Volume 23, Number 13 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 4 - 10, 2010
Fundraising for Hudson River Park
Based on how it was set up, Hudson River Park Trust has always faced the prospect of running out of money.
This year, for the first time, the Trust, which was created along with the park in 1998, had to dip into a special $20 million reserve fund because the park was operating at a deficit of $1.2 million. (The reserve fund is from a settlement with the state Department of Transportation, which formerly operated Pier 40, at West Houston St.)
The Trust is now projecting a cumulative deficit in its operating budget of $10 million within the next five years. The fact is that while the city and state provide funding for the park’s construction, they don’t pitch in a penny for operations and maintenance.
Which is why the Trust now says it needs to partner with an independent fundraising entity to capture private money. The Trust would like that entity to be Friends of Hudson River Park, the advocacy group that has been working to help the park over the past 10 years. It appears that the Friends are interested in transitioning to this role. It makes sense to have an independent fundraising group, since people recoil from giving (more) money directly to the government.
For years, the Trust has been futilely pinning its hopes on increasing the revenue from Pier 40, where the parking operation generates about one-third of the $15 million the Trust reaps annually from its commercial tenants. But luring a private developer to repair the 14-acre pier and add potentially more lucrative uses – while at the same time not alienating the community with those uses – has so far proven impossible.
The Trust’s first R.F.P. process ended in 2003, with the rejected proposals including an oceanarium, a FedEx-by-barge scheme and a big-box hardware store. In 2008, a second R.F.P. melted down with the economy and the fact that Related couldn’t make its Cirque du Soleil mega-entertainment plan work without a long-term lease; the community loathed the plan, too. The Trust also said a more community-friendly proposal by Urban Dove/CampGroup and the Pier 40 Partnership was not feasible.
In the meantime, the West Houston St. pier’s capacious courtyard sports field – installed as “interim” after the first R.F.P. imploded – has become a treasured amenity.
That’s a key constituency – youth sports moms and dads -- fundraisers surely could tap into. But business and residents, in general, around Hudson River Park would gladly donate their dollars, we think, since the park has done so much to improve surrounding property values and quality of life.
The idea is the private funds would supplement the Trust’s operating and maintenance budget, help fund capital projects, like Pier 40, and build an endowment. But we think the focus should be on targeted projects, specifically Pier 40, so essential, both in its revenue and its benefit to the community. People will be likelier to give if their money is going to a favorite project.
It’s true the Friends have sued the Trust, twice – to get the garbage trucks off Gansevoort Peninsula and tourist helicopters out of the park. Both times, the Friends were only forcing the Trust to do what it should have been doing. A.J. Pietrantone, the Friends executive director, said, in their new role, the Friends would probably get another group to be the park’s watchdog.
On the whole, we think this is a good idea for the park. People in the communities around Hudson River Park really love it, and many are quite well to do. The park has given people a lot, and now they’ll be able to give back, and ensure this park gets completed and continues operating at a high level.