Volume 73, Number 46 | March 17 -23, 2004

Parks officials herald the greening of Chelsea

By Lincoln Anderson

Villager photo by Lincoln Anderson

From left, Councilmember Chris Quinn; Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe; Bob Trentlyon, C.W.P.A. president; Noreen Doyle, Hudson River Park vice president; and Doris Corrigan, C.W.P.A. vice president.

Chelsea park advocates heard about the state of the Hudson River Park in their neighborhood and about the city’s vision of converting its former industrial waterfront areas into green space at the 18th annual meeting last week of the Chelsea Waterside Park Association.

Bob Trentlyon — who was reelected the association’s president without opposition at the meeting — said the organization’s current goals are to get the pier shed on Pier 64 in Hudson River Park taken down and to finish construction of the children’s play area, restrooms and food kiosk in Chelsea Waterside Park at the end of W. 23rd St.

Noreen Doyle, the recently appointed executive vice president of the Trust, said that earlier that day, a cost estimate to remove Pier 64’s pier shed came in at $2.2 million — there were gasps from the audience at the figure — $1 million more than the Trust had expected. Of that amount, $500,000 will be for asbestos removal, she said.

As for the playground and restrooms, Doyle said the Trust is currently trying to lower the costs; for example, in the case of the playground, by using generally available, instead of customized, play equipment.

Doyle noted the Trust has initiated litigation to get Basketball City off Pier 63. The Trust argues they must leave by the end of this year. However, according to Doyle, Basketball City is contending they don’t have to move until the Trust has all the money allocated for construction of the park at Pier 63. But, Doyle said the Trust needs to demolish the structures on Pier 63 in order to determine how much money is needed to rehabilitate the pier.

“We are taking a very aggressive stance that the pier building has to come down quickly,” she said, as audience members applauded in agreement.

As for the financial situation of the five-mile-long park — only the Greenwich Village segment of which has been completed — one audience member asked if the Trust had thought of “approaching rich people with large egos, like Donald Trump,” for contributions, who would be enticed with plaques for their donations. But Doyle said private funding is only slated for some gardens. She admitted the park’s price tag has kept rising, that while the estimated cost three years ago was $330 million, it has now exceeded that. She said the Trust hopes to work with Governor Pataki to get federal funds to insure the park gets done.

One woman complained the dog run in Chelsea Waterside Park has gotten overcrowded, to which Doyle said there will be space for dogs on Pier 62.

Following Doyle was the evening’s main speaker, Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation for the past two years. Benepe noted that the one thing Chelsea, which was developed residentially, has always lacked, was parks.

“There was a reason for it. This was valuable real estate,” he explained. “They didn’t think about parks.”

While many talk about reclaiming the waterfront for recreational use, Benepe noted this is technically inaccurate, since for the last 370 years New York’s waterfront has been industrial and commercial. However, under Mayor Bloomberg, the city is now committed to transforming the waterfront into park space, he said.

“That is the new big thing,” he said of waterfront parks, adding that it was because of groups like the Chelsea Waterside Park Association that it is finally happening. Benepe predicted the greening of the waterfront will be the major parks story for centuries to come.

As for Pier 64, Benepe admitted he initially favored keeping up at least part of the shed, but had been “brought to his senses” by Trentlyon and C.W.P.A. “This neighborhood needs open space,” he said.

Benepe touched on the High Line, the disused elevated freight railway cutting through West Chelsea and the Meat Market, for which the city is currently seeking design teams. “What it will look like, nobody knows,” Benepe said, noting it might resemble Paris’s Promenade Plantée, a rail viaduct converted into a scenic walkway.

In major local news, the long-awaited Chelsea Recreation Center will be opening in two months, Benepe announced. “You should see the palace that this thing is,” he raved. “When it opens, it will be the best recreation center in the city.” He tantalizingly added that there is a “great surprise” inside that he couldn’t reveal.

Asked about the city’s plans for a Jets/Olympic stadium over the West Side rail yards, Benepe said, “It’s bigger than me,” but that there will be a four-acre park on top of a new sanitation garage to be built somewhere south of the Javits Convention Center. “Whether a stadium is built or not, the garage will be built. We have to get the sanitation trucks out of Hudson River Park,” he said, referring to the Gansevoort Peninsula sanitation garage.

Benepe noted the East River Park promenade is undergoing a $60 million renovation, and that two public artworks will be commissioned for the park. An artwork will be commissioned for each of the Hudson River Park’s seven segments, he added.

Finally, Benepe happily reported no new Asian longhorned beetle infestations have been found in trees in Manhattan.


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