Volume 75, Number 27 | November 23 - 29, 2005

Villager photo by Ramin Talaie

A section of the disused and overgrown High Line in Chelsea.

Railroad and city hook up High Line transfer deal

By Albert Amateau

Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced last week that New York City has acquired the High Line, the derelict elevated rail line that runs between the Gansevoort Market and the Javits Convention Center, from CSX Transportation, the owner of the steel-and-concrete structure.

At the same time, the city and CSX signed a trail-use agreement that allows the 1.45-mile viaduct to be used for public recreation.

The title transfer and the trail-use agreement, concluded on Nov. 4, were the final legal steps necessary to transform the High Line, built 72 years ago and last used 25 years ago when it carried its final trainload of frozen turkeys, into a unique public promenade.

“The transfer of ownership of the High Line from CSX to the city marks another important milestone in our efforts to create a one-of-a-kind public space for all New Yorkers,” Bloomberg said.

The actions pave the way for construction of the first segment of the elevated park in the Meat Market District from Gansevoort to 14th Sts., expected to begin sometime in the first half of 2006, with a projected public opening in 2008.

Joshua David, who with Robert Hammond organized Friends of the High Line in 1999 to save the structure from demolition, was jubilant last week. “The rails-to-trails agreement was the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle,” David said. “Last June the [federal] Surface Transportation Board issued a certificate of interim trail use to allow the city and CSX to do the deal,” he added.

Friends of the High Line had helped convince Bloomberg to reverse former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s attempt to demolish the elevated structure. Since 2002, the High Line project has become central in the Bloomberg administration’s plans to revitalize Manhattan’s West Side with an elevated greenway linking the Gansevoort Historic District with the newly created West Chelsea and Hudson Yards Special Zoning Districts.

CSX, which inherited the High Line at the end of 1998 in a merger with Conrail, also expressed satisfaction with the transfer to the city. “We are delighted that our donation of the High Line to the city of New York will result in a new public space for residents and tourists to enjoy,” said Peter Schudtz, a senior vice president of CSX. Both Schudtz and Bloomberg paid tribute to the vision of Friends of the High Line.

CSX at first had been neutral in a conflict between Friends of the High Line and Chelsea Property Owners, a coalition of owners of property in the High Line right-of -way who wanted the High Line to be demolished. The railroad would have been liable for up to $7 million in demolition costs.

But after the city decided to allow the property owners to sell their development rights and transfer them to sites away from the High Line, property owners dropped their demolition demands.

For the past year, a team of architects led by Field Operations, the firm of James Corner, has been designing the High Line project, the ultimate cost of which has been estimated at $100 million.

F.H.L. co-founder Hammond paid tribute last week to the mayor and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller for their commitment of funds for the project. Local, city and federal elected officials, including Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, State Senator Tom Duane, Assemblymember Dick Gottfried and City Councilmember Christine Quinn, in addition to Bloomberg and Miller, have committed a total of $61.75 million to the project.

“The High Line will be this century’s Central Park,” said Miller last week.

Adrian Benepe, commissioner of city Parks and Recreation, last week said, “The High Line adds a whole new dimension to our parks system, and to how we think of parkland. We’re both thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to transform this historic structure into a green oasis floating above the Meatpacking District and Chelsea.” 

The High Line project will be anchored at its southern end on Washington and Gansevoort Sts. by the Dia Art Foundation’s proposed new Manhattan gallery.

“We’re delighted about the transfer of the High Line to the city,” said Laura Raicovich, Dia Art Foundation external affairs director. “It’s another step in the realization of our plan for a new Dia art center at the foot of the High Line,” Raicovich said. Dia is currently negotiating with the city, which owns the meatpacking building where the art foundation plans to move its galleries from W. 22nd St. in Chelsea.

Ideally, construction of the Dia Art Foundation project would coincide with High Line construction, which will have two scopes of work: one involves the preparation of the structure, including removing the rails, ties and trap-rock ballast, waterproofing and stripping and painting the steel; the second scope involves construction of the public landscape, including access systems — stairs, elevators — pathways, seating, lighting and safety enhancement.

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