Save Our South Walkway





Village Community Boathouse advocates the ‘grandfathering’ of community boathouses into the plans for Pier 40, regardless of what developer or preservation scheme is ultimately adopted. For further information, contact Deborah Clearman.



From screen shot1

The sale of air rights from Pier 40 to developers of the St. John’s Center, across West Street from the pier, is now in its ULURP process, the public review of the affect of the land use on the city. This is an ideal time to press for acknowledgement of Pier 40’s value to the public.

The developers of the St. John’s Center are receiving tremendous value in the transfer of air rights and the rezoning to allow for residential use of the site. The public needs to be fairly compensated. Hudson River Park Trust needs to get more than $100 million for these air rights. HRPT needs the wherewithal to maintain Pier 40 as an asset to the community.

Pier 40 provides tremendous value to the community. It’s best-known value lies in the athletic fields, whose proponents come out in force against any proposal which threatens them. Affordable parking is another asset, less touted. Even at parking rates significantly lower than area facilities, Pier 40 currently generates 40% of Hudson River Park’s annual operating budget, with 3500 spaces, only 1800 of which are currently usable. With repairs to its roof and interior structures, it could generate more.

Finally, Pier 40 provides the public with its best access to enjoying and learning about the river. I quote two of the five major goals of the Hudson River Park Trust from its website:
Improve the park’s Estuarine Sanctuary through public education, research and habitat enhancement.
Provide free or low-cost recreational opportunities for New York City residents.
Organizations like the River Project, a marine science field station that provides research and hands-on environmental education, and Village Community boathouse must be guaranteed a long-term place on Pier 40.

With investment in its existing structure, Pier 40 would be able to provide 100% of the park’s operating budget in its current configuration, as it did historically. The St. John’s project should fund renovations to Pier 40’s superstructure as well as its pilings.

The vast scale of the St. John’s project warrants putting guarantees in place to keep Pier 40 serving the public, providing public access to the water.



December 14, 2015: Letter to the Editor, New York Times
A Potential Win-Win for the West Side

To the Editor:

In the discussion of the future of Pier 40, the editorial overlooked one of Hudson River Park’s most public-spirited constituencies– the community boathouses that offer free public paddling and rowing and a literal connection to the waterways that actually make up most of the park. Ours, the Village Community Boathouse, occupies a spot on the south side of Pier 40, where we build and row traditional wooden rowing craft and put thousands of students, residents and international visitors on the water every year. In addition, we run rowing and boatbuilding programs for local high schools and colleges.

Sheltered from wind and currents, the pier’s south-side embayment is uniquely suited for running beginner and youth boating programs. Whatever deal is struck for Pier 40, we urge the park administration, elected officials, and the community to work together to preserve free community boating on what we believe is the best-protected, most usable piece of water in the park.

Sally Curtis
President, Village Community Boathouse

​Sally Curtis
1410 Beverley Rd
Brooklyn, NY 11226



November 2, 2012: Letter to the Editor, Lincoln Anderson, The Villager

Don’t rock the boat(houses)

To The Editor:
Re “Leagues toss a change-up on Pier 40 buildings idea” (news article, Oct. 18):

In all the handwringing about the future of Pier 40, one of the park’s biggest and most public-spirited constituencies is getting overlooked, and that is the two community boathouses on Pier 40 that offer free public access to the waterways that actually make up most of Hudson River Park. Together, those two boathouses put more than 15,000 people on the water this season.

As anyone who has walked down that short stretch of walkway on the south side of the pier knows, we have created the literal “connection to the water” that the park’s creators, designers and managers have always claimed they want to provide.

We too would like to see the Hudson River Park Trust and our elected officials work together to address the needs of the community for ballfields and green space.

However, we would most like to see them acknowledge (preferably on paper) their commitment to supporting the future of community boathouses and public access to the water at Pier 40.

Sally Curtis, Rob Buchanan, Phil Yee, Dave Clayton, Ruth Lindner, Divid Shehigian, Frank Cervi

The above signers are board of directors members, Village Community Boathouse


June, 2012 Letter to Lincoln Anderson, Editor, The Villager

To The Editor:

The Village Community Boathouse occupies a space on the south side of Pier 40, where we have been in one form or another for more than 15 years. We build and row traditional wooden rowboats, which we use to fulfill our mission of providing free public access to the New York Harbor estuary.

