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Over the last 18 months, the Hudson River Park Trust hosted a series of task force meetings attended by all the local elected officials or their representatives and many experienced urban planning experts, representatives of the three community boards and other community groups, environmental experts and parks professionals. These meetings were highly structured, transparent and thoughtfully designed to find common ground with respect to the park’s challenges and needed changes to the Hudson River Park Act, which created and governs the park.
The original idea behind the creation of the park was that public money would create it and commercial revenue would sustain it. And the city and state have been incredibly generous to the park over the last 13 years, funding nearly $350 million in capital construction.
But it is important to understand the scale of the task. With five miles of property, we still have a long way to go to fulfill the promise of creating the park in all the communities it serves. We have forecast that we will need an additional $15 million per year to support the park’s operations and capital maintenance by 2022, and another $250 million to actually complete the park — not including additional ball fields on Pier 40.
Despite the many good ideas generated during these many meetings, the idea to allow residential development at Pier 40 dominated the conversation. The political battle associated with this one potential revenue-generating use eclipsed the progress we made on other possible changes to the park act, and obscured the point of the original discussion — which is that the park is not generating enough revenue to maintain itself.
The critical benefit residential development brings is that it generates the most revenue while occupying the smallest footprint, with vastly less vehicular and foot traffic impact than any alternate use. It was because of this combination and the failure of past high-impact proposed uses that a community group, the Pier 40 Champions, invested in a concept plan and came up with a novel approach that no one else had considered.
However, we do not wish to see the conversation halted over one specific use. We seek a productive environment where good ideas and their financial and cultural impacts can be intelligently discussed. We want and need to hear from our local elected officials about what ideas they believe can work and what should be done to secure the future of the park. If our state or city representatives really believe that government should be responsible for funding the upkeep and repairs required, then our representatives need to work with us to create or identify that funding stream. The recent announcement of open space money allocated from the Hudson Square rezoning for Pier 40 future repairs was a useful and very welcome step in the right direction.
The Trust board has undertaken revenue-generating initiatives both directly and indirectly through our fundraising partnership with Friends of Hudson River Park. We have high hopes for private fundraising and volunteer involvement, and Friends have already demonstrated their dedication by raising (post-Sandy) more than $300,000 to repair the playground at Pier 25 in Tribeca. Our initiatives also include asking the neighbors of the park to support a neighborhood improvement district (NID), where residential and commercial property owners along the length of the park would contribute a small amount to the annual care of this great asset to us all. We ask for community support since this idea ultimately rests with a decision by the City Council.
The Trust board strongly urges our local political leadership to allow the Hudson River Park Act to be significantly amended. It is only with flexibility within the act that the park can get the most revenue from our designated commercial nodes, thereby allowing us to create and maintain the most field space and the most open parkland for all of our West Side neighbors.
We have been trying very hard to find real solutions. The problem is simple: We do not have enough money coming into the park to maintain it. But the solution is not so simple. We look to our elected leaders and our community to work with us to find a path forward sensibly and cooperatively.
The writers are all members of the Hudson River Park Trust board of directors.
Diana L. Taylor,
Robert K. Steele
Paul A. Ullman,
Jeffrey Kaplan and
Lawrence B. Goldberg