Volume 78 - Number 36 / February 4 - 10 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

First section, and new BID, on track for High Line

By Albert Amateau

The Friends of the High Line — established a decade ago to advance the creation of the High Line Park — are getting ready for a gala opening of the park’s first section in less than five months, as construction on the elevated West Side railroad continues.

Robert Hammond, co-founder of the Friends, told members of the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce on Wed., Jan. 29, that the group is planning to open the park-in-the-sky between Gansevoort and W. 20th St. by the middle of June.

The long-anticipated event will take place around the same time as the Friends’ annual fundraising meeting, to be held this year at Chelsea Piers on June 15, to celebrate the group’s 10th anniversary, Hammond said.

As part of the celebration, the Friends are planning a June 14 street fair beneath the elevated structure, which was built by the New York Central Railroad between 1929 and 1934 to raise the tracks off the surface of 10th Ave., where trains caused many accidents and fatalities.

“When [Friends co-founder] Josh David and I started to work together in 1999, people said it would never happen,” Hammond recalled. “There was a lot of opposition, including property owners and the city. [Mayor] Rudy Giuliani signed an agreement to demolish it in 2001. Back then, I thought that the only people who cared about the High Line were the Dutch, German and Japanese. But Mike Bloomberg believed it would work, and the city has supported us with about $200 million over the years,” Hammond said.

The city Department of Parks and Recreation is the official owner of the High Line, except for the spur that turns west at 30th St. and goes around the Hudson Yards to 34th St.

The city, nevertheless, has officially recognized the Friends’ participation in the park.

“We are close to signing an agreement with the city giving us a management role in the High Line Park, much like the nonprofit Central Park Conservancy has a management agreement for Central Park, and the Madison Square Conservancy manages the park at Madison Square,” Hammond said.

“That means we will need to raise $3.5 million a year to maintain the park; the city will pay for maintaining the steel structure and for some programs,” Hammond said at the chamber’s luncheon meeting. The event was held at Sergio Bitici’s Macelleria restaurant in the Meatpacking District.

As soon as the park’s Section 1 opens, construction is planned to begin on Section 2 of the High Line, between 20th St. and 30th Sts., Hammond said.

With an eye to the future, the Friends are looking into the creation of a new business improvement district, or BID, for the High Line area, Hammond said.

“It’s in the early planning stages,” he noted. Nevertheless, the Friends hope to do a mass mailing the first week of March to get a reading on property owners’ and merchants’ feeling about a BID.

Hammond anticipates a massive public response at the Section 1 opening.

“One of my concerns for this summer is too many people,” he said.

The Friends are cooperating with business neighbors to lead High Line visitors to shops and attractions in the area to take the pressure off the new park. The Friends are also working with Chelsea neighborhood groups to make sure that the park welcomes everyone in the neighborhood regardless of wealth, Hammond added.

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