First Meeting to Plan for Pier 42 Park Marked by Both Optimism and Skepticism

Pier 42, at the end of Montgomery Street.
Pier 42, at the end of Montgomery Street, is ready for its makeover.

Members of the community who turned out last night to hear about the future of Pier 42, on the East River Waterfront, seemed generally hopeful but more than a little wary.  It was the first meeting with Parks Department officials, who will be overseeing the refurbishment of the long neglected public space.  While there was genuine excitement that years of vigorous advocacy had finally paid off, longtime residents made it clear they have doubts about the city’s ability to get the job done.

At the urging of U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and State Senator Daniel Squadron, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. recently awarded nearly $16 million to demolish a large abandoned shed on Pier 42 and to complete a planning and design process for a new park.  The project was first envisioned many years ago, but was unfunded. The pier has been used for parking and storage during the last couple of years.

Last night’s meeting opened with remarks from Senator Squadron, who said he hoped a robust community process would generate lots of good ideas for the space. He noted that a lot more money (anywhere from $10-30 million has been suggested) would be needed in the long run.

Map via Hester Street Collaborative web site.

Parks officials emphasized their commitment to work with the Lower East Side community on the plan.  Bill Castro, Manhattan Borough commissioner, called Pier 42, at the end of Montgomery Street, a gateway to East River Park, just to the north. He added that a revitalized Pier 42 would help link East River Park with the East River Esplanade, which is also getting a major face lift.

Planners for the Parks Department said the first step would be hiring a design and engineering consultant, who would work with the community on an overall vision and come up with a master plan. A Request for Proposals from contractors will go out next month.  The city is eager to tear down the shed as quickly as possible.  They’ll engage community groups to plan activities (perhaps some art installations, for example) on the pier.

Parks officials said energetic elected officials such as Squadron and City Hall were “promising to help us move the planning along at a quick pace” (by bureaucratic standards).  One resident, Ellen Renstrom, was suspicious of this promise, suggesting that the Parks Department has a less than auspicious record of achievement on the Lower East Side. The East River Park project, she pointed out, has languished for more than a decade. Renstrom demanded to know when it would finally be completed.

East River Park, still under construction, last autumn.

While it was clearly not a subject Parks officials were anxious to discuss, they eventually declared that the construction would be finished by summer.  East River Park, they explained, is a far more complicated job because the pilings supporting the park had been completely eroded and had to be rebuilt.  The Economic Development Corp., which currently controls Pier 42, has been doing structural work. Their engineers are apparently confident the foundation is in fairly good shape.

(Incidentally East River Park has missed countless completion deadlines. In October, for example, a Parks Department spokesman told The Lo-Down landscaping and road work would be wrapped up by the end of last year. Last night, officials effectively pushed the reopening date back another six months.)

During the meeting, most of the feedback concerned traffic safety concerns on South Street, which runs alongside the Pier. Some people suggested the Department of Transportation should conduct a traffic study focused on the flow of automobiles and pedestrians in and out of the area.

Refurbishing Pier 42 has been a high priority for Community Board 3 for many years.  It also was a major issue for a coalition made up of tenant associations and social service organizations representing the predominantly low-income residents who live along the waterfront.  Last night, they seemed particularly relieved that the Parks Department, rather than the Economic Development Corp., would be managing the new recreational space. However, public housing residents urged city planners to reach out to them and to engage them in the process.

In past years, the city detailed a plan to create an urban beach and boat launch at Pier 42. But last night, Parks officials insisted there were no preconceived notions about what should be developed.

The next community meeting on the Pier 42 is expected in April.