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Pols Looking to Businesses to Redevelop Ailing East River Esplanade

 Local politicans are spearheading an effort to improve six sites between 60th and 117th Sts.
Public-Private Partnerships Proposed for Ailing East River Esplanade
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UPPER EAST SIDE — A group of politicians wants to revitalize several of the deteriorating piers and sites along the East River Esplanade by allowing private businesses such as restaurants to set up on the water.

City Councilman Ben Kallos, state Sen. Jose Serrano and state Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez are asking the city to pursue public-private partnerships to improve six sites between East 60th and 117th streets, including two piers and a defunct heliport. Kallos, who is spearheading the effort, said improvements to the esplanade are long overdue since "it is in terrible shape.”

“There are sinkholes and potholes and places where it’s falling into the river," the freshman councilman said. "In some areas, you have to run over a footbridge because the esplanade below has given way.”

Kallos said there is a lot of precedent for using this kind of relationship to improve the city’s public spaces.

“Over on the West Side, they’ve used public-private partnerships to do something amazing,” he said. “There’s the pier near 72nd Street, the café at 79th StreetBike and Roll. All of that investment in the park has increased usage dramatically.”

According to a 2013 study by the Parks Department, which oversees the esplanade, the wooden pilings that underlie the structure from East 60th to 125th streets need to be replaced by concrete supports. The agency estimated the project would cost about $115 million over the next 10 years, with an additional $11 million needed to fix the dilapidated pier at 107th Street.

In its budget recommendations for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins in July, the City Council advocated for fully funding the repairs.

However, even if the funds make it into the final budget, it will take additional investments to transform the esplanade into the sort of destination that’s on par with Manhattan’s other major green spaces. 

Kallos is hoping that businesses may be interested in developing entertainment and recreational spaces along the East River, especially because the Upper East Side is severely lacking in public green space, according to a 2013 study by New Yorkers for Parks.

“At 107th Street, there’s a pier that needs $11 million to be fixed. Maybe someone wants to put a restaurant or café there or do something novel like a boat launch,” Kallos said, noting the private investment could help defray costs. 

In a recent letter to the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which was also signed by Serrano and Rodriguez, Kallos asked the EDC to put out a Request for Information to solicit ideas and gauge interest in partnerships for six sites. They included the defunct heliport at East 60th Street, a Con Ed site at East 74th Street and a Department of Transportation ferry terminal at East 90th Street. In addition, there are three sites in Harlem, including the 107th Street pier and two sites overseen by the Department of Small Business Services at East 111th and 117th streets.

According to the letter, the goal is to “increase foot traffic, community use and revenue generation from licensing and concessions along the East River Esplanade.”

Spokesmen for both the EDC and the Parks Department declined to comment on the proposal.