Two Bridges Leaders Press For Community Role at Rutgers Slip Pavilion (Updated)

Rutgers Slip Pavilion site.
Rutgers Slip Pavilion site.
Rutgers Slip Pavilion site.

Earlier this month, we reported that the city has hired a new construction manager to complete the long-delayed Pier 35 eco-park and a section of the East River Esplanade between Catherine Slip and Pike Slip. Hunter Roberts Construction is taking over from the previous contractor. Officials with the NYC Economic Development Corp. (EDC) told members of Community Board 3’s parks committee that work should resume this coming summer.  Today, we have more on another aspect of the Hunter Roberts contract: construction of a pavilion at Rutgers Slip.

The EDC team said the design of the pavilion is being reworked to conform with post-Hurricane Sandy resiliency standards. They’re trying to win approval for a variance from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals.

Back in 2011, the EDC put out a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI), asking for ideas from:

…experienced and qualified individuals, companies, and/or organizations either alone or in partnership interested in programming a to-be-built enclosed pavilion and certain outdoor space located at the intersection of Rutgers Slip and South Street along the East River Waterfront Esplanade on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It is contemplated that the Pavilion will house two unique uses: 1) a restaurant, retail, or other commercial use and 2) a non-profit, educational, and/or community use pursuant to a lease or other occupancy agreement.

During this month’s community board meeting, city officials acknowledged that the commercial facility is no longer part of the plan. In response to a question from a CB3 member, they indicated that there were apparently no viable responses to the RFEI. But there was, in fact, at least one proposal for the pavilion from a community-based organization, the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council.

In the past few days, that organization has shared portions of their application with us. It included followup submissions to the EDC — answers to questions city officials asked during face-to-face meetings about the Two Bridges proposal.

tbnc pavilion diagram

The organization wanted a 20-year lease for the pavilion. It planned to operate a community facility out of the building and to sub-lease a 300 sq. ft. space to Veselka, the legendary 2nd Avenue Ukranian restaurant. Veselka would have been able to use a 700 sq. ft. outdoor seating area for customers. Among the materials submitted was a letter from Veselka owner Tom Birchard confirming his interest in operating a snack bar.

Two Bridges lined up a number of partners, including Hamilton Madison House, Immigrant Social Services, Hester Street Collaborative, the LES Ecology Center and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. There were to be daytime exercise and wellness classes, an after school program specific to the East River-environment and evening/weekend cultural events. There was even a plan to attract a green market to the location. In the packet, there were letters of support for the proposal from State Sen. Daniel Squadron and City Council member Margaret Chin. The organization never received any kind of response from the city.

bsa pavilion diagram
Submission to the Board of Standards and Appeals.

In the middle of last year, the city put out a new Request for Proposals (RFP), encompassing Pier 35, sections of the esplanade and the Rutgers Slip Pavilion.

That document, which was recently sent to us by the EDC’s press office, notes that the pavilion will include a “community space, maintenance storage space and public restrooms.” It makes no mention of a potential food vendor. There’s also no commercial space set aside in diagrams the city has filed with the Board of Standards and Appeals (see above).

So what’s the upshot? At the moment, it’s unclear whether the community will have a role in determining the design and programming of the undefined community space. We have asked EDC officials for an answer to this question. We’ll let you know what we hear.

Meanwhile, Victor Papa, president of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, says he’s dismayed that his organization never heard a response from the city regarding the 2011 proposal. He’s asking Community Board 3 to help get some answers from the city about the process going forward.

Many of the questions being asked the other night at the parks committee meeting were posed by Trever Holland. He’s a board member as well as head of the tenant association at Two Bridges Tower, which is located just across from the pavilion site. He recently expressed concerns in a letter to CB3 leaders and city officials about the project. “Our community should have a say in whatever process will be used to determine” the uses for the community space, he wrote. Holland said local residents, not just local community-based organizations, should have a role in making those decisions.

UPDATED 2/20 A spokesperson for the Economic Development Corp. tells us the city intends to work with stakeholders to determine a use “that meets the community’s needs.”