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The guys from SNL bought a ferry (did you hear?)! It’s a huge ferry…

The Hudson River Park Trust (HRPK) is renovating a pier. It’s a huge pier…

The new pier is being reconstructed with a space for a historic ship.

Is it a match?

Kevin Quinn from HRPK shows the designs for Pier 97 to Erik Bottcher as Tina Walsh from HRPK and site project manager Angela Rojas look on. Photo: Phil O’Brien.

This week we made a site visit to Pier 97, one of the final pieces of the Hudson River Park to be converted from desolate dockland to community amenity. We toured with Kevin Quinn, the Senior Vice President of Design and Construction at HRPK, and local council member Erik Bottcher.

“We need to make sure that Hudson River Park is fully built out from the south to the north. The southern part was finished a long time ago down in The Village, but many of the other parts further north are not finished. We need to really do everything we can to make sure that gets finished,” said Bottcher as he looked over plans at the site.

Out on Pier 97, we asked Quinn the inevitable question about Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost and Pete Davidson needing a place to dock their ferry — the John F Kennedy. “I knew someone was going to ask me that,” laughed Quinn. “The problem with this area is that there’s a lot of sediment. There is only five feet of water at low tide. So finding a ship with that draft — and that’s also historic and interesting — it’s tricky.”

So, what’s a draft (and it’s nothing to do with craft beer)? The draft is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the ship. Here’s a graphic…

West Side Draft Story — comparison of local ships. Graphic: Lee Caple/W42ST

Yep, it’s kinda unbelievable but the draft of the Frying Pan — the small, red lightship that’s a bar and restaurant at Pier 66 — is 2 inches larger than that of the Staten Island Ferry! And… Pier 97 used to accommodate ships with a 45-feet draft. To prove it, here’s a pic from the 1950s of the AS Kungsholm.

AS Kungsholm at Pier 97 in 1953. Photographer Unknown.

Just a few blocks away is Intrepid Museum which is moored with a draft of 34 feet 2 inches. However, locals will long memories will remember back in 2006 when 6 tug boats tried to pull USS Intrepid away from Pier 86 at high tide. The New York Times reported on how the move ended in “failure (and mud)” as New York senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton along with Mayors David Dinkins and Edward Koch watched. After pulling at full throttle, the tug operators gave up. “I can’t think of anything else, except maybe dynamite,” one of the tug boat skippers said.

The new Mayor Eric Adams has offered his help to find the SNL guys a home for their ferry. “I love this idea. What a great way to give an NYC icon a second life. Let us know how we can help,” he said on Twitter.

It also could solve a problem that’s been incorporated into the design of Pier 97 via the Dutch architects, !melk. The pier is being built up on one side (the Dutch term for this is a “Belvedere”) to create height for an adult slide. However, the key reason is that “it covers one of our less scenic views to the north — the Sanitation Plant,” shared the HRPK team.

There is no doubt that, at 297 feet long, the Staten Island Ferry would be big enough to obliterate the view of the sanitation plant . But is it really a good location for the SNL ferry?

We asked Tom Fox, who played a lead role in the creation of the Hudson River Park. He doesn’t think the Park’s public piers are appropriate for the John F Kennedy, primarily due to its deep draft which would require extensive dredging, and its rumored use as a commercial comedy club.

Pier 88 being dredged in August 2021 before the return of cruise ships to Manhattan. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“The purpose of having limited locations for historic vessels in the HRPK is to tell the maritime history of the West Side waterfront through tours, public education programs and sails. That’s why the designated sites are located on public piers. Pier 97 is one of the few public piers in Hell’s Kitchen and a large portion of that waterfront is occupied by the Passenger Ship Terminals — from Piers 88 to 94 — which are not in the Hudson River Park and closed to public use. Those piers are commercial maritime piers and receive maintenance dredging for navigation. So, if it were to go anywhere on the west side it might be there. However, a Staten Island location like Pier 1 would seem to make more sense.” Fox said.

Whatever happens with the comedy ferry, the construction is well underway on Pier 97. Quinn is working with the construction team to deliver the pier to the neighborhood by the fall of this year. “It’s going to be really great. There are a lot of amenities packed into a little space — a lot of variety. We scored a world-class architect. I was most impressed with is how many different types of uses we’ve been able to fit on this pier. There’s a large playground, synthetic turf along with the adult slide,” said Quinn. “We hired actual shipbuilders to make the metal faceted shade structures. They’re already fabricated in the Netherlands and just waiting to be shipped over here.”

Workers are hoping to get Pier 97 ready for the public by fall 2022. Photo: Phil O’Brien

So what are the chances of the SNL Ferry heading to the west side? Erik Bottcher’s initial reaction on site was an enthusiastic “cool!” and when asked for an official statement he told us: “I love the idea of a floating arts center on the shores of Hell’s Kitchen. What better place than New York City’s epicenter of arts and culture? I’m going to work on this!”

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4 Comments

  1. It’s amazing how you have the money for a pier for some damn ferry. Pier 84 dog park been waiting 5 years to be fixed. $105,000 dollars was given to our dog park. Where is it and when the hell are you all going to fix it. I broke my arm and fractured my hip. People are being injured, our dogs are being injured. It’s outrageous and ludicrous. Amazing how you keep fixing Chelsea piers. Fix our damn dog park already.

  2. It is crucial that the City and State actually COMPLETE the entire Hudson River Park. Too many grand projects end without full build out which comproG

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