The infamous “Page Six” of The New York Post often recounts the escapades of celebrities living it up in New York City’s Meatpacking District, the stretch along the Hudson River from Gansevoort to West 15th Street. The home of superstars, expensive restaurants and velvet-roped nightclubs, the district is a favorite city summer hangout. Bikers, skateboarders and joggers join the thousands who stroll along the Hudson to take in a variety of sports, entertainment, eateries and sun-bathing activities. Those who walk the tailored trails from South Ferry to 125th Street witness New York at its glory.
The excitement comes to an abrupt halt once you reach 125th Street, at the end of the bike/pedestrian trail. That will change this summer when Harlem Piers bursts into life.
Once a transportation hub at the western tip of 125th Street, Harlem Piers was demolished almost 50 years ago only to be taken over by drug addicts, the homeless and rodents. It was dangerous to venture down to the waterfront at that time, but it was the best place in town to watch the bright lights of the Palisades Amusement Park’s Ferris wheel across the river in New Jersey. You could even hear the screams from the patrons.
Then grocery giant Fairway moved in and the area slowly began to change, with new bike trails, heavily lit pedestrian paths and some of the city’s favorite restaurants making their way under the Harlem River Drive. The area has become an entertainment haven on Friday and Saturday nights, with such popular restaurants as Floridita, Dinosaur BBQ, Hudson River Café and the new Covo Pizzeria. Rich, not so rich, professional, working class, mature and very ethnically diverse, patrons are impressed. “I’ve been going there (Covo restaurant) three times a week just to eat dinner since it opened two months ago,” says Harlem resident George Williams, M.D. “The food is plenty and affordable, I enjoy the atmosphere and diversity of people and entertainment.”
Stretching from the end of 125th Street along Hudson River to 135th Streets at 12th Avenue, Harlem Piers will become uptown’s grand waterfront attraction. City workers are working long hours to accommodate the anticipated opening for spring. “This will be a vital, alive waterfront. During the day there will be a ferry landing. It links the West Side riverfront, going all the way down the isle of Manhattan,” says Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone President Ken Knuckles. “As the changes occur there in Manhattanville, it has been very controversial but it is going to change. It is going to become much more pedestrian-friendly. You will see more activities along the water, more restaurants, clubs and the ferry landing. Congressman [Charles B.] Rangel talked about when he was a young man and was able to go to Bear Mountain by ferry. I think you’re going to see those types of connections.”
The area has received much media attention lately with Columbia University’s Manhattanville expansion project, which, local activists argue, will displace longtime residents and businesses. The City Council and Manhattan Community Board #9 recently gave the university the green light for the $7-billion project over the next 25 years that will transform a section of the area overlapping Harlem Piers into a campus with glass-walled, high-rise buildings, tree-lined thoroughfares and student dormitories.
The Harlem Piers project, estimated at close to $20 million, is part of the city’s West Harlem Master Plan that includes a bicycle and pedestrian path, docking pier for ferries and water taxies, recreational and fishing pier and landscaped open space that will reclaim the waterfront for pedestrian and recreational use. City officals say it will open this spring.