The Board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. is meeting this morning to begin deciding how to use $200 million that remains from its 9/11 recovery fund. Lower East Side activists are hoping board members will be feeling the pressure from U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, who’s calling on the LMDC to use a portion of the money to build a park and recreation area on Pier 42. Schumer spoke out in favor of the project yesterday morning, in a news conference in front of the pier.
Large sections of the waterfront are already being transformed. The city has been working on East River Park for years, as well as the East River Esplanade and Pier 35. But earlier this year, they announced there was no money for Pier 36, which they had planned to turn into an urban beach and boat launch. Neighborhood activists have strongly criticized the city’s priorities, saying the West Side was lavished with funding while the East Side waterfront (which is dominated by low income housing developments) languished.
Schumer said he wanted the LMDC to “think big,” by completing the East River waterfront, rather than funding “small projects” or using 9/11 funds to “plug holes in budgets.” State Senator Daniel Squadron, appeared alongside Schumer, saying, “too often the Lower East Side has been left behind or has been last. The money necessary to build the park, around $45 million, would make an enormous difference in an under-served community and “leave a legacy for generations of New Yorkers.”
Among those attending the news conference were: Councilmember Rosie Mendez, members of Community Board 3 and Community Board 1 chair Julie Menin, who sits on the LMDC board. Representatives from a coalition of waterfront groups protesting the city’s funding choices were also present. They thanked Schumer and Squadron for their efforts.
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was not at the event but was quoted in a news release passed out by Schumer aides:
“Building a world-class park along the East River has always been a top priority of mine. That is why I successfully fought plans to turn Pier 42 into a construction staging area for the World Trade Center rebuilding. Along with members of the community, I have consistently advocated for the vision of public, open green space on the East River waterfront. This will provide a unique opportunity to create the urgently needed recreational space that my neighbors on the Lower East Side deserve.”
Also absent yesterday was U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who spoke out forcefully against the city’s priorities on the waterfront last year. At the time, Velazquez said she was in a strong position to advocate for East Side money because the waterfront project was being largely paid for with federal funds.
This past summer, city officials briefed Community Board 3 on the funding dilemma. They outlined their plan to use the pier for parking on a short term basis because there was no immediate hope of finding money to complete the park. A few weeks after that meeting, the LMDC decided to free up the $200 million, money that had previously been set aside to pay for utility improvements.