Volume 80, Number 46 | April 21 - 27, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Parks

Photo by Tequila Minsky

Kids enjoying the new playground on Pier 25 in Tribeca on a recent weekend.

Making the dream of Hudson River Park a reality

By A.J. Pietrantone

At this time of year when everyone is thinking about new beginnings, it is even easier to cast yourself in a new light when you think about the progress that has brought you to where you are. That is exactly what is going on with Friends of Hudson River Park.

For many of us, it is hard to remember a time when we didn’t have Hudson River Park. And yet, when the park’s first section opened in Greenwich Village in 2003 — it was only eight springs ago. Overnight, it seemed, a strip of decaying, crumbling riverfront was turned into a green and blue jewel.

Fast-forward to today, and now the 5-mile-long park is nearly 80 percent complete. Last spring saw the opening of the Chelsea section with 9 acres of lawn and gardens, a skate park and a Hudson River-species-themed carousel. One of two new piers in Tribeca opened in the fall. And this spring we will add sand volleyball and miniature golf to the activities you can enjoy in the park, along with picnicking, basketball, tennis, kayaking, sunbathing, rollerblading and biking.

Uptown at 57th St., we will begin construction on a new Pier 97 next month that will provide additional recreational facilities to the lush oasis in Clinton Cove.

Along a once-walled-off waterfront, 17 million visitors a year are enjoying landscapes, vistas, playgrounds and outdoor spaces that were once unimaginable to New York residents.

Friends of Hudson River Park has been working tirelessly on behalf of the park since its inception. Beginning in 1999, Friends has been the park’s strongest activist in Albany and City Hall, helping to secure more than a quarter of a billion dollars in public funds to build the park. We have served as the park’s principal advocate, ensuring that all the land designated for the park was used as it was intended, hastening the removal of sanitation and other municipal facilities, making sure that helicopter tours stopped interfering with the public’s enjoyment of the park, and helping to build an engaged community of park enthusiasts.

Today finds the Friends of Hudson River Park embarking on a new era. Until now, Friends functioned primarily as an advocacy organization — focusing our efforts on seeing that the park was built. With the park largely finished, it’s time to start focusing on what the park will need going forward. The best approach that Friends can now take is to shift emphasis and step up our role as a fundraising partner for the park, and our board of directors is wholeheartedly behind this change.

Many people do not know that Hudson River Park isn’t a city park, even though it is the largest park to be built in Manhattan in more than 150 years. It receives no money from the city or the state for daily operations and maintenance. Instead, its income is generated from limited commercial revenues from its tenants, such as the Circle Line, Chelsea Piers and the parking facility at Pier 40, at West Houston St., and private donations. While this revenue is critical, it just isn’t quite enough to do the job; and as the park gets bigger, there is more of it to maintain. Additional funding is not only required to complete the park, but to ensure that it remains as beautiful, safe and clean as the day it opened.

To start better addressing this need, we recently launched our Stewardship Program, which brings together generous Park contributors from throughout the city to create a larger resource pool to directly support the park, its programs and upkeep. And now we are making additional changes to our organization with input from members of the Hudson River Park Trust to enhance our ability to tap into other private resources that will enable us to do more for the park that the community has come to love.

The park has already been proven to boost neighborhoods all along its border. A 2008 study commissioned by Friends demonstrated that the park was directly responsible for a 20 percent increase in the value of property in the adjacent three blocks, and that property values rose as soon as park construction became visible.

Based on this research, we’ve begun to explore the creation of a Hudson River Park neighborhood improvement district, which could provide a steady source of financing for a portion of park maintenance, while also improving park access and beautifying the surrounding street environment for neighborhood residents and businesses — improvements that would address expressed community needs, but on which the Hudson River Park Trust cannot spend its resources.

We’ve received valuable input from elected officials and neighborhood organizations, including Community Boards 1, 2 and 4, the Westbeth Artists Residents Council, West Village Houses and a number of block associations. And we’ll continue to solicit input in the coming months.

Last month, Friends began wide distribution of a Neighborhood Needs Survey to give community members an expanded voice in identifying priority needs in Clinton, Chelsea, Greenwich Village and Tribeca as we develop our proposal. One comment to which we all can relate said, “The park is the greatest thing to happen to our neighborhood in the tenure of my living here — 20 years.”

There is likely to be lively debate about priorities and needs as we refine the vision for the park’s future, but on the most important point I think we can all agree: Hudson River Park is an extremely valuable community asset, and its continued progress will have lasting benefits for the city. We hope you will join Friends in supporting it for years to come.

Pietrantone is executive director, Friends of Hudson River Park

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