MURRAY HILL — A decaying pier that stretches along the East River betwen 38th and 41st streets could soon be transformed to house a meandering bike path, community gardens, an urban farm, play areas and art.
The proposal was one the ideas that emerged from a day-long brainstorming session hosted by the Municipal Art Society.
The conference, at NYU Langone Medical Center Tuesday, brought together members of Community Board 6, residents, architects and elected officials to discuss hopes for the 34,000-square-foot pier, previously operated by Con Edison.
Other ideas included adding a plant buffer to diminish some of the noise from the FDR, an amphitheater for public performances, a dog run, water access, an urban beach and an additional pedestrian access point that would cross the FDR from the north.
Currently, the pier is only accessible from the south, at East 38th Street.
“What you’re doing today is exactly the kind of real-life urban planning that translates into a better environment for our future,” said State Senator Liz Krueger in remarks at the beginning of the event. “We have an opportunity to put together very complex pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.”
The situation is indeed complex, and it is just a small part of a longstanding plan to close the gap in the East River waterfront by extending the greenway from East 38th Street to East 60th Street.
The main problem is funding. Con Edison paid the city $13 million to fulfill its lease agreement for the pier. That money is needed to fix the pier’s infrastructure.
“It’s in terrible condition,” said Joshua R. Laird, assistant commissioner for planning and parklands for the New York City Parks Department.
“We have a significant amount of money,” he added, referencing the $13 million from Con Edison. “But all of that will be needed just to essentially rebuild the pier.”
City Council Member Daniel Garodnick said that $1 million of the city’s budget has been secured “to jumpstart creation of amenities in what will be our pier.”
But that’s not a lot of money, as far as building waterfront is concerned.
Laird, of the Parks Department, provided examples of the costs of other waterfront parks in New York. For example, the Riverside Park “Riverwalk,” which closed an eight-block gap in the West Side greenway from 83rd Street to 91st Street, cost about $430 per square foot, Laird said.
The Riverwalk occupies about 33,000 square feet, which brings the total cost of that strip of greenway to more than $14 million.
There’s also the potential for more funds, should the city and the United Nations come to terms on a land swap. But that too is controversial.
Despite the heated topics involved, the groups participating in the event found common ground at many points throughout the day.
Most agreed that adding an access point at East 41st Street was vital. Many suggested creating a conservancy or similar organization to help keep the pier clean and viable once it’s finished. Conference participants also wanted an identity for the park, a name and a brand.
Near the end of the event, a man identifying himself as real estate mogul Sheldon Solow made a brief appearance. Solow, whose firm is developing a big chunk of land nearby, stood up and announced that he intends to transform one block in the area into a park
Solow said he would formally present his plans in a few days but did not offer further comment.
The Municipal Art Society plans to take all the ideas presented at the conference on Tuesday and incorporate them into one vision for the East Side waterfront park, said Raju Mann, the director of planning for the society.
Mann said the society will present that vision to the city in the hopes that resident input will be incorporated into the final design.
“All these kinds of things in New York City take forever to build,” Mann said. “So you need a combination of perseverance and persistence to get this kind of stuff done.”
In addition, the city has commissioned a feasibility study to be conducted for the entire swath of proposed greenway from East 38th Street to East 60th Street. The consultant running that study, AECOM, was also at the conference on Tuesday.
“So they’re listening, which is great,” Mann said.
For the participants, several said they enjoyed the brainstorming session. Joy Garland, a Stuyvesant Town resident and a member of Community Board 6, called it a “privilege.”
“That’s the first word that comes to mind,” Garland said.
Garland said she particularly enjoyed being included in the early stages of the planning process and interacting with individuals representing different aspects of that process.
“It was a very holistic approach to planning,” Garland said.
In addition to the conference, State Senator Liz Krueger, City Council Member Daniel Garodnick and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh have launched a new website to keep the community informed about the waterfront project.
The officials will also give residents an opportunity to provide their input on waterfront development plans at three public forums in August and September. The first forum is scheduled for August 4.
“This is the beginning of the conversation,” Garodnick said.
East Side residents have long envied the West Side waterfront for its Fairway grocery store and for its greenway, Garodnick joked.
The East Side now has a Fairway. And its greenway is in the works.