Facility Profile - October 2006
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Paved Paradise

Pier 40 Courtyard Fields
New York City

By Daniela Bloch

As the tune goes, it's usually a paradise that's paved to make way for a parking lot. Fortunately, in the case of Pier 40 in Manhattan, the process has been reversed.

Once a 14.5-acre shipping terminal and currently part parking garage, Pier 40 now serves as Hudson River Park's Courtyard Fields. Home to soccer, baseball, rugby and football fields galore, the field areas include 3.5 acres on the ground floor and 1.4 acres on the third-floor roof. The ground floor provides softball, Little League or baseball fields that can convert into either a full-size football field or two soccer fields. It also includes bleachers, spectator viewing areas, restrooms and wind protection, a treat for all those suffering through the winter chills.

The third-floor roof offers a soccer field and 26,000 square feet for passive recreation or viewing, not to mention a view of Manhattan to the east and New Jersey to the west.

"It provides great amenity to the community and the children, the people using the fields," says Chris Martin, vice president of marketing and public affairs for the Hudson River Park Trust.

The recreational facilities cater to various sports needs and thus appeal to a broad group of enthusiasts. Local high schools and youth and adult leagues now take advantage of Pier 40, which had been one of New York City's last attempts at maintaining commercial shipping in Manhattan. Built in 1954, the pier accommodated the Holland America Line, a company once focused on trans-Atlantic passenger trade and commercial freight shipping but converted to a cruise travel organization in the 1970s. After the Holland America Cruise Ship Line moved its headquarters to Seattle in 1983, Pier 40 served as a warehouse, bus depot and Federal Express distribution center, among other employments.

The tide changed in 1998 when the Hudson River Park Act allotted 550 acres for the creation of public recreational facilities from Battery Place to 59th Street. The Hudson River Park Trust, a public benefit corporation organized by the Act, and Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects collaborated on the project for Pier 40. It is just one of numerous transformations in the Hudson River area.

"The Hudson River Park was a community-based movement, a park land movement," Martin says. "Pier 40 had fallen into disrepair, and there was demand for its renovation."

In May 2005, the Pier 40 sports field came to fruition.

But the transition from concrete to retreat was about as simple as a hat trick.

"Retrofitting a pier had to be taken into account in the design," Martin says.

Since the pier's parking facilities are a major source of revenue, the Trust struggled with maximizing recreational space while still maintaining enough parking for financial security. After analyzing and calculating dimensions for the pier, the Trust settled on the 3.5 acres of ground floor recreation space to balance profit and leisure.

Then came other considerations. To accommodate new vehicular entries while not interfering with the recreational fields, the ground floor needed modification. Additional corridors were built as new emergency exits for the sports fields. Likewise, stairs and ramps were added to the courtyard, which was originally the cargo service area for passenger ships and surrounded by 42-inch-high loading docks on three sides.

"Dealing with infrastructure was a challenge," Martin says. "But we got it built."

New York's fair-weather friend climate also challenged designers. To enable play in rain or shine, the Pier 40 project adopted FieldTurf, a multisport synthetic turf approved for professional play by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). More durable and low-maintenance than real grass, FieldTurf allows for increased use of the facilities at a lower cost.

"If we had grass we'd have to close the fields every two weeks for treatment," Martin says. "With the turf we don't have to do that."

Plans for the pier are not final, but sports field users need not worry about the future of the fields.

"With the Hudson River Park Act," Martin says, "Pier 40 became an interim development. There might be other future plans for the pier, but the developer will keep the sports fields and add on to what is already there."

At the heart of the Hudson River Park, Pier 40 offers New Yorkers a chance to play outside during all weather conditions, for all field-requiring sports and at all ages. And people seem pleased.

"There's been such a great response to the field," says Martin.

Free to users, Pier 40 is a real bargain, too.

Yet providing public athletic facilities available at little or no cost to its users came at a price, and various contributors split the $5.3 million bill. While the government, community and private grants provided creative funding, Nike Inc. and the US Soccer Foundation contributed a $100,000 grant, and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation shelled out $1.7 million for the project.


Pier 40:

Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects:

FieldTurf Tarkett: