Pier 40 Champions Critique of “The Durst Plan”

The Pier 40 Champions have reviewed the plan put forth by Douglas Durst and have many issues with his proposal. The Durst Plan does not meet any of our objectives: Office, Retail and Parking is not an appropriate use of park space; the fields will be unavailable for an extended period of time; and worse, the community loses our last opportunity of improving the park and increasing ballfield space.

Please read our detailed critique below or download it here.

Pier 40 Champions Critique of “THE Durst Plan”

1. Development and Feasibility Related Issues

The Durst concept for Pier 40 adds commercial office use to the currently allowed retail, entertainment, and parking uses.  Because the viability of office use at the location is uncertain, the concept may not broaden developer interest and does not secure project value.  RFP failure poses the most serious risk to the pier and the park because of the lost time entailed and because each failure further poisons the project.  However, adding limited residential use would attract good proposals and improve the prospects for a low-impact project to secure the future of the pier and provide sufficient long-term income to the Trust.

  • High-impact retail and entertainment proposals have been rejected twice. The Durst concept suggests an optimistic mix of 400,000 square feet of offices, 100,000 square feet of retail, 160,000 square feet of commercial recreation, and 2000+ parking spaces, but if the market does not support the hoped-for office component, the only fallback will be the high impact proposals that have failed in the past.
  • $65 per square foot for 400,000 square feet of office space is much too optimistic.  The areas used for comparison, Hudson Square and 8th Ave./14th St., are highly desired areas near transportation and essential employee amenities such as lunch variety and convenience shopping, and the current rents in these areas took years to build.  The closest subway to Pier 40 is a half-mile away, and there are few nearby eating or shopping opportunities.
  • A prior commitment from an anchor office tenant will be needed.  Ben Korman, presenting the concept at a HRP Task Force meeting, said the offices could not be built on spec.  This will further reduce revenue, especially because the project will not be as-of-right.  After an RFP selection, a major zoning modification EIS and ULURP will cause a multi-year delay before construction begins, increasing project risk and reducing lessee interest.
  • There is a risk of ULURP failure for offices.   The at-grade West Street and bike path crossings cannot accommodate peak pedestrian volume of 2000 office employees and the high cost of a needed pedestrian bridge is not included.  (Residential volumes would be much lower and more spread out.)
  • $120 per square foot for 90,000 square feet of retail is much too high unless it is a car-based destination retail, which is counter to City Planning policy in the Manhattan core.
  • Reduction of the office and retail rents to still very optimistic levels of $45 for offices and $100 for retail would eliminate all lease income to the Trust.
  • Beyond community opposition, zoning modification to allow retail and entertainment projects may not succeed.  Concerns would include Route 9A traffic and non-conformance with City Planning’s Manhattan core parking and waterfront development policies
  • 2000+ parking spaces exceed likely demand.  Proposed valet and stacker modes are less sought after than existing park-and-lock with current vacancy.  Amendments to these regulations now in ULURP will increase supply efficiency and further reduce demand.
  • The new garage in the courtyard is an expensive structure below flood level with no potential alternate use.  This will make the project difficult to finance and create risk if parking demand is low.  The new non-accessory parking garage does not comply Manhattan core parking regulations.
  • Income of $4.5 million for commercial recreation on the roof is unexplained and optimistic.   It will privatize open space recreational uses, a first for the park.
  • Required spaces for Trust administration and operations are not included.  At the HRP Task Force, Ben Korman said space would be provided through discounts to lease payments to the Trust.  This would decrease annual income to the Trust by $3 million.
  • The cost side is overly optimistic.  For example, large savings on pile repairs compared to the Trust’s numbers are unsubstantiated and costs related to the proposed new courtyard garage structure appear optimistic.

 Another RFP failure would be very harmful to the park because it would be likely to lead to closing of the pier, loss of play fields, and loss of income to the Trust.  Each RFP failure reduces the attractiveness of the project to developers in a subsequent RFP. The goal of legislation change should be to create opportunities for excellent mixed-use proposals and thereby ensure interest among developers, giving the Trust and the community good choices and securing a high likelihood of success.

 

2. Park Quality and Playing Field Related Issues 

  • The Durst plan replaces popular ground level play fields with car parking.  Youth sports leagues have expressed a strong desire to keep these fields in a park setting not available on the roof of a private commercial building.
  • Fields would close for an extended period during construction.  Piling and platform work will be needed to support the new courtyard garage roof structure.
  • The unique opportunity for new additional play fields and attractive open space needed by the growing nearby neighborhoods is lost.  There is no alternative location serving the downtown communities where field availability is lowest and population growth is highest.
  • Pier 40 would be lost as a potential gem of the park.  The proposed concept gives up an extraordinary resource for commercial uses that can be accommodated in many other places.
  • The plan is harmful to the park because all ground level public open space is eliminated. The unattractive massive structure is made even more impenetrable, in perpetuity, with the west side of the pier more foreboding and isolated than ever.

Pier 40 Champions favors a change in legislation that allows a mixed-use development, including limited residential use on the upland area between the pier and the bike path.  This upland development would only be allowed for projects designating for “park use” an area of 60 percent of ground level of the pier.  A project based on the Durst concept would still be an eligible bid, but the upland area would not be available for development because replacement park use is not provided.  The time to compare the merits and detriments of concepts is when proposals are submitted as competing responses to a well-crafted RFP.  Continuing to prohibit residential use will limit developer interest, constrain options, encourage the same kinds of proposals that have failed in the past, and invite another RFP failure, this time with existential risk to the pier and the park.

Be a champion of Pier 40 and spread the word.

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