Pier 36 Docking Plan Gets Chilly Reception From CB3

Pier 36, which includes the Basketball City complex, is getting into the boating business.   Not everyone is overjoyed.

Image via Pier36nyc.com.
Image via Pier36nyc.com.

Since opening last summer at Pier 36, at the end of Montgomery Street, Basketball City has been a “special events” hot spot.  The 70,000 square foot facility, which hosts recreational sports leagues, has been rented by many private groups, including Google, Nike, Blackberry and the Bike Expo.  Now the city is preparing to utilize Pier 36 for a new purpose: boat docking.

Back in April, the NYC Economic Development Corp. signed a five year contract with BillyBey, the company that runs the East River Ferry Service, to manage seven berthing sites, including Pier 36.  In partnership with the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, the New Jersey-based firm is now developing plans for “transportation, maritime operations, recreation, educational, commercial, non-profit, historic, and cultural related opportunities” at the sites.

Earlier this month, officials from the EDC and BillyBey went before Community Board 3’s parks committee to discuss their plans and to solicit feedback. The session did not go particularly well.  CB3 members were taken aback mostly  because it’s the first they’d heard of the plans, which were announced by the city April 9.  “This project never should have been (put out to bid) without the community board being approached,” said CB3 member Anne Johnson.  Another community board member, Lisa Kaplan, said it seemed odd that the city would not have mentioned the initiative since EDC officials meet almost weekly with members of CB3 regarding the Seward Park Mixed-Use Development Project.

Donald Liloia, an executive with BillyBey, said he had come to the committee meeting to hear what the Lower East Side community wants to see from DockNYC, the entity that’s been created to manage the sites.  But CB3 members declined to have a conversation about potential uses at Pier 36 until the city came back to the board to explain why they weren’t in the loop.

As Liloia noted during the meeting, Basketball City is already touting the facility’s ferry and boat dock capabilities (see the aerial photo/diagram posted above from Pier36NYC, a web site set up to promote the venue as “New York’s Premier Event Space.”  We contacted the EDC last week to find out more about the plans at the East River pier.  Here’s what we learned:

  • “BillyBey’s responsibilities will include managing, maintaining, licensing and marketing multiple berthing facilities. As an experienced ferry and marine facilities operator – including operations of the East River Ferry and World Financial Center ferry terminal – BillyBey will bring expertise to this area.”
  • Dock NYC will consider a variety of uses at the piers, including: “transportation, maritime operations, recreation, educational, commercial, non-profit, historic, and cultural related opportunities. Uses will vary from site to site and will depend on both the type of programming inquiries, physical infrastructure and availability of space at each site.”
  • As for community engagement: the “EDC sought feedback on uses specifically from the community board at the meeting (this month), and has conducted similar conversations with other community boards with a DockNYC facility. We are awaiting a formal resolution from the CB, which we will take into consideration.  All members of the public are encouraged to utilize DockNYC’s marketing materials and website, once it launches, to coordinate activities. DockNYC welcomes programming suggestions from all parties, including to but not limited to the community board.”
basketball city opening 6
Pier 36 features a 15,000 square foot deck.

There’s a long history of controversy surrounding East River access.  Back in the 1980’s, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver successfully sued the city, arguing that Pier 36 should be reserved for community use. The Dinkins administration wanted to utilize the area for refueling and storage.  In recent years, Basketball City faced opposition from community groups on the grounds that the facility was serving upscale residents and people from other communities, rather than the mostly low-income population living along the East River.

Pier 35, just to the south of Pier 36, is destined to become an eco-park.
Pier 35, just to the south of Pier 36, is destined to become an eco-park.

One group that fought for more public access at Basketball City was the two Bridges Neighborhood Council.  In an interview, Kerri Culhane, the organization’s associate director, praised Basketball City for offering need-based scholarships for its basketball clinics.  On the issue of Pier 36 berthing, she agreed with some members of the community board who noted that many docking uses were bound to be geared toward a high-end clientele.  “We would like to see waterfront access,” she said, “but in the context of neighborhood needs.”  She mentioned educational programs as one worthy use of the pier.

Culhane and CB3 members also indicated they’d like the docking program to be considered in the context of the broader East River redevelopment project. Pier 35, just south of Basketball City, is destined to become an Eco-Park.  Some versions of the plan at that location have included docking.  To the north, the Parks Department is in the midst of designing a large new park at Pier 42, which also would include various maritime uses.

We placed a call to Basketball City owner Bruce Radler regarding this story. He did not call back.