Plans to redevelop Hudson River Park’s Pier 40 are back to square one after Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have transformed the space into a commercial hub.
In an eleventh-hour veto on New Year’s Eve, Cuomo rejected an amendment to a state law that would have allowed office space to rise up to eight stories on the 15-acre pier. Plans to develop the doughnut-shaped space have stalled for years, and the veto is the latest setback to the Hudson River Park Trust’s goal to turn the pier into a revenue-generator that will help financially support the four-mile-long waterfront park.
Cuomo emphasized Pier 40 as a “valuable asset” to the community with well-worn athletic fields that are well-loved by youth baseball and soccer teams; it is recreational spaces such as these, he argues, that must be preserved.
“The one thing that we are not making any more of in Manhattan is open space, and this must be protected,” Cuomo wrote in the veto memo.
The changes to the Hudson River Park Act, which formed the green space in 1998, would have permitted up to 700,000 square feet of commercial office space with structures no taller than 88 feet. The Trust could have entered into a 49-year lease with a developer with the option of a 25-year renewal. The Trust hoped to generate at least $12.5 million in rent annually from development at the site.
The bill also sought to expand the percentage of public open space on the pier from 50 to 65 percent, as well as adapt existing structures unless those buildings were deemed “unfeasible after public review.” Any potential project would have been subject to the city’s seven-month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, according to the legislation.
Assemblymember Deborah Glick somewhat reluctantly sponsored the legislation as a compromise to overdevelopment concerns. Glick says she felt “vindicated” with Cuomo’s logic behind his rejection of the bill, and says there must be a hard look at the Trust’s financials before a development plan can move forward.
“I think the veto is a great opportunity to revisit this,” says Glick. “The governor hit a reset button and I think we will have to have a conversation about what the parks finances actually look like.”
Several sections of the miles-long green space are in the midst of transformation, including the borough’s first beach at Gansevoort Peninsula, a “floating park” at Pier 55, and a revamp to the northern most portion of Hudson River Park at Pier 97.
Locals concerned about commercial development on the West Village waterfront have clashed with the Trust over the plan; Manhattan Community Board 2 rejected development on the site in an advisory declaration. The board’s district manager referred a request for comment to the board’s chair, Carter Booth, who was not immediately available.
The Hudson River Park Trust wasn’t entirely pleased with the bill, either. Madelyn Wils, president and CEO of the Trust, feared the measure was too restrictive. The 49-year-lease instead of a more typical 99-year-lease, for instance, could have made it harder to attract a developer for the site, Wils has argued.
Cuomo pointed to nearby Pier 76, where a NYPD tow pound lot currently exists, as a possible development alternative. In the Hudson River Park Act, the NYPD was directed to employ “best efforts” to relocate the tow pound so the space could be utilized by the waterfront park. Some two decades later, and that has yet to happen. The police department and City Hall are currently studying how best to shut down the site.
But some locals are fed up with the extended timetable and aren’t waiting for officials to get their act together. The Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association filed a lawsuit against the city in 2019, seeking a court order that will force the NYPD to vacate the massive parcel.
“[Pier 76] is wholly underutilized and has tremendous potential and the site must be maximized,” Cuomo continued in the veto memo.
As part of his 2020 State of the State agenda, Cuomo unveiled plans to speed up Pier 76’s transfer from it current use to the Trust’s control. At a recent unrelated press conference, he dubbed the Hudson Yards-adjacent pier “the most expensive parking lot on the globe.” But that would change under a new proposal that seeks to vacate the site by the end of this year. The local community boards and elected officials would develop a “reuse plan” for the parcel, according to the governor’s office.
The state, Cuomo says, will help the city identify alternatives sites for the tow pound’s operations and is willing to help with relocation. Additionally, Cuomo is calling on the Trust to develop an improvement plan for Pier 40 along with a “comprehensive park-wide financial and use strategy.” If the Trust believes those plans require a legislative green-light, the Trust has until May 1 to submit such requests to Albany.
A spokesman for the Trust stressed Pier 40 as a key piece to the park’s financial viability, and welcomed the governor’s efforts.
“The importance of Pier 40 for Hudson River Park’s overall financial health and as a recreational resource cannot be overstated,” the spokesperson said. “We appreciate that the Governor is looking for a comprehensive solution for Pier 40 and the entire park.”