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Ruth Messinger releases draft waterfront plan.

Esplanades, boardwalks, hydrofoils and parks are some of the visions dancing through Manhattan Borough President Ruth W. Messinger's draft plan for the granite island's 32-mile waterfront.

Some real estate executives, however, saw her plan as a way to "needle" them about unfinished projects.

Although vast sections of the shoreline are inaccessible and uninviting, Messinger describes the waterfront as "Manhattan's greatest untapped physical resource."

The plan, devised over an 18-month period by numerous community groups and interested people, proposes a series of steps to make the shoreline more attractive as well as accessible to the public. While many "opportunity" areas require simple steps such as pointing stripes, moving fences or renegotiating parking leases to provide continuity and access, Messinger has targeted other areas for extensive development.

Some places, such as the Harlem Beach Esplanade, have already been discussed in existing plans. This esplanade runs along the Harlem River from 125th to 145th Streets and received a great deal of input both from Messinger's Task Force and the local community groups. "The community has done nothing but make it better," said Andrew Breslau, a spokesperson for Messinger.

At Waterside Plaza on East 25th Street, the report asserts public access is blocked by an appearance of privatization which is caused to some part because of poor signage and access routes. Additionally when large yachts are tied up at the marina at the adjacent Water club, Messinger observed, access is denied to the public and she would like to see better signage and access. "This is everybody's waterfront and any attempt to privatize it is not good," Breslau noted.

At East 60th Street, it is proposed that a former garbage transfer station be turned into a $2 million open-air pavilion for sunbathing and tram watching by removing the sides and roof of the steel girder building. Julien J. Studley, Inc. is currently developing a restaurant for the lower level. Ellen Baker, a Studley vice president, said the idea of saving the structure of the building and putting the restaurant underneath "seems to have a lot of promise." But with only one access ramp, a traffic pattern has to be developed for cars and people.

On the other side of Manhattan, Messinger's Hudson River plan tracks the West Side Waterfront Task Force report from last year, said Messinger's Director of Land Use Planning Marla Simpson. "We continue to believe that plan was a good one but some aspects need to be rethought with a look within the financing constraints and integrating affordable housing," she said. "We have a long public comment period to give everyone a chance to fill in the gaps."

The Hudson River Center, a hotel and conference center opposite the Javits Center, which is to be developed by Julien J. Studley, is in a holding pattern until the city's tow pound can be relocated, said Baker. The issue is compounded by environmental concerns, she explained. "The city has done a relocation study and found several sites but some are other waterfront sites," Baker said. "We have been working on which ones make sense, and getting the facility properly planned." While Studley's only interest is to build the convention space and the hotel, Baker said, "we have to help because we can't move ahead on our plan until their problem is solved."

Messinger, at a press conference announcing the proposals said, "The hiatus in real estate development produced by the recession also has a silver lining; with acrimonious battles over private waterfront development moot, we can seize the opportunity to plan in a calmer, less heated manner."

Some developers were not treated as kindly by Messinger, who recommends that the city terminate Related Housing as the developer of the Riverwalk development, which stretches from East 16th to 24th Streets. Related withdrew its application in 1990 but continues to retain rights to the site.

Jesse Masyr, a partner in the law firm Stadtmauer Bailkin Levine & Masyr, which represents Riverwalk, was surprised by Messinger's proposal to terminate. "There is presently to our knowledge no basis upon which the city can terminate," he said. As to charges that the Economic Development Corporation has not communicated in a year, Masyr said, "I spoke to the president of EDC, Carl Weisbrod, within the last month. When Dinkins came in, we withdrew the application with the understanding we would devise a project more in their liking. At that time, the city gave Related technical requirements which needed to be defined. "It's now a year and we have not had an answer," Masyr added.

Messinger notes the waterfront park being developed by the Glick Organization, between East 36th and 38th Streets, is consistent with the planning goals of the East River Esplanade Study and is almost finished. The report goes on to say, however, "the Glick Organization...has either been unable or unwilling to complete the necessary work."

Glick was out of the country and unavailable for comment. Speaking for the Glick Organization, Howard Rubenstein, said the builder has "always honored his obligations and has a fine reputation as a developer."

The plan also encourages development of water-related commercial uses, such as the use of a West Side pier as an ice skating rink that has already been proposed by Sky Rink. Messinger recommended using commuter ferrys on off hours and on weekends to link tourist attractions like the New York Aquarium to Midtown and suggested the use of hydrofoils for high speed travel to Atlantic City, airports and other sites.
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Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Feb 26, 1992
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