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Design Event to Discuss Ideas for East River Waterfront Pier at 38th Street

By Amy Zimmer | July 8, 2011 7:14pm | Updated on July 8, 2011 11:19pm

MANHATTAN — What should a new park atop an East River waterfront pier at a former Con Edison parking lot look like?

Civic leaders, architects and landscape architects will have a chance to share their visions for the future public space from East 38th to East 41st streets at a daylong design forum on July 26 organized by the Municipal Art Society in collaboration with Community Board 6 and local elected officials.

There's no money in the city budget to create the 34,000 square-foot park yet, but city officials did announce this week that Con Ed paid $13 million as part of a prior lease fulfillment agreement, which will help fund the rehabilitation of the pier's infrastructure.

Officials heralded that move as an important step in the eventual creation of a new park and in closing the gap in green space along the East River from East 38th to East 60th street.

"Rehabilitating the unused Con Ed pier will get us a step closer to turning prime, underused, waterfront real estate into a public amenity for the East Side and all New Yorkers," City Councilman Dan Garodnick said in a statement.

There has been momentum building in the community to turn this pier into a public space.

Located a few blocks away from the landing where the new East River ferry stops at East 34th Street, the former Con Ed pier is part of a larger plan to create waterfront access from East 38th to East 60th streets.

The city's Economic Development Corporation recently put out a call for bids for engineering and design services for this whole stretch, and the city's comprehensive waterfront plan, called Vision 2020, specifically identifies the pier as a potential park.

Albany recently passed legislation that would allow for the city to hand over Robert Moses Playground so the park's neighbor, the United Nations, could build a new tower there — but only if the city can hash out an agreement by Oct. 10 with a series of conditions.

One of those conditions required payment for rehabilitating the Pier 38. The legislation would also facilitate funding of a new esplanade from East 38th to East 60 streets along the river through the sale of two city-owned buildings near the UN.

"If we're going to succeed in making our waterfront accessible and enhancing open space on the East Side, we'll need cooperation and commitment from many agencies and many interested parties," state Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh said in a statement.

The design discussion at the Municipal Art Society event will take the funding constraints into account and will focus on how to create an interim open space, which could draw people to the spot and in turn help build the support for more significant funding needed to build a world-class park.

Raju Mann, director of planning at the Municipal Art Society, expects various community players with vested interests in the area will participate, including NYU medical center, Solow development firm, which has a big chunk of land it's developing nearby, and the United Nations.

"This is about what a new waterfront park could look like and should look like," Mann said. It's a way "to make sure the community is engaged in the design process."

The event will focus on the pier's potential for recreational space, how it can connect to the neighborhoods that surround it and what the community's needs are.

"It's an area that's starved for open space," Mann said. "It has one of the lowest open space ratios in any area of New York."

After the event, a team of design professionals will take the group's ideas, priorities and preliminary visions and create a report to submit to the city for a temporary public use of the pier.

"We think it's a great opportunity," Ellen Imbimbo, chair of Community Board 6's Waterfront Committee, said of the upcoming pier design event. "We'd love to have the community's ideas on what should happen there."

Despite the lack of funding, she said, "We still need to plan for the future."

The Municipal Art Society's East River waterfront pier design event will be on Tuesday, July 26, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at NYU Langone Medical Center, 550 First Ave. For inquiries, contact info@MAS.org.