BY EILEEN STUKANE | The Hudson River Park is in a financial fix with about $40 million in repairs needed to keep Pier 40 stable, plus the costly rebuilding of park structures damaged from Hurricane Sandy. And as noted in this newspaper, the Hudson River Park Trust was already operating at about a $7 million deficit last year.
Fees from commercial leases along the waterfront, such as the parking on Pier 40, as well as tenants like Chelsea Piers and the Circle Line, are not enough to cover the park’s operating costs. City and state funding for the Hudson River Park has dwindled to a trickle, and the park is essentially supposed to be financially self-sustaining.
Residential and commercial property owners near the park are now waking up to the fact that they will be offsetting this shortfall if Manhattan’s first neighborhood improvement district, or NID, which allows for property tax assessments, is ultimately sanctioned by the City Council. The NID will cover the park’s 5-mile length, along the river from W. 59th St. to just below Chambers St., and eastward from the river for about three blocks (with some variation along the way). The NID area for the Village will extend from the Hudson River east to Eighth Ave. and Hudson St., and from W. 14th St. south to the beginning of Hudson Square.
The idea for creating a neighborhood improvement district seems to have sprung from concerns of the Friends of Hudson River Park. The NID boundaries and the small annual assessments, 7.5 cents a square foot for residential ($75 for 1,000 square feet) and 15 cents a square foot for commercial, were decided upon by the Hudson River Park NID Steering Committee. No input from the general public was sought. A.J. Pietrantone, executive director of the Friends of Hudson River Park, assures that the fees will never go up, and may in fact go down as more properties are created in the NID. The yearly assessments are estimated to bring in $10 million to the Trust.
The NID is following the procedure used to create a business improvement district, or BID, of which there are 67 across the five boroughs of New York City. In Manhattan there are BIDs around parks like Union Square and Bryant Park. However, this Hudson River Park NID is much larger than a typical BID, and the grassroots motivation of businesses in a certain area to assess themselves to improve their neighborhoods and businesses has not exactly been a grassroots movement in the Village.
Everyone loves the Hudson River Park and there’s no doubt that the community would want to come together to save it. As an example, the High Line has created a remarkable profile for itself by reaching out to the community. People apply to, and wait to be accepted into, the High Line’s gardening maintenance program, and these same people would have gladly volunteered for the Hudson River Park if a program had reached out to them. Many residents who are only now learning about the proposed NID at public meetings would have liked to have been involved through their block associations or other neighborhood organizations earlier on. The public meetings do not seem to offer a plan in progress but rather, a plan in place.
Having attended many community board meetings and civic gatherings in the Village, I have a sense from residents that they feel powerless in their own community. The closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital, the arrival of the Spectra pipeline, the announcement that they may be living in a special tax-assessment district, these events accumulate around them and they feel voiceless. On its Web site the Hudson River Park notes that the NID Steering Committee, which decided on the district’s geographical boundaries and levels of assessment, is comprised of 23 members. Of those, 10 are major real estate developers, among them The Durst Organization, Rockrose Development and Silverstein Properties. Among the others there are representatives for Community Boards 1, 2 and 4, one neighborhood organization, and three — only three — residential owners.
There was certainly enough time to bring in neighborhood groups and residents. According to “The Impact of Hudson River Park on Property Values” study on the Trust’s Web site, Friends of Hudson River Park received a $25,000 grant in 2005 “to document the impact of the new Park on adjacent property values.” Friends used a 2001 analysis by John Crompton for guidance, and with the Real Estate Board of New York, analyzed property values for 2003, 2004 and 2005 in the area that is now designated for the NID.
It was determined by the Friends committee that due to the Hudson River Park, the surrounding area’s property values went up 20 percent in those years. In the words of the study: “Over the 16 years since the Park plan was announced, buildings in Greenwich Village have increased in value by approximately 300%…as compared to approximately 200% for Manhattan as a whole.”
Of course prices in the West Village have skyrocketed in the last 10 years. The park is a factor, but here there are good schools, renovated landmarked buildings, upscale shopping, and other parks as well. Property values from the Hudson River to Hudson St. were not compared to property values from Hudson St. east to Sixth Ave. in the West Village for the same time period.
The people who are affected by major changes in their communities ought to be allowed greater input. Since 2005 there were surely ways of making Greenwich Village more aware of the needs of the Hudson River Park, more fundraising events, more inclusion of neighborhoods.
Rather than planning a neighborhood improvement district mostly with prominent real estate developers, and then informing residents after the fact, the NID could have truly been a grassroots movement. If more residents had been included in the process, there might have been other suggestions, perhaps a graduated assessment — higher at the park’s eastern edge and lower farther inland — or even a willingness to expand the NID’s boundaries. Imagine… .