Last year we took more than 1,500 people out on voyages in the harbor, including local high school and college students. The Downtown Boathouse also has a boathouse at Pier 40 where they provided free kayaking to 10,500 people last year alone.

It appears that the Hudson River Park Trust does not fully recognize the true value of Pier 40 to the waterfront community and the public. The Hudson River Park Act calls for using the pier to generate funds to support the rest of the park. The proposals that I am aware of call for placing commercial, revenue-producing enterprises on the pier. However, none of the plans recognizes or exploits the physical features of the pier that make it uniquely suited to human-powered boating.

Sheltered from wakes, currents and the wind, the pier’s south side embayment is ideal for running beginner and/or children’s boating programs. The water is warm and deep, and the embayment has no blind spots. In addition, the promenade on Pier 40 runs the full length of the embayment, making it easy to supervise rowers on the water.

As a result of the shape, bulk, mass and orientation of Pier 40, the pier’s south side has a unique microclimate that is found nowhere else on the Manhattan waterfront. The massive structure of Pier 40 causes it to block the cold northerly winds. Being heavy causes it to absorb a lot of sunlight during the day, which is then radiated back as heat during the early evening. The perceived temperature increase is often more than 20 degrees Fahrenheit, giving the promenade a festive, beach-like atmosphere in the summer months.

As various plans are considered for Pier 40, I hope that the Hudson River Park Trust will recognize the gem that is Pier 40 and that human-powered boating is part of the plan for the south embayment.

Sally Curtis
Curtis is president, Village Community Boathouse


Sally and Deborah wrote an article that was published in our local newspaper The Villager. Here’s the link to the article: Community Rowing at Pier 40 and Why It Matters

In all of the hand-wringing, wheeling and dealing around the future of Pier 40, little attention has been given to the community boathouses that have occupied space on the south side of the pier for almost 20 years.

The last remaining community boathouse on Pier 40, Village Community Boathouse, is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that provides free public access to New York Harbor, utilizing a fleet of traditional wooden rowboats, most of them built in the shop at Pier 40 in conjunction with local schools. The history of V.C.B. goes back to the late Mike Davis, founder of Floating the Apple.

Mike Davis was a cultural archeologist working on a dig in Istanbul, when he noticed the many rowing craft and boathouses along the shore of the Bosporus, owned and operated collectively by neighborhood people. He knew that New York Harbor, too, had once been home to dozens of community boathouses where anyone could rent a boat. As recently as 1930 there were 40 neighborhood boathouses in the harbor. By the 1990s there was only one. The city’s waterways were considered polluted and dangerous.

Inspired by his experience in Istanbul, Mike’s vision of providing universal public access to the New York City waterfront led him to found Floating the Apple in 1992. A little like Johnny Appleseed, his idea was to create community boathouses in neighborhoods all over the city.

Mike commissioned an engineer and navel architect, Mike McEvoy, to design a 25-foot long “Whitehall gig,” named for Whitehall St. in Lower Manhattan, where the gigs were first built 250 years ago. Known as the “bicycles of the sea,” these boats were the most efficient way to get around the city’s waterways. In the 18th and 19th centuries Whitehall gigs were used in New York Harbor as workboats, rowing out to meet the tall ships and offload passengers, mail and baggage. In 1776, General George Washington evacuated his severely outnumbered troops from the Brooklyn side of the East River in a flotilla of Whitehalls to escape the British in the Battle of Long Island.

With the newly updated Whitehall design, Mike Davis enlisted a crew of waterfront activists, including Don Betts, Brendan Malone of New York Harbor School, Louis Norris and others, to lead local residents and high school students in community boatbuilding sessions in the lobby of the old McGraw-Hill building on W. 42nd St. Once complete, the 500-pound vessels were loaded on dollies and rolled down 42nd St. to the Hudson River, sometimes with police or firefighters escorting with flashing lights, but always with lots passersby waving and pointing the boat crew on toward the water. At Pier 84 at the foot of 42nd St., the boats were launched into the Hudson.

There were no boathouses as of then, however. But down at Pier 40, at W. Houston St., Tobi Bergman — the chairperson of Community Board 2 during 2015 and 2016 — was working to get youth sports fields and an indoor practice center, and was renovating a space once associated with a prison barge docked at the pier. Tobi is a legend of sorts among waterfront activists because he helped create the boathouse at Pier 40 by offering Mike Davis a dockside part of the space for it. Tobi recognized that he and Mike shared an interest in promoting youth sports, so he offered to share his modest space on the south side of the pier.

