterfront parcels — key to generating revenue to maintain the state-and-city-sponsored Hudson River Park — remains as murky as it has for decades.

Cuomo set his sights on the two piers in his pre-State of the State proposals, delivered earlier this week. Specifically, he charged the Hudson River Park Trust, which governs the park, to come up with ideas for the properties by May — while vowing to force the NYPD to finally remove its massive tow pound from Pier 76.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address in Albany, Jan. 8, 2020.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address in Albany, Jan. 8, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The impound lot has been a bugaboo for city officials and West Side residents for more than 20 years, ever since the Hudson River Park Act of 1998 dictated the pier would become a part of the park as soon as the tow pound left. Some fed-up locals recently sued to force the NYPD to go.

The same law says Hudson River Park should be financially self-sufficient by generating revenue within the park’s footprint. The two piers are prime spots for development projects that could bring in needed cash.

‘Cajoling and Jawboning’

Language to change the Act to put an end-of-2020 deadline on the tow pound’s removal should be coming “in a couple of weeks” through Cuomo’s budget proposal, according to Assemblymember Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), who represents the area. He called it a “very important” step for the waterfront.

“Having legislation that says the NYPD has to be off the pier by the end of the year will actually be an enormous benefit,” Gottfried told THE CITY. “Otherwise, we’re back to cajoling and jawboning and, for 21 years, that has not worked.”

City Hall has been studying how to relocate the pound, THE CITY reported in November, and officials had said a first set of recommendations on how to do that would come out by the end of 2019. Now, a spokesperson for the mayor says the study results won’t be out until spring.

Gottfried believes having the vacate order for the Police Department come from Albany rather than City Hall will make a big difference.

“I think any mayor has a hard time telling the NYPD what to do,” he said.

‘Two Great Assets’

Once the pier is cleared off, however, there’s no blueprint for what’s to come. Cuomo said a plan for development of both piers, 40 and 76, ought to be carried in tandem.

“The [Park Trust] should develop a plan for both Pier 76 and Pier 40 that coordinates the financial need, access, recreational need … because those are two great assets,” the governor said at an Association for a Better New York luncheon on Monday. “We want a plan from the Hudson River Park Trust this year on how to use both.”

The Pier 76 NYPD tow pound as seen in an 1990s-era aerial photo.
The Pier 76 NYPD tow pound as seen in an 1990s-era aerial photo. Photo: Tom Fox

Just days earlier, he’d spiked a previous plan for Pier 40 in a New Year’s Eve veto. The bill would have allowed up to 700,000 square feet of office development, which would have helped pay for park operations.

To Assemblymember Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), the bill’s sponsor, the veto was a message from Cuomo to the Park Trust saying: You overreached.

“We passed a bill that gave them, in my humble opinion, entirely too much development, but they complained that it wasn’t enough,” she said. “And the governor said, you know, maybe they got too much.”

If that plan for Pier 40 was no good, then what’s next for the piers? Glick says office space is most likely, based on what the Hudson River Park Trust has floated in the past. Gottfried said he has come to the conclusion that office space “is probably the most sensible thing to do.”

“It is compact, it involves less disruptive traffic in and out, and it produces the most revenue,” he said.

A Matter of Trust

But the Hudson River Park Act does not currently allow for office space on either pier. In his State of the State proposal released this week, Cuomo gave the Trust until May 1 to tell Albany what it wants, so the legislature can consider changing the Act before the session’s end in June.

A spokesperson for the Trust, Claire Holmes, declined to comment on whether or not the Trust is considering a plan that would need approval from Albany. She did note the Trust agrees with Cuomo that “this is the right time to identify a comprehensive solution for Piers 40 and 76.”

“We look forward to working with the state, city, our local elected officials and community stakeholders over the coming months to identify the best way forward,” Holmes said in a statement.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“Nobody knows what we’ll do, to be honest,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who appoints three of the Trust’s 13 board members. The governor and mayor appoint the other ten, five for one and five for the other.

The Trust board members have not had a chance to meet yet in the new year, Brewer said. For now, she knows residential development on the piers is something “nobody wants.” Like Gottfried and Glick, she thinks office space could be a possibility.

“Everybody wants recreation,” Brewer said. “And then the question is, how do you pay for it?”

Cash Flow Perched on Piers

According to the Hudson River Park Act’s latest financing plan, the park brings in enough revenue — $32 million annually at last count — to cover its operating expenses. But the Trust says it is still not able to cover the cost of park maintenance, now or in the future.

And that’s where the two piers could help out.

“In the long term, the Park needs a sufficient and predictable income stream to meet the ongoing challenge of capital maintenance,” the plan reads. “The framework of the Act demands that the Trust continue to push forward on securing new long-term revenue-generating leases for Pier 40 and Pier 76.”

All the officials who spoke with THE CITY agreed Cuomo’s focus on the waterfront sites is a step in the right direction.

But now that the governor has paved the way for the Trust to write a wish list, Glick is wary of what might happen if it gains the power to put commercial space on the two piers.

“We gave them the authority at Pier 57, which they have essentially filled with Google,” she said, referring to future offices for the tech giant atop a third pier in the park. “And I assume that they want to fill everything with Google.”

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