As you may know, the city is slowly moving toward building a new park at Pier 42, the unsightly area just below newly refurbished East River Park. This week, the Parks Department conducted a “listening session” on the Lower East Side to hear what residents and open space advocacy groups would like to see happen on the former “banana pier” at Montgomery Street.
Parks official Lawrence Mauro, appearing before Community Board 3’s parks committee, said the goal is to develop a master plan by next fall. Mauro indicated the city has about $13 million to work with, which he said is a third or a fourth of what will be required for the whole project. Mauro said it’s too early to tell how much can be done with the initial round of funding.
Most of the meeting was led by Signe Nielsen of Mathews Nielsen, the architectural firm hired to work with the Parks Department on the master plan. She began by recapping what the firm had learned since a first community outreach session last October. Nielsen said divers will be going down to get a better look at the underside of the deck on Pier 42 as well as the pile structure. Right now, planners don’t know for certain whether it’s stable and how much weight it could potentially support. Nielsen also addressed concerns about flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, saying the park would be constructed to handle storm surge.
During a slide show, Nielsen outlined the range of possibilities for the space, which is currently occupied by a large storage shed and parking lots. In describing four distinct scenarios for the park, she said the design could emphasize recreational sports activities, passive recreation (lounging, picnicking, etc.) or urban ecology, including perhaps a wetland and nature study area.
Since the site is large, it could very easily accommodate a lot of different uses, and given the diverse needs of the LES community, it seems likely this will be the objective. Among the specific ideas Nielsen mentioned: an athletic field, basketball courts, a performance space, a dog park, a floating pool, a playground, kayaking and fishing. One of the rough plans Nielsen showed retained the framework of the shed in a way that would not block river views. Another scenario envisions bringing the park right up to the river, allowing tidal waters to spill up onto a beach area.
Following Nielsen’s presentation, participants broke up into small groups and brainstormed. The Parks Department is conducting similar events throughout the community. They’ll come back to the community board in April and aim to have several master plan proposals ready by early summer.
One issue still to be worked out: the fate of a Department of Transportation parking lot on the south side of the pier. Mauro said the city has not identified an alternate location for the facility, adding, “there’s a need to develop the political will” for that.
In 2011, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and State Sen. Dan Squadron successfully advocated for $16 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. to fund the first phase of the Pier 42 project. Included in that amount was $1.9 million for design and planning. Separately, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez secured $2 million to refurbish the bike path that runs alongside the pier.
On a related note, the LES Waterfront Alliance is organizing a project called “Paths to Pier 42,” a series of temporary art, educational and design installations to be staged in the spring and summer. You can read more about that here.