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BY Marissa Maier | From a sliver of park to large acreage sloping toward the Hudson River, each green space in Lower Manhattan has its own set of challenges and is often funded through a variety of public and private sources. Recognizing a tough economic landscape, New York State Senator Daniel Squadron and Community Board 1 Chairperson Julie Menin assembled a group of representatives from 13 park and government organizations on Thursday, May 12, for the first Harbor Task Force meeting.
In addition, 12 political officials, from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, were represented at the closed-door meeting. Staff from Governors Island, the Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy were also included since Community Board 1’s jurisdiction includes Governors Island and the Brooklyn groups fall within Senator Squadron’s district.
“Once upon a time if you called a meeting like this, you would just have the Parks Department come,” Sen. Squadron said at the meeting.
In an interview afterward, he explained that this change came about for three reasons: “One, we have ambitious, expensive, ribbon parks that you could have never built traditionally; two, for the last 30 years the role of government has unfortunately changed, it’s less expansive; and three, in Lower Manhattan, as part of the rebuilding, there has been interest and investment in the progress of these projects.”
Sen. Squadron added that even before he took office, there hasn’t been a central coordination for these entities, but he credited their work for how smoothly these organizations have run thus far. Menin noted in an email that the Harbor Task Force provides an opportunity for these entities to jointly focus on ways of achieving efficiencies of scale and savings by looking at methods to share resources and address common issues.
“One of the biggest challenges these entities face is what to do with the fact that there are scarce public sector dollars so, for example, in the areas of marketing there are ways to jointly promote the parks of Lower Manhattan,” Menin wrote. “I also believe the groups should look at issues such as security and trash removal, to see if there are any savings that could be realized.”
She said that the idea of creating an umbrella organization that could engage in joint advocacy on issues and help realize cost efficiencies was raised and could be further examined by the group at a future meeting. Sen. Squadron noted that some of the easier issues to tackle were management, signage and marketing.
“There are probably underlying issues. This might be like peeling an onion,” Sen. Squadron observed. “Step two is finding concrete ways to form ongoing partnerships to heighten the visitor’s experience, maximize efficiencies and allow entities to reach their full potential.”
Dan Kurtz, the executive vice president of financial statements and annual financing plans for the Hudson River Park Trust, said in an email that his organization was open to exploring ideas such as joint service contracts, bulk purchasing, trading maintenance responsibilities and material storage opportunities.
A.J. Pietrantone, the executive director of the Friends of Hudson River Park, said he would like the public to be educated on how parks are operated and financed.
“In general, people assume a park in New York City is run by the Parks Department,” Pietrantone explained in a phone interview. “Even with the High Line which is a City park, a small component of City tax dollars pay for that park.”
He pointed to the Hudson River Park, which generates much of its income from commercial activity and he added that the park doesn’t receive government funding for its operations.
“It would be helpful if there was some broader understanding that there are various arrangements. Every park is different,” he said. Pietrantone added that this education would make it easier for organizations to encourage private funding.