Pier 40 Deal to Clear Way for 1.7M Square Foot Development Along Westside Highway

A Pier 40 playing field. (Hudson River Park Trust.)

A Pier 40 playing field. (Hudson River Park Trust.)

The de Blasio administration has reached a deal with a developer, local officials and the Hudson River Park Trust to sell Pier 40’s air rights for $100 million, the mayor’s office has announced. The deal, which was first reported in The Times, will provide direly needed funding for the long-ailing Pier 40, a former cargo terminal along the Westside Highway that is now used for athletic fields and parking. It will also allow real estate concern St. John’s Center Partners to redevelop the nearby St. John’s Terminal site, which has been dormant for decades, into a 1.7 million square-foot 5-building campus.

Of that, 1.3 million would be devoted to housing, divvied up among 1,586 apartments, 30 percent (approximately 500 apartments) of which would be designated as permanent affordable for seniors, low- and middle-income New Yorkers. The COOKFOX design, which will need to go through the city approval process, would spread that square footage out across five buildings, ranging from 240 to 430 feet tall.

The deal piggybacks on a far more controversial plan floated last year by the Cuomo administration, which also would have transferred unused air rights across the Westside Highway from the deteriorating Pier 40; that plan fell apart in the midst of strong local opposition and a clash between the mayor and the governor.

Among the key differences between the two plans is that Cuomo’s would have bypassed the full city approval process, riling the mayor and locals, who also complained that the plan, which would have also netted Pier 40 “about $100 million” in exchange for the transfer of its unused development rights, lacked transparency. It was, nonetheless, the basis for the current deal, legally paving the way for such a transfer to take place.

The de Blasio administration is banking on the inclusion of affordable housing, and the support of local councilman Corey Johnson, who they say was instrumental in negotiating the deal, to make the new plan more palatable to locals. The development would also include a 14,200-square-foot elevated garden open to the public on the existing platform spanning West Houston Street, which would be demolished and rebuilt.

Community Board 2 chair Tobi Bergman has also expressed his support for the project, writing in a statement that “at long last we have a real opportunity to save the extraordinary park resource at Pier 40. At the same time and of equal importance we finally have a project in our district that will help sustain the diversity that is integral to the social fabric of our community and our city. Let’s keep finding the synergy of protecting livability and building affordability!”

Due to its unusual funding structure which requires it to secure its own monies for maintenance, Hudson River Park has increasingly embraced more controversial maneuvers—i.e. Diller Island—a state of affairs that many view as unfair as the park has played a crucial role in making West Chelsea and the West Village an attractive place for the moneyed set to live. As a result of deficits, Pier 40 has deteriorated to such an extent that sections of it were in danger of being closed off to the public; a recent study revealed that 57 percent of the Pier’s steel pilings were suffering from severe deterioration. Pier 40’s extensive repair costs were estimated at $104 million last spring and the Park Trust has had to spend some $18 million in emergency repairs just to keep the park open.While the city and the trust have repeatedly tried to find a funding stream for the defunct pier, the most viable option—building luxury condos on the site—has been shot down again and again.

Nor have all welcomed the deal with enthusiasm. Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, decried “the extremely controversial process of selling air rights from the Hudson River Park to increase development in our neighborhood.”

“It’s difficult to understand why the City has refused to listen to pleas from this community to protect these areas from out-of-scale development and preserve the character of the neighborhood while allowing for the creation of affordable housing and generating income for the park,” he wrote in a statement, “and instead focused solely on plans like this which would increase such development, in this case with a wall of towers along the waterfront.”