Developers Unveil Plan to Turn Pier 94 into Manhattan’s First Film Studio Campus

Community Board 4 leaders are hopeful that this time something will finally come about from the plans to develop the derelict boat slip on West 54th St. that has been decaying for decades. The new plan will include restrooms on the Hudson River Park and public space, the developers said.

| 01 Sep 2023 | 01:36

Something may be coming to Pier 94, a derelict boat slip on West 54th St. whose conversion to other uses has proven over the years to be as difficult as turning the colossal ocean liners that once graced its foamy waters.

On Tuesday, the pier’s longtime lease-holder, Vornado Realty Trust, announced a new partnership with New York City and real estate firms, Hudson Pacific Properties and Blackstone, to redevelop the 1,000-foot pier into a film studio, Manhattan’s first, according to the project’s leaders.

“Our partnership with Blackstone, Hudson Pacific, and the City of New York will solidify New York as a leading market for content production and studio space, create jobs, drive economic momentum, and deliver a host of amenities to the surrounding community,” said Michael Franco, President and Chief Financial Officer at Vornado Realty Trust. “Together we’ll raise the bar for one of New York City’s signature industries and breathe new life into a key waterfront site.”

The formation of a public-private partnership is the latest step in a decades-long saga to make use of the dock, once a hub for transatlantic travel and now a crumbling barb on the Hudson in need of tens of millions of dollars in repair. The plan is one of several large-scale commercial development projects Mayor Eric Adams has announced as part of the city’s economic recovery, seen as a central test of his mayoralty coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This project will bring critical, long-awaited investment to this public asset, turn an underutilized space into an economic driver, and improve public space and quality of life for New Yorkers,” the mayor said in a press release statement.

A new pier has been in the offing for years.Vornado has held the lease since 2009 under a plan with the Bloomberg administration to repair the slip, along with adjacent Pier 92, and build a midsize convention center there. That never happened.

Under the new deal, the city will shoulder the full cost of capital repairs and maintenance to the pier through its Economic Development Corporation, while the developers cover the $350 million price tag of a new studio and surrounding public amenities — including restrooms for Hudson River Park and a 1,850 square foot community space.

Locals of Hell’s Kitchen were encouraged, if skeptical, by the announcement this week that the project would move ahead. “This is very exciting to have a film studio like this, given that theatrical and film use has always been home on the West Side,” said Jeffrey LeFrancois, chair of Manhattan Community Board 4, which includes the pier. “But there are public benefits to be delivered and we need to make sure that there are benchmarks and timelines and that they are actually delivered this time, unlike the last 14 years,” LeFrancois said in an interview with Straus News.

Vornado will cover the costs of developing the 266,000 square foot studio, maintaining 49.9 percent ownership. Construction is slated to start in the third quarter of 2023 and end by 2026. The developers have promised a number of other amenities, including waterfront promenades and bike safety improvements along the adjacent greenway. When completed, Vornado claims the facility will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy. EDC anticipates the project will create 1,300 temporary construction jobs and 400 permanent jobs. The pulic-private partnership will include workforce development and training programs for local residents seeking careers in media. “I’m excited that a film studio is opening at Pier 94, which will be a great source of local jobs at a time when other economic sectors are flagging,” said Council Member Erik Bottcher, who represents the district, in a statement to Straus News. “It’s important that the agreed upon community benefits, such as the park improvements, are front-loaded during construction, and are not the last items to be completed,” he added. Government watchdogs have raised concerns about the high level of government subsidy for a prime stretch of Manhattan real estate. According to the New York Times, the city initially pledged $73.5 million for repairing and maintaining the pier through 2060, with annual rent for the 99-year lease peaking at $2.8 million. EDC did not provide details of the August agreement. In June, good government group Reinvent Albany estimated that the total city and state subsidies, including the state’s Film and TV Tax Credit, would total $80,000 a year per employee when the project is completed. The blighted berths—Piers 92 and 94 — in their current form date back to the 1930s when the were cut out of Manhattan’s west side to make way for a new class of 1,000-foot ocean liner.

At its height, Pier 92 was one of a stolid trio once known as “luxury liner row.” Mayors at least since Rudy Giuliani have looked for ways to restore it to its former glory. Under the new agreement, neighboring Pier 92 was dropped from the Vornado lease. Despite hopes for rehabilitation, it’s future remains unclear. “I want to see Pier 92 developed as soon as possible,” Bottcher told Straus News. “We understand that EDC has concepts in mind for Pier 92 and we’re eager to hear from the City shortly regarding what options there our for our community to consider.” EDC did not provide details on what might be in the works.

“Of course Vornado got off the hook and now gets to redevelop 94 and make a boatload of money over a 99 year term,” LeFrancios, the community board chair, said.