Volume 73, Number 52 | April 28 - May 4, 2004

Trust fund could get more flush with Hillary and Chuck’s support

Big push is on for funds to complete Hudson River Park

By Lincoln Anderson

It’s no mystery the Hudson River Park has a serious budget shortfall.

The park’s estimated price tag is $400 million, and the $200 million allocated for the park by the city and state — $100 million from each — is almost used up.

For several years, park activists have sounded the alarm, raising fears that the park’s Greenwich Village segment, which opened last summer, may be the only section that gets built, while the Tribeca, Chelsea and other sections of the five-mile-long park will be left as barren asphalt strips along the waterfront with dilapidated piers unsafe for public use.

But there could soon be a sea change in the park’s finances. The Hudson River Park Trust, the organization building and operating the park; politicians; and Friends of Hudson River Park, the park’s main advocacy organization, are now all pulling together to secure the needed funds. The fundraising blitz is being waged at all levels of government, city, state and federal.

Connie Fishman, the Trust’s new president, said that within the past month, New York’s two senators, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, supported a request by Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki to seek federal funding for the park through the Waterfront Resources Development Act.

Fishman said the WRDA (pronounced “warda”) bill, which was supposed to have passed last year, is still in committee in the Senate. The House passed its own version of WRDA last year. The Trust doesn’t anticipate getting the full amount but hopes for something.

“The request was for $115 million,” said Fishman. “They won’t give you that much — but why not ask?”

Privately, some say it’s realistic to expect the park might get $20 million from WRDA.

There is no request for funds for Hudson River Park in the House version of the WRDA bill, which was passed last year.

“The governor’s office asked us the night before the bill was going to go to the floor if we could put a request in — but it was just too late,” said Jennie McCue, a Nadler aide. “Congressmember Nadler is very supportive, but there wasn’t enough time.”

McCue said the Senate should consider the WRDA bill in the next few weeks, and the two versions of the bill will then be conferenced to iron out the differences, during which time Nadler will try to get the request for Hudson River Park into the House version.

“Congressmember Nadler will do all he can to get it into the bill,” McCue said.

In 2000, Pataki wrote a letter in support of getting WRDA funds for the park, but it didn’t pan out. Some questioned then how hard he pushed for the funds.

Asked how much more money the Trust needs to finish the park, Fishman said $200 million.

The Trust has also requested $70 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the agency doling out money for post-9/11 recovery and rebuilding projects, to build the park’s Tribeca segment.

“We’re just waiting to hear,” Fishman said of the L.M.D.C. request. “They haven’t put us on their monthly agenda, and without being on their monthly agenda, they can’t vote on it.”

Joanna Rose, an L.M.D.C. spokesperson, said of the Trust’s request, “It’s under consideration.” Rose noted the L.M.D.C. already made a commitment of $25 million for 12 park projects in Lower Manhattan, for restoration of existing park spaces and building new parks. Asked whether the Trust’s request for the Tribeca segment would be heard at the corporation’s May 27 meeting, she said she couldn’t say.

Albert Butzel, president of Friends of Hudson River Park, said the lobbying effort has also been occurring at the city and state levels. Under Speaker Gifford Miller, the City Council has come out strongly for the park, allocating $50 million for the project in its current budget. Meanwhile, the mayor, who announced his budget Monday, has allocated $10 million for the park. The Council and mayor must reconcile the two amounts in the final budget. Butzel hopes Mayor Bloomberg ups his ante.

“It would be nice to get it up to $50 million, but if it was $20 million, that would be nice,” offered Butzel.

In the state budget, where more legislative bodies negotiate on the budget, expectations are a bit lower for Hudson River Park funds. Like the mayor, the governor in his budget has proposed $10 million for the park. The State Senate has also budgeted $10 million for the park. Butzel said the Friends are lobbying Pataki and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno to bump up this amount, hopefully to at least $15 million.

As for the L.M.D.C. funds for the Tribeca segment, Butzel said, “We’re all expecting it to come. But the longer the wait, the more the concern. We’ve been waiting two years.”

