Readers of Westview News know that 2012 was a momentous year for Hudson River Park. Aside from grappling with the effects from Hurricane Sandy, Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) spent the bulk of the year engaged in a wide-reaching community effort to explore and advance solutions to strengthen the Park financially. Through Westview, George Capsis, Barry Benepe, Arthur Schwartz, and others helped broaden public awareness of the Park’s worsening financial needs while also promoting new ways of thinking about old problems, like what to do with Pier 40. Now, at the start of 2013, many people are constructively engaged in this process.
From my perspective, the most heartening development of the past 18 months was the newfound openness of a broad spectrum of park users, advocates, and officials to revisit aspects of the Hudson River Park Act with far less dogma and rhetoric than in past eras of Park debates. As a group, we respected each other enough to suggest ideas – many of them out of the box – and share information and opinions without personal invective. Unsurprisingly, this collective candor resulted in achieving genuine forward momentum on a spectrum of ideas that could generate or save significant revenue for Hudson River Park over time.
One of these is the possible Neighborhood Improvement District (NID), an initiative led by Friends of Hudson River Park that has achieved significant momentum and community support in 2012. The NID could generate at least $4 million annually to support Park operations, in addition to support landscaping and care of the NYS-owned bikeway and Route 9A medians. We look forward to participating in a second round of public hearings in February about this initiative.
During 2012, I attended seven meetings at Community Board 2, including Boards 1 and 4, to discuss, in detail, Hudson River Park’s existing and projected finances, to listen, and to deliberate possible solutions. At the November 29 Waterfront Committee meeting of Community Board 2, I presented a list of 11 such points on which HRPT and the community have already reached preliminary consensus on possible amendments to the Act:
- Clarify southern boundary of Park to eliminate areas bordering Battery Park City to minimize maintenance cost and increase efficiencies;
- Modify the definition of park use to confirm that carousels and other small scale amusement rides intended for children are allowed on park piers west of the bulkhead as well as to clarify that park concessions can provide lessons and programming and sell products that are related and incidental to such concessions. (e.g. Bike and Roll could sell accessories related to bike riding);
- Allow for limited interim park/commercial recreational use along a portion of the upland park area east of the bulkhead between 29th and 34th Streets, with a size limit and provided that such use does not block designated view corridors (with 10 year sunset provision).
- Modify the pier building footprint restriction at Piers 26 and 97 to allow greater flexibility for the estuarium (a long planned river research and environmental education facility) and recreational programming with a maximum of 12,000 sq. ft.;
- Allow Pier 54 to be redeveloped beyond the width of its historic footprint but with specific restrictions on its total width, length and overall square footage. This modification would facilitate the Trust’s planning for public events by allowing safer circulation and egress;
- Clarify that the prohibition on manufacturing is not intended to bar the making of small-scale hand-made or artisanal products in the park;
- Raise the cap on fines for park rule violations from $500 to a maximum of $5,000 consistent with the range of penalties that may be imposed in New York City parks;
- Allow for a per passenger fee on day cruise boats to support our maritime facilities in the park.
- Remove the tow pound and include all of Pier 76 in the park creating 50% public open space and 50% park/ commercial. Currently, commercial development is permitted on 50% of Pier 76 if the tow pound can be relocated, but NYC keeps all revenue generated from commercial uses;
- Allow for the ability to transfer unused development rights from park/commercial piers to eligible adjacent property through a special district or via special permit (subject to a subsequent ZONING/ULURP process). Examples of existing special districts include Grand Central, South Street Seaport, the Theater District, and the High Line Transfer Corridor. HRPT is still discussing the mechanics of this proposal with New York City;
- Include the park in the City and State’s blanket insurance for property and flood insurance.
Each and every one of these points is subject to review and approval by the State and City, and ultimately the NYS Legislature, before the Act can be amended. However, based on feedback to date, I begin 2013 confident that there is a will, and therefore a way, to make these happen if we continue to work collectively.
Of course, the list above is silent on Pier 40 – the Park’s largest pier, and still our greatest challenge. Hudson River Park’s Legislation Task Force, the Advisory Council, and Community Board 2 will all be discussing Pier 40 in 2013, addressing both the use and lease term questions. As the pier’s infrastructure increasingly deteriorates and after 10 years of failed proposals to rebuild, we find that Pier 40 now plays an ever increasing role in the community’s livelihood by providing much loved ball fields for an increasing population. However, we cannot continue to ignore its condition while hoping for a government funded solution to its woes. That’s why HRPT will continue to push for a legislative change that gives us – everyone – a best chance for a financeable income generating use that supports the park and provides enough ball fields for the downtown community.
When I joined the Trust a year and a half ago, I was determined to work with the community to find new ways to help fund the park’s operations and find creative ways to finish funding the build out of this park that we all cherish. Readers have my commitment that HRPT will continue to meet with and be open to all ideas which accomplish this.