Full-length High Line park is rolling toward finish

[media-credit name="Photo by Iwan Baan" align="alignright" width="600"][/media-credit]

A bird’s-eye view of the High Line’s northern loop around the West Side Rail Yards, which will be the third and final section of the completed “park in the sky.”

BY ROBERT HAMMOND  |  Joshua David and I met at a community board meeting 12 years ago. At the time, the Giuliani administration was planning to demolish the High Line to make way for new development. Josh and I recognized the potential of the historic freight rail structure, but most of the audience at the community board meeting wanted to demolish it. That’s when we decided to join together to form a nonprofit organization, called Friends of the High Line, to advocate for its preservation.

From the very beginning, our ultimate goal has been to save the entire High Line and to turn it into public space. That means the High Line will not be complete until the final section of the High Line at the West Side Rail Yards is open to the public.

The good news is we are closer than ever before to making that dream a reality. In November, we took a major step forward when, for the first time, all the different stakeholders reached consensus to save the High Line at the rail yards and open it as a public park.

The announcement was made at a press conference to mark a lease agreement between The Related Companies and Coach. A New York-based retail company, Coach, which is currently based on W. 34th St. between 10th and 11th Aves., plans to occupy 600,000 square feet of new office space within a new building to be built at the northwest corner of 10th Ave. and W. 30th St. The Related Companies will begin construction of the building in 2012, effectively breaking ground on the planned development for the Hudson Yards.

At the press conference, Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced two pieces of major news for the High Line. First, CSX Transportation, Inc., the private rail freight company that still owns the High Line at the rail yards, has agreed, in principle, to donate this last remaining section to the City of New York, just like it did for the High Line south of W. 30th St. And second, the City of New York has reached an agreement, in principle, with the State of New York and The Related Companies to preserve the entire historic structure of the High Line at the rail yards, including the spur over 10th Ave., and is working to open the High Line all the way to W. 34th St. to the public as soon as possible.

For a long time, reaching consensus seemed impossible. The final section of the High Line wraps around the Hudson Yards, an incredibly complex site that includes a working rail yard for the Long Island Rail Road, plans for the largest real estate development in decades, and multiple property owners, all of whom have unique needs.

Both for legal reasons and as a matter of policy, the City of New York wanted to make sure each stakeholder’s needs were addressed. There were moments when we thought part of the High Line would be torn down, but those days are behind us. The city is now working to officially acquire the final section of the High Line. As always, we would be unable to do any of this work without the tireless efforts of our supporters. We are grateful for the visionary leadership of Mayor Bloomberg, the city’s Departments of City Planning and Parks, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the New York City Council, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Community Boards 2 and 4, and the Hudson Yards Community Advisory Committee. Once the city’s acquisition of the High Line at the rail yards is complete, Friends of the High Line expects to design and operate this section through a public-private partnership with the city, just like the High Line park south of W. 30th St.

We have already begun the process of collecting ideas from the community for the final section’s design. Last week we held our first community input meeting. More than 200 people came to Public School 11 in Chelsea on a rainy weekday evening during the holiday season to make their voices heard. We are now reviewing the designs with James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and we will hold another community meeting in the new year to present the designs to the public. Sign up for our e-mail newsletter for updates.

There is more work to be done, of course. We expect the High Line’s final section will be funded in large part with private donations. We have made significant progress on raising money, thanks to a $20 million commitment from The Diller – von Furstenberg Family Foundation, and $5 million pledges from The Tiffany & Co. Foundation and longtime High Line supporters Donald Pels and Wendy Keys. These gifts will work in concert with an operational challenge grant from The New York Community Trust – LuEsther T. Mertz Advised Fund, which is being matched the Greenacre Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts and many individual contributors.

People think this means our work is done, but the reality is that this is just the beginning. We still have significant private funding to raise in order to open the High Line’s final section to the public.

Hammond is co-founder, Friends of the High Line

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