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August 1st, 2007

SOHO POLITICS

by D. Clark MacPherson

Several issues impact the SoHo and Hudson Square communities in much the same way. While Trump SoHo moves ahead, activists are gathering forces for this and other important confrontations. Unfortunately,Mayor Bloomberg and his sidekick Dan Doctoroff have proven that they are the pro-development Republicans that we all feared. So, in addition to the Trump fiasco and the ramifications for development, the downtown communities are simultaneously watching their flanks and fighting a rear guard action with the Gansevoort Transfer station and the Pier 40 RFP (Request For Proposals).Wherever the community turns, there’s Doctoroff, the Robert Moses look-a-like who apparently never saw a development he doesn’t like. Just as Napoleon escaped back to Paris in 1812, Bloomberg and his minions have left the troops behind to fend for themselves. Is it the lure of the Governor’s Mansion or a fantasy of the White House that drives the newly registered as Independent Bloomberg?

The Trump problem has little to do with the Donald’s swing-wing hair, and all to do with a failure of the City Council to take the lead and reign in the phony Hotel/Condo concept which weaves a little legal maneuver through the City Planning rule books.After all, they’ve had ten years of warnings by such notable downtown voices as David Reck of the Friends of Hudson Square and Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

City Planning is a Bloomberg creature, as is Lancaster of the Department of Buildings–and neither agency can sell-out the community fast enough if his nibs wishes it. In fact, Trump SoHo could have been stopped if there wasn’t so much money to spread around and we had a city that gave a damn about its historic architecture and our place in the world. Christine Quinn, Speaker of the City Council, who wishes to follow in Bloomberg’s footsteps, is already ramping up her fundraising. But her opinion is that a change of zoning (to contextual zoning) for Hudson Square is optimistically at least a year away. One wonders how many building permits for 40 or 50 story mega condo/hotels can be planned in that amount of time.

And, while SoHo and Hudson Square seem to be alone in pushing the rock uphill like Sisyphus, Greenwich Villagers have awakened to find that St. Vincent’s hospital is selling off its real estate and will soon be introducing its own “healthy” version of the Trump monstrosity. Just in case you thought the Village was immune to midtown-like mega-developments.

The Pier 40 plan is arguably going to be one of two proposals that have been reviewed by the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT)Advisory – or there won’t be a plan at all. The first is Camp Group and the second is a plan from the Related Companies, a real estate conglomerate.

Thus far, the Hudson River Park Trust Board has not made any decision.At least, not publicly. The Advisory to the Trust, a group of community leaders, a mixture of representatives of the Elected Officials, and Community Board members from Boards 1, 2 and 4, — has had numerous meetings and hosted a Town Hall style hearing which has all added up to a consensus. The two potential developers’ proposals miss the mark for a number of reasons. Camp Group seems to be on shaky financial ground, and Related seems to want to build something like an adult Disneyland to draw even more tourists to an overly congested downtown.

The essentials from the Trust viewpoint are that Pier 40 needs repairs. Roughly 10 percent of the pilings holding up the pier need to be replaced or substantially repaired. Over time, the usable space on the pier has been reduced as a result of deterioration.While it’s not going to fall into the river, repair work needs to start relatively soon.We are now into year 4 of the two recent rounds of RFP’s and proposal reviews. The prior hearings resulted in much ado about nothing and the $30 million dollar hole in the previous community-approved plan is once again raising its ugly head. The number repeatedly used by the Trust officials, when asked what it will cost to renovate the pier, said it would be $30 to $35 million dollars–plus!

This is where the two plans on the table – Camp Group and Related–start to part ways. Camp Group is fuzzy on the numbers for pier renovation and restoration. Related clearly has the money. Camp Group is clearly more community oriented (and certainly more kid-friendly). Related sings to the tune of more of an adult playground. Or, as Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) calls it, “Vegas on the Hudson.”

This plan involves an entertainment center with Cirque du Soleil, plus an 1800 seat concert hall, a 3500-seat banquet hall, 12 movie theaters, 5 large restaurants, and 40,000 square feet of retail. There is also a provision for ball fields that initially replaced the fields that are there now.

In place of the $5 million ball field renovations which the kids have just started to enjoy — Related first wanted to move them onto the roof, and then changed it back — arranging for the kids to continue to play in the “doughnut” while the construction gets underway.Picture hundreds of kids playing as construction begins on a pier built with materials that were legal 50 years ago. The wind off the water blows dust and debris in their faces. You’re right, “Not my kid.”And then, try to get them there among construction rigs and trucks.

A straw poll taken at the Advisory to the HRPT, a group that admittedly has only an advisory capacity in relation to the Trust decision – had no members in favor of either plan. Community Board #1 has come out against the plans. The community has rejected the Related plan with hundreds of families and kids appearing at the PS 41 hearing. The Related plan, especially with the attempt to keep the ball fields open during construction, is merely putting lipstick on a pig.