In September 1997, Brendan Malone began building the Whitehall gig Rachel Carson in Tobi’s space on Pier 40, in collaboration with students from P.S. 811 and Junior Navy R.O.T.C. students from High School of Graphic Communication Arts. By the time the Rachel Carson was launched a year later, Tobi was complaining about the dust, noise and proliferation of gigs in their tiny shared space, and suggesting that Mike consider investing in a wood chipper.

In 1998, the Hudson River Park Act created the park and the Hudson River Park Trust, with the mission to promote, encourage, and expand public access to the Hudson River and to promote natural, cultural and historic aspects of the river. Their shared vision made Hudson River Park and Floating the Apple a perfect fit. Mike and his mission were embraced by Noreen Doyle, now vice president of the Trust, who offered Floating the Apple a much larger space on the south side of the pier, which is now occupied by Village Community Boathouse. Eventually, in 2007, Mike moved back to Midtown to Pier 84, at W. 44th St., to a boathouse conceived and designed in conjunction with Doyle to fit the needs of the Floating the Apple mission, leaving the boathouse on Pier 40 to the newly incorporated V.C.B.

Village Community Boathouse continues to realize the vision of Mike Davis and the Hudson River Park Act. V.C.B. would not exist without the consistent and generous support of Noreen Doyle and the Trust, which set the terms of the boathouse’s lease at $1 per year. This allows V.C.B. to offer rowing and boat building programs to the public free of charge. The V.C.B. boat building and rowing programs run from the boathouse on Pier 40 seek to fulfill the goal of universal public access to the waterways of New York City: All of the programs are free and are offered on a walk-in basis.

During the rowing season, utilizing a fleet of traditional wooden rowing craft, V.C.B. offers community rowing two or three times per week. Novice rowers, with the guidance of an experienced coxswain, can practice in the safety of the embayment on the south side of the pier. Four oarsmen, each with one long sweep oar, sit facing the stern, where the coxswain steers and coordinates their rowing. Protected from the winds and currents by the pier’s massive structure, the embayment is uniquely suited for “learn to row” programs. Once “newbies” have learned to row sufficiently, V.C.B.’s senior coxswains take them out onto the river where they can safely experience the full force of nature in the winds, waves, tides and currents and see the city from a new perspective.

V.C.B. is the only boathouse remaining in Pier 40 that offers free access to the water. Other boating outfits within the park are open to the public, but at a price that restricts access to those without the means to pay. Free kayaking is offered by Downtown Boathouse at Pier 26, at N. Moore St., but kayakers must stay within the boundaries of the embayment. In contrast, V.C.B. rowers voyage throughout the harbor: down to the lower harbor for a close-up of the Statue of Liberty, up the river to Hoboken Cove, or around the Battery to the East River.

Directly serving the mission set out in the Hudson River Park Act, V.C.B. provides a physical connection to the water to all who live in, work in or visit Manhattan. In their 18 years at Pier 40, community boathouses have invited the public, including youth from local public schools, to utilize the city’s waterfront and harbor, improving people’s quality of life, fostering a sense of environmental stewardship, and establishing a spirit of collaboration in crewing or building a boat. V.C.B. has introduced tens of thousands of international visitors, local residents and young people to the joy of rowing on the Hudson and other waterways that surround New York City.

In December 2016, the City Council voted to approve the transfer of air rights from Pier 40 to the St. John’s Center terminal across the street. The St. John’s developers will pay the Trust $100 million, to be used to repair the crumbling pier. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a City Council meeting that the city would support plans to redevelop Pier 40 that included preservation of the ball fields at the center of the donut-shaped pier.

After several requests for proposals (R.F.P.’s) put out by the Trust for public-private partnerships — including Cirque de Soleil, an aquarium and high-rise residential towers — failed due to opposition from local politicians, Pier 40 stakeholders and local residents, it is time for the park’s administration, politicians and the community to work together to plan the future of the beloved pier.

To that end, C.B. 2 has created the Future of Pier 40 Working Group. As an advising member of that group, we will advocate for the boathouses and other noncommercial boating access, to ensure that any plans should include preserving free community boating on Pier 40, whose southern embayment is the best-protected, most-usable piece of water in the park.

Curtis is president and Clearman is a board of directors member of Village Community Boathouse