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$100M Air Rights Sale Might Save Pier 40, Spur New Buildings

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Despite several well-intentioned plans to save it, Pier 40 at West Houston Street is slowly sinking into the Hudson. But a new proposal between state and Hudson River Park officials might be the solution, presuming it can earn all the necessary approvals and pass muster with some development-wary neighbors. The Times has the details on how the deal would work: the park would get $100 million in exchange for a heap of air rights, which would in turn be applied to the giant St. John's Terminal building along the West Side Highway, an industrial vestige that spans three blocks and currently acts as office space. The building, which is pictured across the street from the Pier in the photo above, would get razed in chunks over the course of a decade, and in its place would rise "several residential buildings and retail shops."

Two erstwhile competing plans to aid Pier 40 included one that called for residential development along the waterfront that would pour funds into the park (hmm, sounds familiar), but that attracted vehement opposition. The other plan, put forward by Douglas Durst, consisted of putting galleries, offices, and parking on the pier itself to raise revenues. (Currently, the pier is home to sports fields and parking facilities.) The idea of the park selling air rights to fund post-Sandy rehabilitation projects isn't new (and it's pretty controversial), but this plan is the most realistic one yet, given that the governor's office and park higher-ups are already involved in the talks.

The pier is in much worse condition than anyone thought. The Times cites a forthcoming report that "57 percent of the pier's 3,500 steel pilings are suffering severe deterioration, up from 38 percent five years ago."

As for the next hurdles, they involve winning approval from state and local officials as well as undergoing an approval process for the zoning changes and the air rights sale. Another step is to placate community members, who both want a place for their kids to play sports but also fear high-rises along the waterfront.

Developer Atlas Group, which is part-owner of St. John's Terminal, confirmed that plans for a mixed-use project whose existence would help solve the Pier 40 problem are in the works.

But it appears that giving that hulking structure a makeover is hardly a new idea, given that architect Annabelle Selldorf has a page on her firm's website dedicated to a concept study, in which the design "preserves the existing terminal building and converts it into a public art gallery, retail stores, community market, and offices. The top of the building is given a new architectural life with a hotel tower, mixed-use building, and a network of habitable green roof parks." The renderings below are outdated and sorta irrelevant given the newly unveiled plans to discard the old building and focus on residential and retail, but it's interesting to think about what could rise on that big site if the air-rights deal goes through.

UPDATE: Turns out elected officials Congressman Jerry Nadler, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, State Senator Brad Hoylman, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Councilmember Corey Johnson "wrote to both Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio on May 1, detailing their active opposition to this approach." Read their full letter here.
· Possible Deal May Bring Money to Repair Pier 40 in Manhattan [NYT]
· Selling 7 Piers' Air Rights Could Net Hudson River Park $500M [Curbed]
· All Pier 40 coverage [Curbed]