By Joy Bergmann
Some Community Board 7 members and locals are reacting with dismay to the proposed design of a new dock house slated to rise two stories above the Hudson River at 78th Street, blocking sight lines and imposing an “industrial” aesthetic on one of the most popular stretches of Riverside Park.
“All the grace of East Berlin 1975”, “clumsy”, “parking booth for the Rotunda”, “overly harsh and modern” and “the single most disappointing piece of municipal architecture I have seen,” were among the reviews shared during CB7 Parks & Recreation Committee meetings in June and November.
The planned 6,000-square-foot facility is more than five times the size of the current dock house and a key part of the NYC Parks Department’s $90 million total reconstruction of the West 79th Street Boat Basin, a marina complex built in 1937. The City says the project will address deteriorated, unsafe infrastructure battered by age and storms like Hurricane Sandy; expand the number of boating berths while improving navigability; meet climate resiliency guidelines as river levels rise; and upgrade the dock house to comply with a “fully expanded program.”
But floor plans of the dock house interior indicate the City believes the program requires three showers, three toilets, laundry, men’s and women’s locker rooms, storage, a break room, a conference room, an office support room, an open office, a marina support space, a marina flex-space, and areas for utilities like electrical, mechanical and telecom. Additionally, near the windowed west side facing the river, will be a customer area and dedicated space for the Boat Basin’s dock master, a Parks role that is staffed 24/7.
These facilities comprise the dock house’s upper level which sits on a pier of 9-foot supporting columns, lifting it as purported protection from storm surges and rising waters due to climate change.
A boating source tells WSR that many of the interior’s amenities would likely boost the marina’s appeal to operators of transient vessels making stops in NYC. Parks has also said they want to increase educational opportunities and expand marine research partnerships in the area.
While all of that may explain the size jump over the existing 815 square foot dock house shack, some residents are still wondering why the design looks so unappealing.
Engineering requirements have necessarily taken precedence over aesthetics, said Stephen Frech, a senior project manager at infrastructure advisory firm Moffatt & Nichol, which is working with the City’s Economic Development Corporation [EDC], the City’s lead agency on the reconstruction on behalf of Parks, which has ultimate responsibility for the initiative.
“We’re developing this in a high-energy, floodable B zone,” said Frech. “One of the primary objectives of the project is to offer a resilient, long-term, durable, climate-adjusted solution.”
“I would love nothing more than to make this look lighter and more open,” added Vadit Suwatcharapinun, an architect from B. Thayer Associates, the project’s design firm. “But we have to balance what’s going on in terms of the program inside the building as well as complying with the energy code that gets more strict with every passing year.”
So, is the most recent dock house design a done deal? It appears to be nearing that status.
As the project team told CB7 back in 2019, the 1930s Robert-Moses-era site has already been altered too much to fall under the jurisdiction of the Landmarks Preservation Committee.
And at the November meeting, Frech confirmed that the City’s Public Design Commission [PDC] had accepted the revised design. “You’re basically ready to move with this. Is that correct?” asked Committee co-chair Barbara Adler. “That’s correct,” said Frech.
Not so fast, says Gail Dubov, president of the 83rd Street Block Association.
Dubov tells WSR she “flipped out” when she saw the proposed design, saying too many stakeholders have thus far “bowed to the bureaucracy,” allowing something akin to an “Amazon warehouse” to move toward construction on the taxpayer’s dime and become “a blight” on the Hudson River vista for decades to come.
“It’s horrendous,” says Dubov. “We have a chance to build something beautiful that enhances the marina, the park and our experience of the river.”
Dubov contacted Councilmember Helen Rosenthal’s office, procuring a November 30th meeting to express her concerns and hopefully inspire changes to the design. “It’s time to stop tiptoeing and time to start shouting,” she said.
“The proposed dock house looks like a World War II POW camp commandant’s headquarters,” says Ed Bacon, a stay-aboard resident of the Boat Basin for 51 years, before being forced to move this past fall due to Parks’ safety concerns with the marina. Bacon believes a single-story dock house would better fit with the park environment, and offered a novel, climate-change-ready approach. “To accommodate rising water levels, a floating barge could be used as a base. This should also eliminate some design constraints.”
Beyond appearances, the plan raises multiple logistical questions, says Bacon. Among them: the dock house’s placement further south of the Rotunda. “Any boater supplies and provisions will have to be carted about a block down the esplanade while dodging walkers, runners and bikers,” he said. “We all want the best marina to be developed and the flaws eliminated during the design process, not during the construction process when the changes will be costly.”
Officials have indicated the scope of the marina’s new docks and berths may be shrinking from their original 2019 plan, but the project budget remains the same: $89.2 million, with $60.9 million from the NYC Mayor’s budget and $28.3 million from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Around roughly the same 2023 construction time frame, the NYC Department of Transportation will be leading a $200 million renovation of the neighboring 79th Street Rotunda on behalf of the Parks Department; the price for that project has jumped $50 million since first announced in 2018.
WSR reached out to Riverside Park Conservancy for their take on the dock house. A spokesperson replied, “Riverside Park Conservancy has not been part of the design process and we are taking a detailed look at this proposal.”
At the conclusion of the November CB7 Parks Committee meeting, Julia Melzer, the project’s leader from EDC, said the team would return in the spring with an update on design. No one promised any drastic reworks.
The Committee co-chairs said they would update CB7’s January 2020 letter to Parks explaining its current position on the project. WSR requested a copy of that letter, but did not hear back from CB7.
The Parks Department offers a dedicated email for people seeking more information or to weigh in: firstname.lastname@example.org