High Line park coming on line, facing uncertain economy

(Credit: Urbanite)

Design by Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Courtesy of the city of New York

By Jason Fink

Even as the flatlining economy silences construction projects, one of the city’s most unusual and ambitious new developments is set to open next month: The High Line park.

Conceived in flusher times, the park — and its financial patron, the non-profit Friends of the High Line — will face the immediate challenge of raising millions of dollars for upkeep during the worst recession the city has faced in decades.

“It’s definitely difficult,” said Robert Hammond, co-founder of the Friends of the High Line. “(But) Central Park was opened in an economic tough time and has weathered many storms.”

The mile-and-a-half long park, built on a defunct elevated railroad line that cuts the center of the block between 10th and 11th avenues from 34th Street to Gansevoort, is a floating pathway of wild flowers and grass. It’s opening will be the culmination of one of the most pitched battles in the city’s recent land use wars.“I hope New Yorkers really love it,” said Hammond, whose group fought efforts to tear down the freight tracks during the Giuliani administration.

After several delays, the southern half of the park will open in June. Neither the city nor the Friends will give an opening date, and there is no precise timetable for when the second phase, from 20th to 30th streets, will be ready, though it is expected by next summer. The plan is for the park to feed into the planned Hudson Yards residential community.

Since the final zoning was approved in 2005, 31 development projects have been planned or completed along the high line, according to the city Planning Department, including a satellite of the Whitney Museum, now under construction, and the luxury Standard Hotel, which opened earlier this year.

“It’s a fabulous thing for the neighborhood,” said Ralf Kvettel, manager of the Trestle on Tenth, at 24th Street, a restaurant that changed its name to capitalize on the High Line. “Tenth Avenue on a Sunday evening is a wasteland here and this will bring people in.”

The $170 million construction cost for the park has been taken of, with the city putting up $98 million, the federal government committing $22 million and the Friends of the High Line and others footing the rest of the bill.

However, the city will have to come up with 30 percent of the park’s annual $2 million to $3 million operating budget. And the Friends, which will oversee the 6.7-acre open space, is responsible for the remaining portion.

Hammond would not specify how much his group has already raised but said that they are aggressively working to secure next year’s budget through membership dues and other donations.

If the similarly membership-based Central Park Conservancy is any indication, the Friends could face a drop off in fundraising in 2010 because of the economy.

“(Donors) are meeting their commitments right now but next year they’ve let us know it’s going to be different,” said Douglas Blonksy, president of the conservancy, which is already looking at a 5 to 10 percent dip in revenue this year.

The park will have entrances spaced every two blocks but will offer little in the way of amenities.

Concrete planks will be surrounded by vegetation meant to evoke the natural growth that took over before the train tracks were restored and new drainage put in. There may eventually be food concessions but there will be no dogs, bicycles or rollerblading allowed.

“It’s about meandering,” said City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden. “There is nothing like this anywhere in the city.”

Paris has a similar park, the Promenade Plantee, which was also built on an old freight line and is popular with residents and tourists.

While many local business owners and residents say the park will be a boon to south Chelsea and the Meatpacking district, others fear eventually being priced out of the neighborhood.

“It could definitely be a draw, a destination” said Tony Cloer, 43, who lives in the Caledonia at 17th Street, a new condo building which touts its access to the High Line as a selling point.

But for Brian Freeman, 41, of Chelsea, the High Line, in combination with the galleries that have sprouted up in recent years, has only made the area more expensive by speeding up gentrification.

“Not everyone will be able to afford the types of businesses it helps,” he said.

Tags: parks

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