Volume 75, Number 8 | July 13- 20, 2005

Villager photo by Q. Sakamaki

A view at Little W. 12th and Washington Sts. of the site of Andre Balazs’s planned 12-story hotel, where the old Nebraska Beef building has been razed but the High Line remains.

High Line’s the spine connecting major new projects

By Albert Amateau

Friends of the High Line are riding high these days, confident that the derelict elevated rail line running between Gansevoort St. in the center of the Market district and the Javits Convention Center is certain to become an amazing and unique elevated park.

Anchored in the Meat Market at Gansevoort St., the High Line will also be incorporated into two impressive projects, a luxury hotel that Andre Balazs intends to build within the next two years at 848 Washington St., and the Dia Art Foundation’s proposed new home on Gansevoort St. at the High Line’s southernmost end.

Built in 1933 to carry New York Central freight cars above the surface of Tenth Ave. and last used more than 20 years ago to transport a shipment of frozen turkey, the High Line received a federal certificate of interim trail use on June 13.

The certificate will allow the city to negotiate with CSX, the railroad that now owns the viaduct, and eventually transform the steel-and-concrete structure into a 1.6-mile-long park that runs over the streets — and through some of the buildings — of the Gansevoort Market District and West Chelsea.

“Just six years ago, saving the High Line seemed like an impossible dream, and now it’s really happening,” said Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line, the civic group that convinced the Bloomberg administration to convert the viaduct, now overgrown with wind-sown grass and trees, into a park.

The Bloomberg administration foresees a converted High Line as the backbone of a West Chelsea district that would encourage art galleries to continue to flourish in West Chelsea and the Gansevoort Market District.

So the proposal in May that the Dia Art Foundation would move from West Chelsea to the beginning of the High Line on Gansevoort St. was seen as an exciting glimpse into the future.

A leading contemporary art museum, Dia moved to a West Chelsea warehouse in 1987, accelerating the art gallery migration to the district west of 10th Avenue. Dia wants to move to a new low-rise concrete building to be constructed on the north side of Gansevoort St. between Washington and West Sts.

The main space would be on the second floor with a 16-foot-high ceiling and the gallery would connect directly with the High Line. The ground level would be for sculpture too heavy for hoisting to the second floor.

The museum would share the city-owned square block with the meatpacking co-op, which carries a deed restriction dating back to when the Astor family gave it to the city requiring it to be used as an agricultural market. The restriction would have to be modified and a special permit would be needed to allow a museum on the site.

Being next to the High Line with access to it fits right in with Dia’s contemporary art mission and the hopes of Friends of the High Line.

Michael Govan, Dia’s director, said last month that the High Line was a key reason for choosing the site. Although plans for the museum are still on the drawing board, Dia wants to be in an industrial neighborhood and would not look to get rid of meat wholesale neighbors. “We really like the mix,” said Govan.

Andre Balazs’s plans for his hotel at 848 Washington St. just north of Gansevoort St. are also in the early stages. Aside from the public records that indicate a 12-story building with 36 units, to be designed by the Polshek Partnership, there are no details. But a spokesperson confirmed that the project would happen within the next two years.

When the hotel project first became public a year ago, Balazs said it was “a perfect fit” for the district where meat wholesalers, nightlife establishments, retailers and art galleries thrive together. The hotel would be completely “as of right,” the hotelier said last year, adding, “It’s clear the High Line is one of the great features of the neighborhood. I love the Meat Market. It’s an area that has a special charm and I hope it stays that way as long as possible.”

Balazs, a Soho resident, is currently building residential projects at 1 Kenmare Square at Kenmare and Lafayette Sts. and on Grand St. at Broadway. His hotels include the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood and the Hotel Mercer in Soho.

A master plan for the High Line is being developed by a team including the landscape firm Field Operations, headed by James Corner, with the architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Since last fall, hundreds of Village and Chelsea residents have attended workshops where they told the team about the kind of park they want to enjoy.

No wheels — as in bikes or rolleberblades — plenty of seats, a minimum of commercial intrusion and clear sightlines to make users of the proposed park feel secure were among the priorities submitted to the design team.

Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller last October announced the dedication of $27.7 million in new funds in the 2006-2008 budget for the High Line, making a total of $43.25 million available so far for creating the linear park.

Although the funding is short of the $60 million to $100 million estimated total cost, it is enough to start work on the project, Bloomberg said last October. The investment is expected to help leverage added tax revenues for the city — by raising surrounding property values in the new West Chelsea district — of $13 million a year when the High Line park is completed.

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