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08.17.2012
Hudson Calling
Friends of Hudson River Park pushing for Neighborhood Improvement District.
Overgrown medians adjacent to Hudson River Park
Tom Stoelker / AN

Over the summer Friends of Hudson River Park (FOHRP) began community outreach to establish a Neighborhood Improvement District intended to help pay for maintenance at the beleaguered park. The FOHRP plan includes a tax for nearby residences and businesses located approximately two blocks inland from Chambers Street to 59th Street. The proposed district is the latest of several attempts to secure new funding sources for the beloved park.

According to A.J. Pietrantone, FOHRP’s executive director, of New York’s 67 Business Improvement Districts (BID) 13 include residential assesments, but commercial businesses foot most of the bill. The plan would charge residents about 7.5 cents per square foot, meaning that a snug West Village condo measuring 500 square feet will pay $37.50 per year.

The park’s financial troubles began rearing their head as another park, the High Line, also running parallel to river, was stealing hearts and minds (and gathering the attention of donors) up and down the West Side.  Hudson River Park Trust, the entity that runs the park, cast an envious eye on the High Line’s flush public/private model, so much so that they went to the State Legislature to loosen up the Trust’s charter to make ends meet. As with so many the city’s newer parks, Hudson River Park must be self-sustaining. But unlike most recent high profile new parks, the Trust’s charter strictly limits development. Meanwhile, the largest commercial operation intended to generate cash for the park, Chelsea Piers, is locked in legal battle with the State over maintenance and repair funding costing about $37.5 million.

Hudson River Park Neighborhood Improvement District Map.
Courtesy Friends of Hudson River Park
 

The changes introduced in the Legislature might have allowed a residential/hotel complex to rise on Pier 40, among other provisions, but it was defeated in the State Assembly in July. There is slim possibility that the measure may be taken up again in December, but administrators at FOHRP aren’t counting on any single silver bullet to save the day. The Neighborhood Improvement District is one of many efforts, including philanthropy.

Several other Charter arrangements intended to generate funding are being contested. The state has also backed away from their responsibility of maintaining the median that runs down the middle of the West Side Highway.  The once lush plantings are now a choked with weeds. The state wants to hand maintenance of the medians over to the city. The city’s position is that the state must complete the road (Interstate 9A) before the New York City’s DOT takes over. In the past FOHRP maintained the medians under contract from the state. The Trust is prohibited from spending money outside park boundaries, so it falls to FOHRP to raise the cash to spruce up what is essentially their front lawn.  “I’m sure the state would be happy for any private funding sources,” said Pietrantone.

Tom Stoelker / AN
 

Another income source that never found its way to the park was the balance from a 15 percent fee charged to incoming cruise ships. Whatever leftover money not used for pier improvements was supposed to go back to park maintenance. But most of that money went to maintaining the cruise ship piers and portion for the park was never allocated.  “There was nothing left over and that has to be clarified,” said David Gruber, chair of Community Board 2.  Gruber said that the pier fees along the Hudson should also be reexamined as income for the park.

FOHRP continues to work with the Trust to amend the act, attract donors, and will reach out to the three community boards that boarder the park throughout the fall to build support for the Neighborhood Improvement District. “The proposal can’t go forward if there isn’t any support,” Pietrantone said.

So far the reaction has been somewhat muted, though major commercial interests are lined up behind the proposal, with representatives from Durst Organization, Tishman Speyer, REBNY, and Two Trees sitting on the FOHRP steering committee. Gruber thinks the tax can be justified easily. “It’s a dinner out,” he said of the cost.

Tom Stoelker