High Line Phase 2 to Open Late Spring; Restaurant in 2013; NYC Privatized Park Keeps Getting Grander – And More Expensive to Maintain

-Updated 4/20-

Map of the High Line Park

The High Line, a grand span which currently runs from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, just keeps getting grander. Next up: after food carts and a beer and wine “porch” appear in soon-to-open Phase 2, a restaurant/cafe is scheduled for 2013. This, according to executive director Robert Hammond, who told Community Board 2 that Phase 2 Construction of the High Line — which extends the park from 20th Street to 30th Street — is scheduled to be completed “later this spring.”

The location for the restaurant will be under the High Line at 16th Street and Hammond told me via e-mail that it “is being designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop in conjunction with the design process for the new downtown location of the Whitney Museum of American Art.” At the meeting earlier this month, Hammond stated that a Requests for Proposals(RFP) for possible operators of the restaurant will be offered at the end of this year. Hammond said they are aiming for food that is “healthy for you,” “local and affordable” and “a revenue source.”

Money and Maintaining the High Line ; Its Former “Life”

It takes a lot of money to maintain the High Line. Hammond wrote that “virtually every employee you see on the High Line is employed thanks to private donations. Without this support, we would not be able to maintain and operate the park at the high level of care we all have come to expect.”

Yes, what about that “high level of care we all have come to expect?” Could we have expected a little less? After reading for years about efforts to get the High Line preserved, it all came together in 2002 after Hammond and others formed Friends of the High Line in 1999. The High Line tracks sat virtually unattended for close to 20 years. But FOHL’s vision for it was to take it so far from what it had becomepictures of that vacant time period illustrate its almost wild glory with remarkable, beautiful wild life in the form of plants and flowers that had taken over the tracks and surrounding area.

Phase 2 construction of the High Line cost $66.8 Million; $38.4 Million came from the City of New York. Phase 1 – cost $86 million – opened in June 2009, shortly after Washington Square Park Phase I opened. The park’s total construction costs are paid by a combination of city, state, federal and private sources. As Hammond stated, most of the money to keep the new park going comes from private sources.

Considering the great efforts needed to “maintain” the High Line, I’ve wondered if there ever was a proposal to do something a little … well, less grand? Keeping the park a little more “savage” as one commenter in favor of such wrote at the New York Times site in relation to a December piece about Phase 2.

I didn’t ask Hammond this so I don’t know the answer. Perhaps the group recognized Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe‘s love of “public-private partnerships” figuring this was the best way to get the project done.

“Developers love the High Line”

At one point during the CB2 meeting, Hammond stated “developers love the High Line.” Parks Commissioner Benepe told the New York Times that the High Line has “been a huge magnet for development.” In fact, because it is so expensive to maintain, there has been an effort, relatively unsuccessful thus far, to get residents in nearby buildings to contribute to its maintenance as part of living fees. This effort is considered controversial and unwelcome among those who want more public and less private.

Where the Problem lies with “Public-Private Partnerships” and City Parks

A Walk in the Park Blog wrote of the privatizing effort:

The City’s increasing reliance on these funding schemes, including so called “public/private partnerships” has resulted in a vastly inequitable distribution of services. It has quickly become “a tale of two cities.” Some of these park funding schemes directly divert funds away from the city’s general fund. Experience with these deals over the last twenty years has proven that private subsidies to individual parks has created an enormous gap between the haves and the have-nots, while ignoring the real problem – that our parks are not funded as an essential city service.

From New York Times piece, When Parks Must Rely On Private Money (Feb 5, 2011):

Two of three sections of the High Line, an abandoned elevated rail bed that was transformed into a linear park, cost about $152 million to build. Now, the private conservancy that developed the park with the city is scrambling to devise an income stream to cover the expected $3.5 million to $4.5 million annual cost of maintaining its jewel-box appeal. A proposal to assess a fee on nearby property owners foundered after business owners and residents objected to paying for what they see as a tourist destination. Officials are now looking to increase concessions and to raise money for an endowment.

According to this New York Times piece, the High Line focus on concessionsfood carts, beer & wine porch, and now a restaurant – is in part because reliable private funding from nearby developments hasn’t worked out and the city budget doesn’t have much money to offer a park with such extensive maintenance needs.

