Volume 16 • Issue 30 | December 23 - 29, 2003

Trust pressed on park’s budget gap

By Albert Amateau

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

Hudson River Park

A State Assembly committee last week pressed the Hudson River Park Trust about the lack of money to build the five-mile park along Manhattan’s West Side waterfront.

Charles E. Dorkey III, chairperson since May of the state-city agency, responded to questions from Assemblymember Richard Brodsky of Westchester, chairperson of the committee on corporations, authorities and commissions, about whether there is enough funding to complete the park and whether the Trust’s procedures are sufficiently open to public scrutiny.

“This project is at a crossroads,” said Brodsky said at the midpoint of the Dec. 17 committee hearing, “We’ve established that state and city funds are running out and we’re at a point that, if we don’t find money, it’s going to grind to a halt.”

Al Butzel, president of the advocacy group, Friends of Hudson River Park, said the same thing during his testimony at the hearing attended also by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver along with Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Richard Gottfried

“We hear that it’s very hard to find out what’s going on at the Trust,” Brodsky said at one point in the nearly three-hour hearing at the Assembly hearing chamber at 250 Broadway. But Dorkey insisted the Trust “has the most inclusive public participation of any project of its kind and reports to all appropriate state and local elected officials. I know of no other agency that is as open.”

Dorkey, however, conceded that the Trust has never invoked the 60-day public comment period before taking significant action as required by state legislation. Local elected officials contend the Trust’s definition of “significant action” has enabled the agency to skirt the requirement.

Nevertheless, park advocates, including Assemblymember Gottfried, a frequent critic of Trust procedure, acknowledged that the Trust’s inclusion of the public in the design process has been exemplary.

Dorkey proudly cited the opening last June of the Village segment of the park, but he acknowledged that the Trust is about $200 million short of what it needs to complete the entire park.

Except for requests totaling $95 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. for the Tribeca segment of the park and for a marina proposed for Tribeca, the Trust has not made an official budget request to Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg for funds. “All of our requests are part of a budget process,” said Robert Balachandran, president and C.E.O. of the Trust, who has resigned and is scheduled to leave in January.

“It’s the governor’s decision,” Balachandran added at one point. Connie Fishman, the Trust’s vice president, is replacing Balachandran at the beginning of next year.

“The portion of Hudson River Park that opened earlier this year is the greatest waterfront park created anywhere in the last 100 years, and the Trust deserves credit for that,” Butzel said. “But it’s only 20 percent of the overall park. More than 50 percent, including mile-long sections in Chelsea and Tribeca, hasn’t been built and more than half hasn’t yet been funded,” Butzel added.

Construction of the Clinton segment is underway with about $30 million in unused previous funding, about $10 million from the state and $20 from the city.

At one point, Dorkey said he personally talked to President Bush about federal funding for the park.

“What did he say,” Brodsky asked.

“He’ll consider it,” said Dorkey. “I’ve also spoken to the two [New York] senators.”

Assemblymembers wanted to know why city agencies continue to occupy parts of the Hudson River Park waterfront for non-park uses. The Department of Sanitation still keeps its salt pile on the waterfront and stores trucks at the Gansevoort Peninsula without paying any rent to the Trust.

While Sanitation had promised to leave the waterfront by Dec. 31 of this year, the department has indicated it would remain until 2006, said Dorkey, noting that the Trust, a state and city agency, has to consider the needs of the city.

“There’s no incentive for them to leave if they don’t pay rent,” Assemblymember Glick observed. Dorkey agreed. “We’ll see what we can do with the city about getting rent,” he said.

On the other hand, the Trust pays the city $1.5 million a year for Parks Enforcement Patrol officers for Hudson River Park security. “So you pay them [the city] and they don’t pay you,” quipped Brodsky.

Bob Townley, a Community Board 1 member who runs Manhattan Youth, a Lower Manhattan youth group which leases Pier 25 from the Trust, gave the agency high marks for including community-based not-for-profit programs in the Hudson River Park. But he suggested that the three community members of the H.R.P.T. board of directors, designated now by the Manhattan Borough President, should be designated instead directly by Community Boards 1,2, and 4, which border the five-mile park.

The borough president’s directors are Madelyn Wils, chairperson of C.B. 1, Julie Nadel, a Tribeca resident and former Community Board 1 member, and Franz Leichter, former state senator who was co-author the 1998 Hudson River Park legislation along with Assemblymember Gottfried.

Townley also suggested that the three H.R.P.T. board members should also attend meetings of the Hudson River Park Advisory Board, which is composed of local waterfront advocacy groups, elected officials and community board members.

Townley, himself a member of the Advisory Board, said the board should make sure its members can attend meetings. “What should be done about Advisory Board members who don’t attend meetings?” asked Brodsky. Townley agreed they should be taken off the board, but in a phone interview after the hearing he acknowledged that he missed more meetings than he should have.

The Trust’s failure to designate a developer for Pier 40 came in for criticism from Glick, who said it was “never clear what the Trust was seeking” for the largest pier in the park and the largest source of revenue for the park.

The controversial proposal for a skating rink in the park also drew criticism. Dorkey noted that he ordered the proposal to be put on hold and added, “We will continue our work with the [H.R.P.T.] Board and the interested members of the community to find a suitable location for the facility.”

Gottfried pressed Dorkey and Balachandran to respond to criticism about the Trust’s relations with Chelsea Piers Management, which runs the sports and entertainment complex on Piers 59, 60, 61 and 62. “Has the Trust ever told Chelsea Piers no to anything it wanted?” he asked.

Dorkey, however, said Chelsea Piers frequently talks with the Trust. “We try to modify their behavior – not everything goes to a yes or no answer,” he said. Gottfried also faulted the Trust for allowing the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum to bring the retired airliner Concorde to the Intrepid Pier 86 on a barge. The Concorde, he said, violated the requirement that only water-dependent uses should be allowed on piers in the park.

Balachandran replied that Chelsea Piers and the Intrepid were important anchor tenants and were entitled to consideration. “We disagree with your definition of water-dependant use,” he added.

Stuart Waldman, president of the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront and Great Port, which opposed the law creating Hudson River Park, told the hearing that the park is increasingly being turned over to commercial uses. He cited the closing of a Village pier last October for a Flugtag event promoting a soft drink.

Special programs on the piers, including free movies and a weekend Halloween party, on which the Trust spent $1 million last year have gotten out of hand, said Waldman. “Some of these might be fun, some might even be beneficial, but are they worth a million dollars? The Trust never asks this question and they don’t have to, having neither to reveal the details nor justify its operations,” said Waldman.

He said that the Trust should open its books and produce detailed operating costs. He noted that the Trust staff expanded from 34 to 40 in the past year.

Brodsky called on the Trust to submit committee documents on all Trust contracts and a detailed accounting of all sources of revenue, including a log of people and groups who lobby the Trust on procurement matters.

Dorkey said the Trust does not issue a public brochure about its revenues and expenses but he said the information will be submitted to the Assembly committee.



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