Durst Presents His Own Rescue Plans for Crumbling Pier 40

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Douglas Durst at the presentation of his concept for the "adaptive reuse" of Pier 40 and a rendering of the reimagined Pier 40 facade. Rendering by Dattner Architects; Photo of Durst by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib
Douglas Durst at the presentation of his concept for the "adaptive reuse" of Pier 40 and a rendering of the reimagined Pier 40 facade. Rendering by Dattner Architects; Photo of Durst by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib
The designs call for elevating the ball fields and consolidating parking spaces in stackers beneath the fields.
The designs call for elevating the ball fields and consolidating parking spaces in stackers beneath the fields.
The plan features a marina on the south side of the pier, just under 90,000 square feet of retail space, and 133,261 square feet of commercial office space accessible from the north and south sides of the pier.
The plan features a marina on the south side of the pier, just under 90,000 square feet of retail space, and 133,261 square feet of commercial office space accessible from the north and south sides of the pier.
The elevated ball fields would remain close to the same size as the current fields, and would be ringed by continuous steps that would double as bleachers.
The elevated ball fields would remain close to the same size as the current fields, and would be ringed by continuous steps that would double as bleachers.
Retail and public space would ring the elevated ball fields.
Retail and public space would ring the elevated ball fields.
The roof would be divided between public access space inspired by the High Line, and a commercial "active use zone."
The roof would be divided between public access space inspired by the High Line, and a commercial "active use zone."
The proposed three levels of Pier 40. The redone pier would have just over half-a-million square feet of leasable space, and just under half a million square feet of public access space.
The proposed three levels of Pier 40. The redone pier would have just over half-a-million square feet of leasable space, and just under half a million square feet of public access space.
Construction costs include steps to mitigate flooding during possible future storms.
Construction costs include steps to mitigate flooding during possible future storms.
The exterior of the building would be covered in a "vertical planted screen." A possible future pedestrian bridge across West Street is included in the drawings, but not the project development costs.
The exterior of the building would be covered in a "vertical planted screen." A possible future pedestrian bridge across West Street is included in the drawings, but not the project development costs.
CARL GLASSMAN/TRIBECA TRIB

Residential development isn’t the best—or the only—way to finance the Hudson River Park and save its deteriorating Pier 40. So says real estate developer Douglas Durst, who revealed a proposal this week that he says will fix the pier with less “contentious” uses.

The real estate developer resigned his position as chair of Friends of Hudson River Park Trust last month, after ongoing disagreements with the Hudson River Park Trust over its proposal to pay for the pier’s restoration by opening up portions of it to residential developers. Durst insists that the pier can be saved by allowing commercial uses on the existing structure.

“We are demonstrating that there are adaptive reuses that we believe are economic. The problem with any kind of highrise is you have to take down the entire pier. You can’t reuse the existing structure, which is extremely wasteful,” Durst told the Hudson River Park Advisory Council on Tuesday.

The designs call for utilizing parking stackers to consolidate current commercial parking in the center of the pier. The parking zone would be surrounded by roughly 90,000 square feet of retail space that Durst envisions as being “park compatible,” such as cafes, and bike or kayak rentals.

Additional office space would be built out on the north and south side of the pier, and would be accessed from the path that runs around the pier’s perimeter.

“We think this concept is compelling because the space available at Pier 40 for office space is exactly what is in greatest demand today by the fastest growing sector of New York’s economy,” Durst said. “Tech firms want large floor plates, high ceilings, large windows and unconventional and interesting space.”

The pier’s popular public ball fields would be raised up one floor, and surrounded by a landscaped public promenade. The fields would remain open to the sky. Developers could turn part of the roof into a public space similar to the High Line, architect Daniel Heuberger said, complete with large trees to help shelter the ball fields below. A portion of the roof would be leased for active recreation space, such as batting cages, Heuberger said.

The exterior of the building would remain much the same, but the east wall would be covered with a “vertical planted screen.” A marina is envisioned for the south side of the pier.

According to Durst, such a redevelopment would bring in the $10 million a year that the Hudson River Park Trust estimates it needs from Pier 40 and still make a profit for the developer.

The Trust has been pushing for legislative changes that would open up the park’s commercial piers to new types of development. The financially-strapped agency says it needs new funding sources for the entire five-mile long stretch of waterfront park, but nowhere are the needs greater than at Pier 40. Once the biggest source of income for the park, repairs for the popular but crumbling mix-use pier have been sapping the park’s reserve fund.

Although Pier 40 is one of a few piers in the park zoned for commercial development, its approved uses are too limited to make for a successful project, advocates for the changes argue. Durst’s proposal would require legislative changes as well.

Two previous commercial proposals were shot down by the community.

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick whose district includes Pier 40,  is a staunch opponent of changes that would open the park to residential development. Legislative changes that would have done just that, were introduced in the last state legislative session but no action was taken. Before seeing the details of Durst’s proposal, she said she believed that “its very existence demonstrates that alternatives to residential development do exist and, of equal importance, can help generate additional revenue for the Park without building unwanted luxury condos.” 

Introducing himself at the meeting as an “interested citizen,” Durst told the advisory council on Tuesday that he does not intend to develop Pier 40 himself. Instead, he wanted to develop a proposal to show that there are viable ways to create a funding source for the park without building apartments.

“We thought it would be helpful to explore an adaptive reuse for the pier,” Durst said.

Several legislative changes would still be needed for such a proposal to work, including extending the lease limitation in the park from 30 to 49 years, and adding commercial offices to the list of allowed uses.

The biggest concern for members of the advisory council appeared to be the proposal’s impact on the fields, which would be slightly reduced in size.

“What if anything could be built into your proposal to give us added field space?” one community member wanted to know.

Others, such as Chris McGinnis of the Downtown United Soccer Club, pointed out that Durst’s estimate of $57 million for piling repairs is less than half of the money the Trust has said it will need to repair the underwater structures.

“We are confident in our estimates,” Trust President Madelyn Wils said after the meeting.

Pier 40 Champions, a coalition of several community sports groups including the Downtown United Soccer Club, is also working on a proposal for the pier. That proposal, which is expected to be completed in the next few weeks, may include a residential component upland of the pier.

“I thought it was really interesting,” said Cathy Drew, founder and director of the River Project, a marine research center based at Pier 40. “It’s nice that he has no residential and it doesn’t get any bigger. That’s what the neighborhood had hoped would work out all along.”

Arthur Schwartz, chair of the advisory council, said he wasn't prepared to say whether the plan was "good or bad," but he thought parts of it seemed overly optimistic. Schwartz said he would favor any option that works and doesn't consider one plan, whether commercial, residential or parking, more "moral" than another.

"I would like to see somebody actually work [Durst's] proposal through," said Schwartz, "put their signature on a contract and say they are going to build it."