Local Residents Demand More Outreach, Community Access at Pier 36
In the past few days we have been focusing our attention on the newly activated Pier 36, where a tour boat operation is already in full swing and other community oriented programs have been promised. Today we have more about the future plans on the waterfront alongside Basketball City, as well as a look at misgivings from the local community about what they see as inadequate outreach concerning waterfront access issues.
Last year, the city announced a deal with BillyBey Marina Services, in partnership with the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, to operate several New York piers, including Pier 36. An entity was formed called DockNYC to develop “transportation, maritime operations, recreation, educational, commercial, non-profit, historic, and cultural related opportunities” at the sites.
As reported last week, Go New York Tours began running harbor tours from the pier a couple of weeks ago. BillyBey is also making Pier 36, located at the end of Montgomery Street, available for private docking. A former Microsoft executive has had his 230 foot yacht tied up on the Lower East Side in recent weeks. The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, a non-profit group dedicated to transforming “the waters of New York and New Jersey Harbor into clean and accessible places to learn, work and play,” is responsible for creating educational programming at Pier 36.
Roland Lewis, the group’s president, said he hopes to begin working with local settlement houses this summer to invite neighborhood kids on East River excursions. The organization has an existing program called Harbor Camp, which runs educational trips for New York City children. A Pier 36/Harbor Camp outing or two could happen during the summer months. In the future, there’s also the possibility of attracting some historical vessels to the pier, he said.
Back in March, community members were invited to a public meeting to provide feedback about potential community-focused programs at Pier 36. In a recent interview, Lewis called the gathering “spirited,” and acknowledged that some of those in attendance were less than pleased with DockNYC. But he added, “we are going to continue to work with the community board and elected officials, as well as residents.”
We spoke with several tenant leaders present at the March meeting. Nancy Ortiz, head of the Vladeck Houses tenant association said she was dismayed to learn that tourist boats had actually been using Pier 36 “very quietly” since last year without notifying the local community (DockNYC did appear before CB3). “I was not pleased,” she explained. “I don’t see them doing any outreach into the community. I don’t see them promoting inside the community. You want to conduct business here but you don’t want us involved in your business.” Marc Richardson, tenant leader at the Lands End I complex on Cherry Street, agreed. “The outreach has been lacking,” he said. “Often we don’t know about things until they happen.” Trever Holland of Two Bridges Tower, near Pike Street, said residents in the area want to make sure there are programs available for people in the neighborhood and that the waterfront remains a public space.
Kerri Culhane, associate director of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, was also at the meeting. In an email exchange, she wrote that “fostering a connection to and an understanding of the waterways that surround us is an important part of our… education programming. The waterfront was once a major source of jobs in the neighborhood and it would be great if some job opportunities could come along with an active dock in the neighborhood.” Two Bridges, an advocacy organization and non-profit housing developer, has often taken a lead in organizing local residents. But now many tenant associations stretching from the Vladeck Houses on the north to the Smith Houses on the south are taking steps to create their own advocacy group. Leaders of the group are expected to begin raising their voices concerning Pier 36, as well as other waterfront issues.
Opposition within the community is likely not much of a surprise to BillyBey or to the Economic Development Corp., which oversees the pier. When they came before Community Board 3 last summer, members of the parks committee were openly critical of the early outreach efforts. In fact, the issue of public access at Pier 36 has been a contentious topic for decades. Local political leaders, dating back to the Dinkins administration, fought a long battle with the city to designate the East River space as a community facility. Several years ago, activists opposed the decision to offer a contract to Basketball City, before winning various concessions for local hiring, scholarships and access for neighborhood schools.
In the past, city officials have argued that activating a pier that languished for so long is a good thing and that issues surrounding public access could be worked out. Roland Lewis of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, noted that the partnership with BillyBey is still very new and he expressed confidence that DockNYC can create quality programming that will benefit the local community.