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A state-of-the-art film and television studio could be on its way to Pier 94, courtesy of Vornado — but Hell’s Kitchen locals are demanding that the developer first fulfills its decade-long promises for the site.
Vornado Realty Trust— already a prolific name in Midtown West, where they currently lead the controversial Penn Station redevelopment — presented their vision for a 212,000-square foot film studio on W54th Street and 12th Avenue. The studio would rival the 200,000-square footage of famed Silvercup Studios in Astoria, incorporating 84,000-square feet of sound stages (including a 100-seat live studio similar to the nearby Daily Show NEP Studios), 56,000-square feet of production offices, and 72,000-square feet of production support spaces.
In addition to the studios, the developer outlined plans to connect Clinton Cove (home of Manhattan Community Boathouse and the recently restored “Bottle” installation) with a Hudson River esplanade including a new Citi Bike station, waterfront access, river viewing platform and public restrooms. The environmentally friendly project would also add 1,550 local construction jobs and 678 operations jobs once completed Vornado have committed to work with the Hudson River Park Trust on the public section of the project.
But while the concept of a new, glitzy Hollywood film studio lot could be a boon for the West Side, members of Manhattan Community Board 4 (MCB4) were skeptical of its successful implementation, given Vornado’s checkered history with the Hudson River piers.
Work on the site has been in progress since 2006, when the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the Bloomberg administration began the search for a developer. Vornado, which took on its 99-year lease in 2009, initially took over Pier 94 as well as the adjacent Pier 92 for the purposes of developing a Javits Center-style convention center. Perhaps in reference to the endless slog of city construction, a cheeky headline in Curbed proclaimed the venture “A Project That’s Actually Happening: Vornado Redoing Pier 94”.
After the piers were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, a routine EDC inspection in 2019 deemed Pier 92 unusable, forcing the Armory Art Show to cancel its planned use of the space. Vornado, who argued that maintenance of the pier fell to the EDC, stopped paying rent on the space in May 2020, though they stated on the MCB4 call that they had since resumed payments. In response to the decay, Vornado says they plan to raise the structure at Pier 94 by 8 feet, both to be in compliance with the city’s flood zones and to hold 100 parking spots.
MCB4 members expressed concerns that Vornado’s starry-eyed future plans for Pier 94 could distract from the real-time issues present at both spaces. MCB4 member Lowell Kern stressed that either the EDC or Vornado urgently needed to address the critical structural issues at adjacent Pier 92 before building out a multi-million dollar complex at Pier 94, “otherwise Pier 92 going to sit there and rot away and float away to New Jersey.”
In a letter to the EDC from MCB4, Chair Jeffrey LeFrancois wrote: “Vornado has disappointed the West Side community by not fulfilling its commitments regarding Piers 92 and 94 for years. Now, Vornado is seeking a third renewal of its permit. However, it only wants to renew its lease for Pier 94, abandoning the uninhabitable Pier 92 and dumping that problem back on the taxpaying residents of New York City.” Added MCB4 Vice Chair Leslie Boghosian Murphy, “We look forward to a new and improved Pier 94, complete with promised and long-awaited public amenities but we cannot let Vornado walk away from their obligations at Pier 92.” Vornado’s plans currently identify Pier 92 as a continued trade show and part-time cruise ship site, though additional project details were not provided in the proposal.
MCB4 alleges that in the decade that Piers 92 and 94 have been under Vornado’s stewardship, requests for public restrooms in Clinton Cove (in collaboration with the Hudson River Park Trust) and a revised vehicle traffic plan to prioritize pedestrian and cyclist safety have yet to be implemented, despite the fact the Hudson River Greenway is the busiest bike route in North America.
Wrote LeFrancois: “In connection with Vornado’s initial permit application in 2009, again in 2017 as part of Vornado’s first renewal application, MCB4 provided Vornado with a list of requirements the community had in order to support Vornado’s applications. Vornado never implemented any of those requests.” LeFrancois and the board noted that despite Vornado’s failure to implement the requested items, they were still granted a renewal permit in 2020.
“Yet again, Vornado failed to meet its obligations to MCB4 and the community,” wrote LeFrancois. “The Board concedes that this was partially because the pilings supporting Pier 92 were found to have eroded, making use of that pier unsafe. But this condition has existed for some time and Vornado has only proposed its latest plan, for a TV and film studio at Pier 94, on the eve of the expiration of the permit.”
The board said they would consider supporting the renewal of Vornado’s permit and approving the project should the developers address the aforementioned asks as well as implement additional community spaces and transportation options.
Said Boghosian Murphy, “The privilege of leasing this prime piece of NYC waterfront real estate comes with the responsibility of properly maintaining it. It is our position that Vornado assumes the structural upkeep of the Pier as other operators along the river do. Far too often, we see the city undervalue itself in negotiations with private developers. We hope the EDC understands the worth of this beautiful piece of Hell’s Kitchen and makes it a win-win for all involved.”
The story of these piers has had many twists and turns. Back in 1964, Pier 94 was dedicated by the City as a new Cunard Line terminal with a special ceremony on the Queen Mary. In 2001, the piers served as a Family Assistance Center for New Yorkers to gather and wait for information about their missing loved ones after 9/11. Said LeFrancois of the next chapter of this epic: “To be continued…”
W42ST reached out to Vornado Realty Trust for comment. We have yet to receive a response.