Queer youth advocacy group signs on to Houston Street pier plan

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A grassroots advocacy group for queer youth has added its voice to a swelling chorus of support for the community-based Pier 40 Partnership proposal for the redevelopment of the Hudson River pier located at Houston Street.

FIERCE!, the Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment, has signed on to the plan already supported by local politicians, Community Board 2, the Pier 40 Working Group, the Greenwich Village Little League, and the Downtown United Soccer Club.

When 1,000 soccer moms and dads, their kids, and waterfront park advocates rallied several weeks ago against the megadevelopment plan for Pier 40 put forward by Related Companies, a FIERCE! contingent stood on the pier's Astroturf among them.

The Pier 40 Partnership has indicated it backs the idea of a 24-hour center on the pier for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered youth who hang out in the Hudson River Park, which has a 1 a.m. curfew. Pier 40 is just a few blocks south of Pier 45, the Christopher Street Pier that for years has been a gay youth stomping ground.

Saying it had received some encouraging signs from the Hudson River Park Trust, FIERCE! is already working with the Urban Justice League on designs for a 15,000-square-foot space on Pier 40. The center would offer gay youth a variety of services, including job placement and, for those who are homeless, housing referrals.

FIERCE! members emphasized that, beyond the prospect of creating a round-the-clock, drop-in center, they were also motivated by their opposition to the massive development proposed in Related's $618 million scheme – including a Cirque du Soleil theater and a 12-screen movieplex.

“This isn't just about Pier 40. It's about the whole West Village community, including LGBT youth,” said Glo Ross, lead organizer for FIERCE! “We're all going to feel the impact of development that puts profit before people – queer or straight. We were able to collect over 1,300 petition signatures from residents and business owners in the West Village, as well as from LGBT youth and allies, who agree that Pier 40 should be developed with the needs of LGBT youth and the community as the priority.”

“The biggest reason my friends and I go to the West Village, along with other queer youth, is because we feel comfortable and safe there,” said John Blasco, 18, a FIERCE! member from the Lower East Side. “The West Village is like a second home to me. I care about what happens to my community and Pier 40 because I know whatever happens on Pier 40 will affect us all.”

FIERCE! called the Partnership's nonprofit conservancy plan “a beacon of hope.”

The Trust has put off its vote on which development scheme to go with at Pier 40 until the end of March.

As for how a drop-in center could be allowed to operate past the park's curfew, FIERCE! members noted the park's major commercial venue, Chelsea Piers, is open past 1 a.m.

Erica Schietinger, a Chelsea Piers spokeswoman, said that while parts of Chelsea Piers are sometimes open past the park's curfew, it is not a 24-hour operation.

“We do not have a 1 a.m. curfew within our lease,” Schietinger said. “Our public access is technically sunrise to sunset, although weather permitting, we leave the perimeter open later than sundown for the public to enjoy. We are largely closed by 1 a.m., though.”

The politically savvy LGBT youth regularly attend CB 2's Waterfront Committee meetings, read all the local media and blogs, and believe their lobbying efforts are slowly starting to pay off. Notably, last month, the Trust issued a request for proposals, or RFP, for a seasonal, food-vending cart on Pier 45 at Christopher Street to operate later into the evening – from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. – than what has been available. FIERCE! advocated for this extended-hours vending. The contract would run from April 1 to Oct. 31. RFP responses are due March 6.

The progress is “bit by bit,” said Rickke Mananzala. He said the group would also like to see one or more of the new, self-cleaning “robo toilets” on Pier 45, as opposed to the less-than-satisfactory portable toilets available in the late evening. A big issue for the group is getting the park's bathrooms kept open later, but the Trust says there have been problems with criminal activity in them and will continue to close them in the early evening.

In addition, FIERCE! has filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the Bloomberg administration to obtain a copy of the report compiled a few years ago by the Door, a SoHo drop-in center serving youth, on why queer youth go to the Greenwich Village riverfront. For unknown reasons, the city has refused to release the report.

Dave Poster, president of the Christopher Street Patrol, a volunteer anticrime watch working with the Guardian Angels, was skeptical of the latest proposals.

Regarding a 24-hour, drop-in center, Poster said he was concerned it would in fact close at 1 a.m., like the rest of the park, meaning gay youth would flood into the neighborhood after the park curfew, as they do now when they leave Christopher Street. That late-night influx of youth has long been a festering concern among some West Village residents. Poster said he doesn't support allowing food vendors on the Christopher Street Pier at later hours, since that would simply add to the allure of the scene.

As for whether the Trust would support an LGBT center at Pier 40 and its staying open all night long, Christopher Martin, a spokesman for the group operating the park, said, “Whether the drop-in center would be part of any one of the development plans will be up to the individual developer or developers. The hours for amenities that the selected developers have indicated they would provide would be subject to their lease once there is in fact someone designated to develop and operate the pier.”

Leading Pier 40 Partnership members Rich Caccappollo and Chris McGinnis did not respond to requests for comment by press time for this article. However, at last month's Pier 40 rally, McGinnis, speaking on behalf of the Partnership, specifically told the crowd that among the various community-oriented amenities the group's planwould be able to include was “a 24-hour drop-in center for LGBT youth.”

Arthur Schwartz, chairman of the Pier 40 Working Group, said the LGBT center was, in fact, one of the Working Group's recommendations. He said he suspects that the Partnership members, all parents with children in local schools, were away on midwinter school vacation, and thus hard to contact right now regarding their views on thegay center.

“They don't have cold feet about it at all,” Schwartz said. “When they designed their plan, they utilized the recommendations of the Working Group – and one of the recommendations of the Working Group was that there be that kind of public space that will be available for nonprofit use. In the Partnership's plan it's a pretty decent-sized space… The Partnership's support for it is very sincere.”


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