Volume 73, Number 34 | December 24 - 30, 2003

Trust assailed on finances, closed process

By Albert Amateau

An Assembly committee pressed the Hudson River Park Trust last week about the Trust’s progress in building the 5-mile-long park along Manhattan’s West Side waterfront.

Charles E. Dorkey III, chairperson since May of H.R.P.T., a state and city agency, responded to probing from Assemblymember Richard Brodsky of Westchester, head of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, about whether there is enough funding to complete the park and whether the Trust’s procedures are sufficiently open to public scrutiny.

“This project is at a crossroads,” Brodsky said at the midpoint of the Dec. 17 committee hearing. “We’ve established that state and city funds are running out and we’re at a point that, if we don’t find money, it’s going to grind to a halt.”

Albert K. Butzel, president of the advocacy group, Friends of Hudson River Park, voiced the same opinion in his statement at the hearing, attended also by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver along with Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Richard Gottfried, co-author of the 1998 legislation establishing the Trust and the park guidelines.

“We hear that it’s very hard to find out what’s going on at the Trust,” Brodsky said at one point in the nearly three hours of testimony at the Assembly hearing chamber at 250 Broadway. But Dorkey insisted the Trust “has the most inclusive public participation of any project of its kind and reports to all appropriate state and local elected officials. I know of no other agency that is as open.”

Dorkey, however, conceded that the Trust has never invoked the 60-day public comment period before taking significant action, as required by state legislation. Local elected officials contend the Trust’s definition of “significant action” has enabled the agency to skirt the requirement. The issue arose a few months ago when the Trust was planning an ice-skating rink in the park near Pier 40, but failed to initiate a 60-day public comment period for the project.

Nevertheless, park advocates, including Assemblymember Gottfried, a frequent critic of Trust procedure, acknowledged that the Trust’s inclusion of the public in the park design process has been exemplary.

Dorkey proudly cited the opening last June of the Village segment of the park but he acknowledged that the Trust is about $200 million short of what it needs to complete the entire park.

Except for requests totaling $95 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. to pay for construction of the Tribeca segment of the park and for a marina proposed for Tribeca, the Trust has not made an official budget request to Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg for funds. “All of our requests are part of a budget process,” said Robert Balachandran, president and CEO of the Trust, who resigned last month and is scheduled to leave in January. “It’s the governor’s decision,” Balachandran added at one point.

“The portion of Hudson River Park that opened earlier this year is the greatest waterfront park created anywhere in the last 100 years, and the Trust deserves credit for that,” said Butzel. “But it’s only 20 percent of the overall park. More than 50 percent, including mile-long sections in Chelsea and Tribeca, hasn’t been built and more than half hasn’t yet been funded,” Butzel added.

Construction of the Clinton segment in the W. 40s and 50s is underway, being paid for with about $30 million in unused previous funding, about $10 million from the state and $20 from the city.

At one point, Dorkey said he personally talked about federal funding for the park to President Bush.

“What did he say?” Brodsky asked.

“He said, he’ll consider it,” replied Dorkey. “I’ve also spoken to the two [New York State] senators.”

Meanwhile, city agencies continue to occupy parts of the Hudson River Park waterfront for non-park uses. The Department of Sanitation still keeps its salt pile and garbage trucks on the Gansevoort Peninsula and also stores garbage trucks on Pier 97 without paying any rent to the Trust.

While Sanitation had promised to leave the waterfront by Dec. 31 of this year, the department has indicated it would remain until 2006, said Dorkey, noting that the Trust, a state and city agency, has to consider the needs of the city.

“There’s no incentive for them to leave if they don’t pay rent,” Assemblymember Glick observed.

Dorkey agreed. “We’ll see what we can do with the city about getting rent,” he said.

On the other hand, the Trust pays the city $1.5 million a year for Park Enforcement Patrol officers from the Parks Department to provide security for Hudson River Park. “So you pay them [the city] and they don’t pay you,” quipped Brodsky.

The Trust’s failure to designate a developer for Pier 40 earlier this year came in for criticism from Glick, who said it was “never clear what the Trust was seeking” for the largest pier in the park, which also provides the park’s largest source of revenue.

The controversial proposal for a skating rink in the park also drew criticism. Dorkey noted that he ordered the proposal to be put on hold and added, “We will continue our work with the [H.R.P.T.] board and the interested members of the community to fiend a suitable location for the facility.”

Gottfried pressed Dorkey and Balachandran to respond to criticism about the Trust’s relations with Chelsea Piers Management, which runs the sports and entertainment complex on Piers 59, 60, 61 and 62. “Has the Trust ever told Chelsea Piers no to anything it wanted?” he asked, referring at one point to the proposal two years ago for a jazz boat at Pier 62, a project never realized.

Dorkey, however, said Chelsea Piers frequently talks with the Trust. “We try to modify their behavior — not everything goes to a yes or no answer,” he said. Gottfried also faulted the Trust for allowing the Intrepid Sea, Air, Space Museum to berth the retired airliner Concorde on a barge at Pier 86 next to the museum. The Concorde, he said, violated the requirement that only water-dependent uses should be allowed on piers in the park.

Balachandran replied that Chelsea Piers and the Intrepid were important anchor tenants and were entitled to consideration. “We disagree with your definition of water-dependant use,” he added.

Stuart Waldman, president of the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront and Great Port, told the hearing that the park is increasingly being turned over to commercial uses. He cited the pier closings in October for the Flugtag event promoting an energy beverage and raised concern about future temporary closures for concerts and other events.

Special programs on the piers, among them free movies, concerts and a weekend Halloween party, on which Waldman claimed the Trust spent $1 million last year, have gotten out of hand, he said. “Some of these might be fun, some might even be beneficial, but are they worth a million dollars? The Trust never asks this question and they don’t have to, having neither to reveal the details nor justify its operations,” said Waldman.

Waldman also said the Trust should restrain “its excessive costs,” and noted that the agency’s staff expanded from 34 to 40 in the past year. “The Trust must immediately open its books and produce detailed analysis of its operating costs and projection of these costs for the completed Hudson River Park,” said Waldman.

Brodsky called on the Trust to submit documents to the committee on all Trust contracts and a detailed accounting of all sources of revenue, including a log of people and groups who lobby the Trust on procurement matters.

Dorkey said the Trust does not issue a public brochure about its revenues and expenses but he said the information is public and will be submitted to the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions.

Bob Townley, a Community Board 1 member who runs Manhattan Youth, a Lower Manhattan recreation organization that uses Pier 25, gave the Trust high marks for including community-based nonprofit programs, including his own, in the Hudson River Park. But he suggested that the three community members of the H.R.P.T. board of directors, currently appointed by the Manhattan borough president, should be designated instead directly by Community Boards 1, 2 and 4, which border the park.

The borough president’s appointees to the Trust’s board of directors are Madelyn Wils, chairperson of C.B. 1; Julie Nadel, a Tribeca resident and former Board 1 member; and Franz Leichter, former state senator who was co-author the 1998 Hudson River Park legislation.

Townley also suggested that the three H.R.P.T. board members should also attend meetings of the Hudson River Park Advisory Council, which is composed of local waterfront advocacy groups, elected officials and community board members.

Robert Trentlyon, president of the Chelsea Waterside Park Association, said participation in the Council has dwindled. “Many members came to realize that views expressed did not necessarily mean views considered,” said Trentlyon.


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