Governor Andrew Cuomo has vetoed a bill that would have allowed a developer to build up to 700,000 square feet of office space at a crumbling pier that is currently home to a parking garage, administrative offices for the Hudson River Park Trust, and popular soccer fields.
In his veto memo, the governor called Pier 40 "a rare asset in its proximity to the magnificent Hudson River" that should be protected from development.
"Money is always the rationale to develop sites in Manhattan, hence the lack of open space, green areas, parks or recreation space," Cuomo wrote. "We have so few remaining parcels available for community use."
For years, officials at the Hudson River Park Trust, the nonprofit which oversees the park, have been trying to raise money to renovate some 3,500 deteriorating steel pilings holding up the 15-acre pier. Back in 2015, the City Council approved an air rights deal in which a developer paid the trust $100 million in exchange for the right to build five new apartment buildings on the eastern side of the West Side Highway between Charlton and Clarkson Streets. But while the repairs on the steel pilings is ongoing, the trust says it needs more money for building new ball fields and maintaining the rest of the park. Under an earlier iteration of the bill which would have allowed 880,000 square feet of office development, the trust projected it could raise $12.5 million in funds a year.
Despite having sponsored the legislation, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick praised the governor's decision, saying that it signaled Cuomo's interest in helping the trust and represented an opportunity "to hit the reset button and find a better way to ensure more open and recreational space."
Glick said she and her fellow Democratic colleagues had reluctantly supported the bill, which was opposed by the local community board, after succeeding in downsizing the scale of development and reduce the lease terms to 49 years from the originally proposed 99 years.
"We crafted a measure to try to balance their needs for what they claim is their need for development and our strong belief that we had to protect the playing fields at Pier 40," she said, adding, "This wasn’t something where anybody was particularly happy about the compromises we were making."
The park, which is jointly operated by the city and state, was created with the understanding that it would be largely self-sustaining and generate revenue from development.
But according to Glick, the finances of the trust have not been transparent over the years. She said she hoped Cuomo's involvement would ensure "a clearer understanding" of its fiscal health. According to the most recently available financial audit on its website, the trust had an operating revenue of $73.2 million and expenses of $34.9 million in 2019.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Hudson River Park said, "The importance of Pier 40 for Hudson River Park's overall financial health and as a recreational resource cannot be overstated. We appreciate that the Governor is looking for a comprehensive solution for Pier 40 and the entire park."
The Board of Directors of the Hudson River Park Trust consists of 13 members, five of whom are appointed by the governor. Its chair is Diana Taylor, a former state aide and longtime companion of former mayor and current presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.
UPDATE: The story has been updated to include a clarification on the intent of the legislation, which was to generate money to build new ball fields as well as maintain the rest of the park.