Lights! Camera! Stock! Pier 94 could make the movies – if developer Vornado keeps its promises

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A state-of-the-art film and TV studio could be on its way to Pier 94, thanks to Vornado – but the residents of Hell’s Kitchen are demanding that the developer fulfill its ten-year promises for the site first.

Renderings of Pier 94 public spaces around the new television and film studios. Image: Vornado Estate Trust

Vornado Realty Trust – already a prolific name in Midtown West, where they are currently spearheading the controversial Penn Station redevelopment – ​​presented their vision for a 212,000 square foot movie studio at W54th Street and 12th Avenue. The studio would rival the 200,000 square meters of the famous Silvercup studios in Astoria, incorporating 84,000 square feet of sound stage (including a 100-seat live studio similar to neighboring Daily show NEP Studios), 56,000 square feet of production office space and 72,000 square feet of production support space.

In addition to the studios, the developer has presented plans to connect Clinton Cove (home of Manhattan Community Boathouse and the recently restored “Bottle” facility) with a Hudson River plaza featuring 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 when complete. Vornado has committed to working with the Hudson River Park Trust on the public section of the project.

But while the concept of a glitzy new Hollywood movie studio could be a boon for the West Side, members of Manhattan Community Board 4 (MCB4) were skeptical of its successful implementation, given the checkered history from Vornado with the Hudson River Piers.

Plans for new television and film studios at Pier 94 incorporating Clinton Cove. Image: Vornado Estate Trust

Work on the site has been ongoing since 2006, when New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the Bloomberg administration started the search for a developer. Vornado, which took its 99-year lease in 2009, initially took over Pier 94 along with the adjacent Pier 92 with the aim of developing a Javits Center-style convention center. Perhaps in reference to the unending work of city ​​buildinga cheeky headline in Curbed proclaimed the company “A project that actually happens: Vornado redoing Pier 94”.

After the piers were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, a routine EDC inspection in 2019 found Pier 92 unusable, forcing the Armory Art Show to cancel its planned use of the space. Vornado, who argued that maintenance of the pier was the responsibility of EDC, stopped paying rent for the space in May 2020, although they said on the MCB4 call that they have since resumed payments. In response to the degradation, Vornado says they plan to raise Pier 94’s structure by 8 feet, both to be in compliance with the city’s flood zones and to accommodate 100 parking spaces.

The view of Pier 94 this week from Clinton Cove. Photo: Phil O’Brien

MCB4 members expressed concerns that Vornado’s star-studded future plans for Pier 94 could distract from the real-time issues present in both spaces. MCB4 member Lowell Kern pointed out that either EDC or Vornado must urgently resolve critical structural issues at adjacent Pier 92 before building a multimillion-dollar complex at Pier 94, “otherwise Pier 92 will sit there and rot and float away in New Jersey.

In a letter to EDC from MCB4, President Jeffrey LeFrancois wrote, “Vornado has disappointed the West Side community by failing to meet its commitments on Piers 92 and 94 for years. Now Vornado is applying for a third license renewal. However, he only wants to renew his lease for Pier 94, abandoning the uninhabitable Pier 92 and blaming this problem on New York’s tax-paying residents. MCB4 Vice President Leslie Boghosian Murphy added: “We look forward to a new and improved Pier 94, with long-promised and long-awaited public amenities, but we cannot allow Vornado to shirk its obligations at the Pier. 92.” Vornado’s plans currently identify Pier 92 as an ongoing trade show and part-time cruise site, although additional project details were not provided in the proposal.

MCB4 alleges that during the decade that Piers 92 and 94 were under Vornado’s management, demands for public restrooms at Clinton Cove (in conjunction with the Hudson River Park Trust) and a revised vehicle traffic plan for prioritizing pedestrian and cyclist safety have yet to be implemented, despite the fact that the Hudson River Greenway is the busiest bike path in North America.

Wrote LeFrancois: “As part of Vornado’s initial license 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 to support Vornado’s demands. Vornado never implemented any of these 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.

Pier 94 has hosted numerous events, including a New York Fashion Week show in September 2014. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“Once again, Vornado has failed to meet its obligations to MCB4 and the community,” LeFrançois wrote. “The Board accepts that this was partly because the piles supporting Pier 92 eroded, making use of that wharf unsafe. But that condition has existed for some time and Vornado has only offered its latest plan, for a television and film studio at Pier 94, until the day before the license expired.

The council said it would consider supporting Vornado’s permit renewal and approving the project if the developers meet the above requests and implement additional community spaces and transportation options.

According to Boghosian Murphy, “With the privilege of renting this prime New York waterfront real estate comes the responsibility to maintain it properly. Our position is that Vornado assumes the structural maintenance of the jetty as do other operators along the river. Too often, we see the city depreciate in negotiations with private developers. We hope EDC understands the value of this beautiful Hell’s Kitchen piece and makes it a win-win for everyone involved.

Pier 94 could become a TV and movie studio with public amenities if Vornado’s plans come to fruition. Photo: Phil O’Brien

The history of these quays has had many twists and turns. In 1964 Pier 94 was dedicated by the City as the new terminal for the Cunard Line with a special ceremony on the Queen Mary. In 2001, the piers served as a family assistance center for New Yorkers to gather and await information about loved ones who disappeared after 9/11. Says LeFrançois of the next chapter of this epic: “To be continued…”

W42ST has contacted Vornado Realty Trust for comment. We have not yet received a response.


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