Brooklyn Broadside: What Manhattan’s Hudson River Park Can Learn From Brooklyn Bridge Park

By Dennis Holt

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BROOKLYN — The lead paragraph in a major story in Saturday’s New York Times reads as follows:

“It is supposed to be the model for New York City parks to come — built from dilapidated industrial structures, self-sustaining and financed by the commercial ventures operating on parkland.”

At first glance, a Brooklyn reader could conclude that here was another story about Brooklyn Bridge Park, but it is not; The Brooklyn park isn’t even mentioned. It’s about Hudson River Park, which stretches about five miles along Manhattan’s west side from Battery Place to 59th Street and which was conceived in 1998, before Brooklyn Bridge Park.

After reading the depressing and revealing story, a Brooklyn park supporter could turn smug and even strut about saying something like, “We did everything right and they did everything wrong.” And that would be very accurate.

Hudson River Park has big money problems, if only because its planners did not factor in the poor condition of the pilings holding up the piers.  The state legislation setting up the park was very restrictive. According to the Times, limits on commercial activity allowed in the park prohibited hotels, offices, housing and casinos. The guidelines also limited the length of commercial leases for snack bars and the like. Unlike Brooklyn Bridge Park, there was no requirement that the park had to be self-sustaining.

There is talk of revising that legislation to unshackle the park financially, but the money that could be raised if such ventures were allowed still would not pay for the repair of the pilings.

The story goes on to note two problems.

Replacing Pier 54 at West 13th Street would cost $33 million, with another $30 million needed for the planned amenities. Fixing the steel pilings at Pier 40 would cost $40 to $90 million.

On top of these grim numbers, the Chelsea Piers athletic and entertainment complex, which leases three of the piers, is suing the park trust, or governing body, for the $37.5 million needed to repair the  pilings underneath it.

People who have followed the Brooklyn Bridge Park story will recall that a study completed in 2004 showed that the pilings along Piers 1 to 6 were rotten and would need constant upkeep and maintenance. That was the game-changer that led to the conclusion that heavy structures, such as an ice-skating rink and a swimming pool, could not be built on the piers and that housing had to be built in the park to raise needed funds (as “payments in lieu of taxes”) instead.

That decision to build housing has proved controversial, but as time and events have gone on, more and more people have come to the same conclusion: The revenues that housing would provide are needed.

Also last weekend, there was a report that funding has been obtained — about $16 million — to replace the long-unused Pier 42 pier shed in Manhattan between the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. State Senator Daniel Squadron (D-Lower Manhattan/Downtown Brooklyn) helped get funding for that work. He represents both that area and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Don’t be surprised if the Hudson River Park Trust takes some pages out of the Brooklyn Bridge Park manual.