This brings up the question: Is it possible that the initial vision for the park, grand as it is, could have been not quite so large in scope, cost and maintenance, and anticipated something that would work over the long haul, not aiming to be yet another luxury product to boost real estate values in Mayor Bloomberg’s NYC?

Additional background:

* New York-based architects Axis Mundi are designing the Downtown Whitney beginning of the High Line at intersection of Gansevoort and Washington Streets.

* Another Meat Packing Plant Pushed Out of The Meat Packing District To Make Way for the Downtown Whitney from Vanishing New York

* Paying Extra to Smell the Flowers, New York Times (4/8/11)

** this is part 3 of my report back from the community board 2 meeting. there’s still a part 4. **

The High Line Park and Refining Public Space, Questions Raised

A perspective on the High Line appeared in Thursday’s New York Times (9/3) from Ashley Gilbertson who in 2005 explored the at-that-time abandoned elevated rail road tracks and the life that remained and sprung up around them. This was before the work began that resulted in what we have there now, the High Line Park, which opened in June, a mostly privatized endeavor.

Gilbertson writes in the The New York Times articleThe High Line – Up Over Chelsea, Something Saved, Something Lost” of his experience getting up there :

The tracks and sleepers were still in place. The grass and weeds grew higher than my head, and I saw that someone had cleared a plot among them and planted a little vegetable garden. Smashed beer bottles and the occasional crack pipe crunched underfoot. The old covered loading bays that cut into the buildings had become guerrilla art galleries, crammed with graffiti murals by some of New York’s legends, and in one case, an illegal iron installation welded to a steel beam.

I did not see anyone else up there that day. The noise and hustle below were mostly muted. If the city were ever abandoned, I imagined, this was how it might look.

Then, his return:

Four years later, almost to the day, I returned to the High Line, now a refined urban park. Appropriately, it was a perfect sunny day. I held my camera in the same spots, and saw a landscape transformed. It was very pleasant, but I felt as though something had been lost.

The graffiti murals have been cleaned off the walls. The iron sculpture was dismantled to give a better view of Spencer Finch’s public art project; his colored windows are pretty, but feel spineless and manufactured compared with the raw, unsanctioned work that used to be there. Walking the manicured paths, I could no longer bring myself to imagine the city in a different age. I found myself wishing that the High Line had never been touched.

Gilbertson concludes that, if the High Line Park hadn’t been built, it would have been destroyed entirely and lost to luxury housing development. But his article and reflections on The High Line Park raise questions:

* Is there a way to update and improve a public space, to make change, without irreparably altering the character and history of that space?

* Why does the current New York City government, under billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who hails from, uh, Boston), seem incapable of doing so?

* And:  Does everything in present day New York City have to be shiny and glossy and made for high end consumption?

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You can see photos of The High Line in 2005 and 2009 from the article at this link.

Renegade Cabaret comes to High Line Park off Neighbor’s Fire Escape Above

Great story in today’s New York Times about Chelsea resident Patty Heffley who has lived for 31 years above the High Line before it was a park (she even witnessed a train going by a few times in the early days!).  Her fire escape looks right onto the end of  (what is now) High Line Park at 20th Street and, in addition to viewing her laundry (which for years she has hung off that fire escape), park goers can now listen to and watch the “Renegade Cabaret” she presents there.

Lighting installed by contractors to brighten stairs of the High Line Park also beam a very artificial light onto her fire escape and into her living room so Ms. Heffley has turned something that could be perceived as a negative into a positive and added a bit of a wild element to the otherwise manicured park.

From the article: 

At 10 p.m., closing time for the park and the cabaret, Ms. Heffley and Ms. Soychak bid the audience goodnight. “If you see the party patio lanterns lit,” Ms. Heffley told them, “you’ll know something is going to go on when it gets dark.”

Robert Hammond, a founder of the Friends of the High Line and a member of the audience, remarked, “This is what we wanted,” referring to the cabaret. “It is going to keep it wild more than that will,” he continued, pointing to a patch of wildflowers.

As for the lights that shine like kliegs into Ms. Heffley’s windows, he said ruefully, “We screwed up on those.” But he brightened when told that she had said they were good for a stage. The Renegade Cabaret, he said, “is born of a mistake, just like the park.”

The full story is here.