Something for Everyone on Tribeca's New Ecologically Themed Pier 26

The completed Pier 26, the first new pier in Hudson River Park in 10 years. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Sep. 28, 2020

Five years ago this October, the Hudson River Park Trust and their designers met with community members and asked for a wish list: What would they like to see on Tribeca’s Pier 26, then an 98,000-square-foot blank concrete slate.

Some imagined fields for active play. Others asked for a refuge of quiet and relaxation. And there were those who wanted to see nature and a place for ecological study.

Pier 26, the park’s first new pier in 10 years, opened on Wednesday, and it’s all there.

The “eco-friendly” $37.7 million pier park, opposite Hubert Street, is complete with wooden walkways and copious river-view seating, trees and dense native plantings, a sports court and lawn.

Watch the Trib's video photo essay on the building of Pier 26, and a two-minute timelapse video that documents the two years of construction.

Then there is the pier's most unique feature: the tide deck, a salt marsh built on nine 250-ton, pile-supported concrete panels off the western edge. The vegetation, selected to survive the harsh, brackish waters, are planted in a special material from Floating Wetlands Solutions that absorbs nutrient-rich particles from the river. The 1,300 boulders, along with planted smooth cordgrass, act as a breakwater that helps protect the six species of plantings from wakes and waves. It can all be seen from an angular, aerial walkway, plus a “get-down” walkway that allows visitors a closer look during guided tours.

Because money had run out before the rebuilt pier structure could be extended to its full allowable length, Madelyn Wils, Hudson River Park Trust president and CEO, got the idea for constructing a different sort of addition. “I thought, nobody ever tried to build a salt marsh out in the river,” she said. After conferring with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and Trust consultants Biohabits, Inc., the plan took shape.

“We built a deck in the middle of the river so that it wouldn’t impede the flow of water in the river. Nobody’s done anything like it before. That was extraordinary,” said Demetrios Staurinos, project manager for OLIN, the pier’s design firm. “And then to top it all off we put a big walkway on it.”

Along with colleague Jamee Kominsky, Staurinos was charged with making sure the construction was true to the vision of his firm and its lead designer on the project, Trevor Lee. “With every project youre at the mercy of the talents of the people who are building it,” he said. “And thankfully on this project there have been some extremely talented people working on it.

At its heart, the pier is a cross section of the Manhattan shoreline ecology that Henry Hudson would have found here: A rocky tidal zone, (represented by the tidal deck), coastal grassland, dry maritime scrub; and woodland forest, all there to give a taste of how the original landscape shifted, from woodlands to water, with dozens of species of plants and 10 types of trees.

For the woodland, “we selected plantings that would serve as a host for critters, attracting insects and invertebrates, and then bring the birds and develop a food chain through there,” Staurinos said. Bees have wasted no time and can already be seen pollinating the mountain mint.

It’s not like Central Park, but you kind of feel like youre in a different world here,” said Wils, as we walked together through the lushly planted woodland landscape.

The pier’s ecological theme recalls the original Pier 26, which housed the River Project, a center for the study of the local estuary, where the Hudson’s fresh and saltwater mix. “The River Project helped to inform the mission in the Hudson River Park Act, which says we are to teach the public about the Hudson River estuary,” said Madelyn Wils, who was part of the original group that worked on the park’s master plan. But with the growing and changing local population, she noted, the pier needed to offer additional uses as well.

Pier 26 is also a quiet complement to its activity intense next-door Tribeca neighbor, Pier 25, the most heavily used of all the piers in the four-mile-long park. Here, there’s an abundance of seating, including swings for grown-ups inside two open-air sheds. 

“You have to come sit,” she told me, taking a seat inside one of the sun-dappled structures. “I wanted to have adult swings here. I always liked the idea of them. And I love the view. So this will be my new favorite spot.”

Always with an eye for detail, Wils said she gave much thought to the seating on the pier. “I have to have it absolutely comfortable,” she said, now reclining on one of the wooden chaise lounges. “I had them bring in many different chaise lounges to our lunchroom until I found one I really liked.”

It took three years, Wils said, to raise the money for the pier. Funds came from the city, the federal government through the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., and Citi, whose global headquarters is across the street from the pier. The Trust says it is still $15 million short of funding the river study center it hopes to build between Piers 25 and 26. Money is in hand for a planned ecologically themed playground next to it, but the building has to go up first.

Given today’s budget constraints, Wils said, “It’s a good thing we had the money in hand before we started this.

Once the barricade swung open at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, following a private opening ceremony, it took no time for the dog walkers, joggers and strollers to try it out. Catherine Procopio, who lives across the street in Independence Plaza, was the very first. Standing on the aerial walkway, admiring the view, she said she’s been waiting for this moment.

“It seems like it’s taken forever,” she said. “I'm so happy it’s finally finished.