Volume 73, Number 45 | March 10 -16, 2004

Design teams sought for High Line

By Albert Amateau

Villager file photo

A section of the High Line at W. 32nd St.

Friends of the High Line and the City of New York took an important step together last week toward converting the derelict railroad viaduct that runs from the Gansevoort Meat Market to the Javits Convention Center into an elevated park.

The Friends, a community-based advocacy group, and the city Economic Development Corp. issued a request for qualifications on March 1 seeking design teams to create a master plan for the 1.5-mile High Line, which carried its last load of freight 20 years ago.

“We’re very excited about working with the E.D.C. and other city agencies in this R.F.Q., which will lead to the High Line becoming a public open space,” said Joshua David, a founder of Friends of the High Line and a member of Community Board 4.

The Bloomberg administration has embraced the High Line as a key element in the redevelopment of the West Side, linking three emerging neighborhoods, the Gansevoort Market Historic District, the West Chelsea gallery district between 16th and 30th Sts., and the proposed Hudson Yards/Convention Center district between 30th and 43rd Sts.

Friends of the High Line have been advocating to save the High Line since 1999 when the Giuliani administration was seeking to have the 70-year-old viaduct demolished. The Friends received a big boost in 2002 when Mayor Mike Bloomberg supported their plans.

“We had a competition last year that attracted 700 ideas for the High Line — creative, visionary ideas that didn’t have to be buildable or economically feasible; but this R.F.Q. is solidly based in reality,” David said.

Teams of urban designers, architects, engineers and other planners will have until April 1 to respond to the R.F.Q. and in mid-April the city will issue a request for proposals to between five and seven of the teams that responded. Responses to the R.F.P. will be due by June and a design team for the High Line is to be selected by August.

Teams responding to the R.F.Q. will be asked for a two-page outline of a master plan for the entire elevated railroad and why they are qualified to create the plan. Teams responding to the R.F.P. will be asked to submit a detailed master plan along with construction drawings for a single segment of the High Line.

“This will be an open design process,” said David. “We expect the team that’s selected to have regular open meetings about the design. We’ll have an advisory committee with representatives of civic groups,” he added.

The federal Surface Transportation Board, which has jurisdiction over the nation’s railroads, held a hearing last July about the fate of the High Line, and the possibility of putting the viaduct in the federal Rails-to-Trails program.

Testifying at the hearing were representatives of CSX, the railroad system that currently owns the High Line, and Chelsea Property Owners, a group whose members own properties in the railroad right-of-way and had sought demolition of the structure. City officials including Amanda Burden, head of City Planning, and Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, as well as Friends of the High Line testified in favor of the Rails-to-Trails option.

The S.T.B. has agreed to defer any decision on the matter, giving the city the chance to develop plans for the High Line. The proposed West Chelsea plan would allow property owners along the right-of-way to sell their development rights, and members of the group have indicated that they might drop their demands for demolition.


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