The belief of many activists is that this is Dan Doctoroff’s particular pig. Not only is he a member of the Trust Board (some say he is the real Chair), which is a concern, but also some interesting “consultants” have recently come out of the closet to join the process.

Shep Messing and Jay Kriegel, both part of the 2012 Olympics effort which was killed, are now part of the Related team, reportedly with the help of and as a favor to Doctoroff – who may feel that he owes them as a result of the failed bid for the Olympics.

As an added push, Jim Capalino, a smart, folksy Village PR guy has been contacting people in the community to sing the praises of Related to those who are unaware of how good this will be for all of us.

But, just so everyone does not get too misty-eyed for Related, consider this:

Hudson Square and SoHo families have NO parks for their kids.We have spent $5 Large on ball fields and have parking for cars that have practically nowhere else to go since development is quickly depleting garage space.And don’t kid yourself–once a Pier 40 contract is awarded, the changes will come fast and furious. Things that were promised will disappear as fast as that last Pringle’s chip.

Whether a Conservancy is established, or there is an appeal for State and/or Federal funds, or there is an increase in income from parking and fees, or an appeal is made to the Legislature to allow a bond issue, we need to keep Pier 40 for the ball fields and parking that exist there now, and community passive space that will be there as the pier is reclaimed.As the Trust considered just after the previous round of plans failed, the Pier could be repaired over time and uses should be added as the structure and community review continues.

Of even greater concern to downtown residents is the selling of Gansevoort Pier. The long and contentious history of this pier, which is currently occupied by the Department of Sanitation, was “resolved” last year when an agreement was reached for DSNY to move off the pier, thereby allowing the site to revert to park space as dictated by the Hudson River Park Act. Only, theMayor and the Economic Development Corporation (ECD) has had its eyes on this location for years as a site for recycled waste and a marine transfer station to remove it.

While downtown residents can be excused for not wanting to trade park space for another waste facility, the firestorm has erupted over what has been turned into a racial issue. Yes, folks, a racial issue, carefully disguised as NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard).

Since downtown has not accepted its fair share of garbage, the reasoning goes, this is a disguised form of discrimination–in which the white downtown liberals avoid their fair share of waste.After all, the logic dictates, we should accept the garbage that we produce.

Neither Espaillot, the Councilman that has recently switched his point of view to this new party line, nor the residents of northManhattan are really to blame for this newAnschluss. It’s really a Bloomberg PR stunt to stage a success after a string of defeats–notably his and Doctoroff’s Olympic bid.

The ECD has been planning this for years, Doctoroff wanted this, and the reverse racial card was a convenient ploy.

So it suddenly occurred to everyone jumping on the racial bandwagon that they had better go along. Rumors circulated that even though Deborah Glick, Dick Gottfried and Linda Rosenthal were against it, Shelly Silver would support it rather than risk a site being picked in his own district on the East Side of Manhattan. It was NOT going to go uptown — even though the ideal site is the tow pound on Pier 76 at 36th street (rumored to interfere with the new Javits Center plans.)

Albany has been feverishly lobbied and the thought of poor black and Latino voters being gassed by hundreds of trucks, wading through garbage once again dumped in their home turf – – even got Spitzer to sign on to the plan.

Even the media, including the New York Times, has branded Downtown residents “elitists” over this when, in fact, we have no parks, horrendous pollution and a developer mentality among the City Hall politicians.And, by the way, where is our Central Park? It is clear that the fix is in and that the Recycling plan will probably be pushed through in Albany — but then litigated forever. It’s all about Bloomberg’s political future and votes.

What’s wrong with this picture? Just a few minor details. Our cobblestone streets are not paved with gold, folks. But, neither should they be paved with garbage.

Lower Manhattan is the black spot on the pollution map, with a disproportionate share of asthma, lung cancer and emphysema. The toll reversal from the Verazzano Bridge, instigated by theMolinari Republicans in Staten Island — who are responsible for Bloomberg’s (and Giuliani’s) mayoral success — has created both pollution and gridlock.And Chuck Schumer, who now has a huge campaign warchest, has reneged on his promise to help reverse this situation for Downtown. So, the plan for Gansevoort, if it were to be crammed through, will assure that downtown liberals will benefit from nothing but grief and illness for generations to come.

And then there is the issue of accepting responsibility for our own garbage. Except, it isn’t. It’s mostly not our garbage.

Perhaps, we should ask the commuters who come to Manhattan to work and do business — who utilize our infrastructure, who eat here, do their paperwork here, leave their debris and waste here — to take their garbage with them — back to Staten Island, to Brooklyn, to the Bronx, to New Jersey, even to Pennsylvania and Connecticut. How much of the garbage from Wall Street and Midtown is left Downtown? And, how much of that really belongs to residents who live Downtown? Is taking our fair share of garbage taking everything from tourists and workers from up and down the eastern seaboard who visit Manhattan, Mr. Bloomberg?

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