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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Reports of the Hudson River Park NID’s death have been greatly exaggerated — at least according to one well-placed source.
According to the source, who requested anonymity, the Friends of Hudson River Park on Monday will announce that the effort to create a neighborhood improvement district for the park is still alive and kicking.
“Very much so,” he said. “We’re redoubling our efforts.”
Scott Lawin, the Friends’ vice chairperson, who is also the chairperson of the NID Steering Committee, will make the announcement.
On Mon., June 24, just two days after the New York State Legislature approved sweeping changes to the Hudson River Park Act, it was reported that Douglas Durst, the former chairperson of the Friends, had pulled out of the effort to create a first-of-its-kind NID — basically set up along the lines of a BID, or business improvement district, but geared toward raising funds for the park.
Last year, Durst resigned from the Friends over differences with the Hudson River Park Trust on how to redevelop Pier 40. Nevertheless, Durst had continued spearheading the Friends’ effort to create the special-tax district.
The taxing district’s boundaries would include the Hudson River Park and several blocks inland, stretching the length of the park from 59th St. to Chambers St.
The Legislature’s modifications last week to the 1998 park act upheld the pre-existing ban on commercial office use, except for allowing incidental commercial office use at Pier 57 to support, for example, possibly artisanal food shops and the like at the W. 17th St. pier, which is to be redeveloped with retail and food shops.
However, at least for now, Durst’s hope of transforming Pier 40’s massive three-story, pier-shed structure with an adaptive reuse plan for a high-tech commercial office campus, has been stymied.
What’s more, in another significant change to the park act, the Trust can now start selling off the park’s 1.6 million square feet of unused air rights (equal in total square footage to about 5½ Trump Soho condo-hotels) which could be used up to one block inland from the park.
Under one possible scenario, part of Pier 40’s existing “donut”-shaped shed could even be torn down, freeing up air rights that could then, in turn, also be sold across the highway — making it even more unlikely that Durst, or anyone else for that matter, would be able to redevelop the air rights-depleted pier.
Arthur Schwartz, vice chairperson of the Hudson River Park Advisory Council, said that at the group’s meeting this past Monday, Matthew Washington, Durst’s special projects manager, announced Durst was pulling his energies — and, significantly, his funding — out of the NID effort.
“Durst is pissed,” Schwartz said, “major-pissed.”
Echoed the source, “He didn’t get the adaptive reuse and he’s pissed.” However, he clarified, “Durst didn’t pull out his money. He was helping with the cause — and now he’s not.”
Jordan Barowitz, Durst’s director of external affairs, said his boss was traveling and unavailable for comment.
The park-loving developer’s withdrawal led some immediately to declare the NID effort is over. A.J. Pietrantone, who stepped down as Friends of Hudson River Park’s executive director a few months ago, but had, like Durst, stayed active in the Friends’ effort to push the NID, told The Villager the special tax-assessing district is going nowhere at this point. The proposal hasn’t even been submitted to the city’s Department of Small Business Services yet, the first step in the city’s review process toward approval, he noted.
“Until development [from the sale of the park’s air rights] is quantified, you can’t ask people to pay into a NID,” Pietrantone stated.
How much money the development rights could actually generate for the park is still unknown, since, as Trust officials admit, no formal study has been done. However, David Reck, former chairperson of Community Board 2’s Land Use and Zoning Committee, told The Villager that as recently as just a few years ago, the going rate for air rights was $600 per square foot, which would be extremely lucrative for the Trust.
Reck added that a special zoning district would be needed to legally transfer air rights across the highway. And, in fact, the Trust has said that this would be the plan — to create a district similar to the Grand Central Special District and the Chelsea Special District.
But Reck was extremely leery of the air rights transfer plan — which was approved, along with the rest of the park act changes, in complete “radio silence” by the Assembly and state Senate, without any notification to the community beforehand, much less any opportunity for community review.
“It’s Westway — massive development along the waterfront,” Reck said, recalling the controversial highway-in-a-tunnel mega-project with accompanying development. Villagers vehemently battled the hated highway scheme for more than a decade before it was finally defeated in 1985.
“This is Westway,” Reck declared of the park being allowed to make air rights transfers. “This is what they always wanted, and now they’ve got it.”
Opposition to the NID had been building among local residents, some of whom object to being forced to pay a tax to fund the park, and disagree with the siting of its eastern border.