Volume 74, Number 12 | July 21 - 27, 2004

Pataki paddles, pledges park will get pesos

By Josh Rogers

Villager photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio

Governor Pataki joined kayakers on their route from Chelsea to Tribeca July 15 on the last leg of the Great Hudson River Paddle. Afterward he said he wanted the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. to help fund construction of the Hudson River Park and he would also let the agency decide whether or not to build a West St. tunnel. He said he hoped federal funding also comes through to build the rest of the park.

Governor George Pataki told The Villager last week that he would make sure the Hudson River Park will be built and that he expected the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. would help pay for it.

The governor said the agency would make a “significant contribution” to building the park’s Tribeca section. The Hudson River Park Trust, a state-city agency, has applied to the L.M.D.C. for at least $70 million to build the Tribeca segment.

Pataki made the remark after joining the last leg of the fourth annual Great Hudson River Paddle, a 10-day, 146-mile journey from Albany to Tribeca. Before he got into his kayak at Pier 63 Maritime at 23rd St. last Thursday afternoon, Pataki said, when asked about the Hudson River Park, “We’re going to make sure we build it, and I’m going to hope we get federal funding. We started this and we’re going to finish it.”

Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, said it would still be an uphill battle to build the rest of the park even with Pataki’s endorsement. “He and his support have never been the problem,” she said. “It’s always been more complicated than one person’s support for one project.”

So far, only the waterfront park’s Greenwich Village segment has been completed. About $200 million is needed to build the rest of the 5-mile park. Earlier this year, New York’s two senators, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, supported a request by Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki to include $115 million for the park in the federal Water Resources Development Act. Some said it would be realistic to expect only a portion of this amount — maybe $20 million — would be allocated. However, the WRDA (pronounced “warda”) bill, will not be heard in this session of Congress, according to the Trust.

The L.M.D.C. cannot allocate funds north of Houston St. and so cannot pay for the park’s uncompleted sections north of the Village. The park stretches up to W. 59th St.

Fishman said there are a lot of competing priorities for the remaining L.M.D.C. funds and other funds. About $900 million is left in the L.M.D.C. budget, which is funded out of federal, post-9/11 community-development block grants of $2.8 billion. Pataki created the agency at the end of 2001 to coordinate the efforts to rebuild Downtown. In 2002, he granted Mayor Bloomberg more appointments to the corporation and now the city and state share control of the board, although both the chairperson and president were picked by the governor.

Two L.M.D.C. board members in recent weeks have expressed worries about the dwindling pot of federal money. One of them, Madelyn Wils, also a Trust board member and the chairperson of Community Board 1, said last Wednesday: “I’m concerned about the L.M.D.C. money — with how much money is left and what else can be done with that.”

She is a strong proponent of building a $6 billion rail link connecting Lower Manhattan to the Long Island Rail Road and J.F.K. Airport, although she is hoping no L.M.D.C. money will have to be used for the project.

Various advocates have lobbied the L.M.D.C. to use the remaining money on a variety of programs, including affordable housing, schools, community centers, job programs and improvements to the East and Hudson River waterfronts.

Another L.M.D.C. board member, Roland Betts, co-founder of Chelsea Piers, said two weeks ago that many of the small projects under consideration have merit but they are “nibbling away” at the money required to help pay for bigger priorities at the World Trade Center site, such as equipment to support the five proposed office buildings and a cultural center, and to build the W.T.C. memorial itself.

“There’s no fat in the L.M.D.C. monies and the remaining money is going to be needed for the World Trade Center site,” Betts said at the corporation’s meeting July 8. He did not mention the Hudson River Park.

Dan Doctoroff, deputy mayor for economic development, said he expected the L.M.D.C. would spend a few hundred million dollars on W.T.C. memorial and cultural costs and would not approve allocating funds for the office buildings.

One possible way to make more money available would be to scrap Pataki’s plan to build an $860-million vehicular tunnel under West St. and adjacent to the W.T.C. After his kayak trip, the governor indicated for the first time that he was willing to go with the less-expensive, no-tunnel option being studied by the state Department of Transportation.

“This is going to be decided by the L.M.D.C.,” Pataki said when asked if he was considering the plan to improve the roadway crossings without a tunnel. “I believe in putting people in place with enormous integrity and letting them make the decision.”

The tunnel is opposed by many Lower Manhattan residents, either because of the costs, the construction disruptions or because they dispute whether it will make it safer to cross the six-lane highway.

Wils and most of the rest of C.B. 1’s Executive Committee voted last Wednesday against the tunnel and for shifting the money to the rail link project.

As he was drying off in Tribeca, Pataki said that the L.M.D.C. has already agreed to spend $200 million on the project, although his spokesperson later said the governor had misspoken.

Pataki had previously called on the L.M.D.C. to help pay for the rail link, but Thursday was the first time he had mentioned a specific dollar amount. A few months ago, Senator Chuck Schumer, another rail link supporter, said Pataki had told him privately that the L.M.D.C.’s remaining $1 billion or so would be set aside for the rail link.

After Pataki’s comments, Lynn Rasic, his spokesperson, called a few hours later to retract the rail comment. “The governor misspoke about the $200 million for the rail link,” she said. “He has talked about significant funds, but a figure hasn’t been decided upon.”

The kayak event was sponsored by New York Greenway, a state agency, to highlight the 70 access points to the river that now exist from Albany to New York City. Two of the access points are Pier 63 Maritime and Pier 26, on N. Moore St. in Tribeca.

Among the people waiting on Pier 26 to greet Governor Pataki as well as the 30 or so kayakers who had journeyed from Albany, plus more who joined in Chelsea for the final leg, was David Hupert, a Tribeca resident and member of the Downtown Boathouse. Hupert recalled Pataki and his wife, Libby, kayaked with him in last year’s Great Hudson River Paddle.

“Pataki is a very strong kayaker,” Hupert said. He said New York’s first couple made quite a strong impression — almost good enough to convince Hupert to abandon his political allegiances. “If they weren’t Republicans I’d vote for them.”

One state trooper who was kayaking along near Pataki almost capsized, however, causing a slight delay.

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