Butzel said the full-court press for funds, especially federal funds, comes from necessity.

“Now the park has no money — everyone’s behind this,” Butzel said. “For five years, everyone knew they were going to run out of money this year. Now we have two senators there and we have a substantial voice; they’re on powerful committees.”

Schumer and Clinton also made a request for $25 million for building the Hudson River Park esplanade in the current annual federal transportation bill, but it failed.

Change at the trust

The active push for more cash came after Fishman took over as president of the Trust in January, following the departure of Rob Balachandran, the Trust’s former president, for the private sector.

“Connie is doing a good job,” said Butzel. “The fact that she’s been down to meet with Schumer and Clinton’s staff is terrific. It’s going to take time, but I finally think things are finally back on track. Connie, when she came to our board meeting, said her priority is to get the park built.”

In the past, the issue of requesting federal funds was problematic because of fears it would require an environmental impact study under the National Environmental Review Process. The study, it was feared, would slow down the start of construction on the park.

Nadler made waves in 1998 when he advocated seeking federal funds for the park, for which he said a federal E.I.S. would likely be needed. Park advocates were angered, fearing a lengthy study.

Said Linda Rosenthal, a Nadler aide, “Jerry was trying to get the funds and the governor and the Trust said No because there would be another E.I.S. Even if it caused another E.I.S., the E.I.S. would have been done by now. We didn’t think it would have necessitated an E.I.S.”

“That was a long time ago,” said Butzel, recalling the disagreement with Nadler. “We wanted to get the park going. It’s different now: They’re working through the Senate, the park is a lot further along, the governor is behind it — there’s a lot more coordinated effort.”

Four years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers, before issuing a permit for the park’s “in-water” work — rebuilding of the piers and bulkhead (seawall) — had to determine if a full-scale federal environmental impact study would be needed. The Corps found the park’s impact would not be significant and only required a relatively short environmental document to be done. As a result, based on the Corps’ previous ruling, Butzel said, if park funds are allocated under WRDA, it’s unlikely a major federal E.I.S. would now be required.

Then there are also the major piers that are to be redeveloped by private developers. Butzel said there are hopeful signs at Pier 40, the 15-acre pier at W. Houston St. He said he believes the Trust is looking to issue a request for developers for the pier by the end of the year. The Trust’s last effort to redevelop the pier with a park ended last year without a developer being chosen. Also, a developer is expected to be chosen for Pier 57 in Chelsea by this summer.

Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson, did not respond to questions about Pier 40 by press time.

Fan of federal funds

Tom Fox, who was the first president of the Hudson River Park Conservancy, the Trust’s predecessor, from 1992-’95 and who was on the early planning committees for the West Side waterfront’s redevelopment, said he called for federal funds as early as 1986.

“We assumed early on that it would be $100 million, $100 million and $100 million — from the city, state and federal government,” Fox said.

However, he recalled of the former opposition to funds from Washington, “There was fear of NEPA, and there was still controversy over the park and there was a reluctance from the city and state to have the feds involved.”

Fox had another idea to generate revenue for the park that never got adopted: a tax on inboard real estate value in the area between 14th and 59th Sts. and 12th and 10th Aves. This tax of $3 to $5 per sq. ft. would have been an assessment on the amount real estate would have benefited from being near the new park, and would have applied to the new high-rises, for example, now sprouting on the Village waterfront.

“You’re seeing this with Greenwich Village right now,” said Fox. “There would have been a park tax, if you will, where we could capture some of the appreciation that would be happening as a natural effect of the park.”

Fox, who today runs New York Water Taxi and is a Friends board member, estimates this tax would have netted the park $80 million to $100 million.

Nevertheless, his hopes are high the Trust is at last taking the right approach for getting the rest of the funding.

“Connie now is taking a very active role in going to Washington and pleading her case,” Fox said. “It just didn’t happen before. She’s doing a very good job.

“But,” he added, “it ain’t over till it’s over —Where’s our L.M.D.C. money ?”

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