OPINION: Take the pressure off Pr. 40 and park

BY TOM FOX | Twenty years after the passage of the Hudson River Park Act, a major source of revenue originally intended to support the park’s operation and maintenance has yet to be secured. Failure to implement a major recommendation regarding long-term operating and maintenance is putting unnecessary development pressure on park assets, such as Pier 40.

In 1990, when Hudson River Park was first proposed, city and state parks suffered from insufficient funding. To make the proposed park palatable to elected and appointed officials, the West Side Waterfront Panel suggested that the new park might be self-sufficient if radical new funding mechanisms for operation and maintenance were established.

The Hudson River Park Trust says it wants Pier 40, at W. Houston St., to raise $12.5 million annually, or one-quarter of the budget for the 4.5-mile-long Hudson River Park. The writer says it’s time instead to capture “inboard” revenue that the 20-year-old park has so clearly sparked by its mere presence. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

As the park was initially envisioned, the city and state would fund the park’s construction. Community Board 2’s recent recommendation that the city and state fund bulkhead (seawall) restoration seems consistent with that commitment. However, back in 1998, public policy required that all revenues generated in parks be transferred to the city or state’s general fund.

To support long-term operation and maintenance of the new park, two new revenue streams, unique to this project, were recommended by the Waterfront Panel. The first was to allow the Hudson River Park to retain revenue generated within the park. The first of these revenue-producing areas, Chelsea Piers, was completed in 1994.

The second recommendation was the creation of a new mechanism to capture a portion of appreciation of adjacent inboard real estate within three blocks of the park. It’s clear that the $1.3 billion public investment in the park has drastically increased the value of adjacent inboard property and generated the new tax revenues initially anticipated.

These two new revenue streams would reduce the park’s competition with other parks for annual operation and maintenance funds. However, the second recommendation was conveniently ignored by elected and appointed officials when the Park Act was written in 1998, while they continued to demand that the park be self-sufficient. Without that second funding stream, the park will never be self-supporting without the goose that laid the golden egg being killed by overdevelopment.

This is even more puzzling given the rezoning of adjacent neighborhoods in Tribeca, Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Clinton (including Hudson Yards and Hudson Square) that were approved without new development projects in these areas contributing to the park — even though all the marketing materials for these new projects tout the park as providing much-needed public open space for increased commercial and residential populations.

The original Friends of Hudson River Park studied the issue and proposed the creation of a Neighborhood Improvement District to support the 4.5-mile-long park. The reconstituted Friends group, a couple of years ago, released yet a second study confirming the value that the park adds to inboard property but has failed to propose a solution. The concept was favorably received by attendees at the recent meeting local politicians held to discuss possible legislative amendments pertaining to Pier 40.

Without a second sustainable source of revenue from adjacent properties that have benefitted from the park, the situation will always be one of scrambling for operating and maintenance funds. The Hudson River Park Trust’s efforts to increase development in the park will force local neighborhoods to continue to fight with one another over limited resources.

It’s time to do the right thing and formalize an appropriate mechanism to capture a portion of the inboard revenue generated by the park for its long-term operation and maintenance. Any new legislation should address this issue and take the pressure off Pier 40 to fund a disproportionate portion of the park’s annual budget.


Fox was the first president of the Hudson River Park Conservancy (which completed the Hudson River Park’s general project plan) from 1992-95; a founding board member of Friends of Hudson River Park from 1999-2011; and former president and C.E.O. of New York Water Taxi.

9 Responses to OPINION: Take the pressure off Pr. 40 and park

  1. Raise more money, raise more money, raise more money! Why isn't anyone saying, hey, please spend less money.

    We have a great river. All it needs is a lil' grass and a few trees. It will still be one of the great wonders of NYC. Less IS more. Why not stop with all the ornamental horticulture? Don't spend all our tax money on fancy foliage. Don't spend all our tax money on landscaping and sculpting the topography. Don't spend all our tax money on making every block of the park into a different world of luxury toys. Don't turn this park into a virtual gated-community. Just grass and trees, and we'll have a lot more room for locals to volunteer and donate the extras.

    The problem is not the park. It's the people running it who feel that they have to live up to Bloomberg's billionaire aesthetic. Please, just make the park that the citizen's who wrote the act worked so hard envision. We'll do a lot less bickering about where the money's gonna come from. The leadership at the HRPT should step down and give others a chance to lead. That's the REAL problem.

  2. No one has a longer personal history of dedication to Hudson River Park than Tom Fox, and no one knows the story of its founding better.

    The Hudson River Park says the operations of the park will be supported by revenue generated from commercial uses within the park to the extent practicable and consistent with the goals of the park. Amending the Act to allow large office buildings would represent the abandonment of its most important principle.

    The Trust's desperation plan is to support the future of the park by building big office buildings at piers 40, 57, and 76.
    (And if that still doesn't raise enough revenue, where will the next one go?) At Pier 57, the deal is done. It will be part of "The Google Chelsea Campus". Pier 40 and Pier 76 can still be saved.

    Hudson River Park is on the cusp of becoming a great New York public park built on the side of the powerful river that made our city what it is. The park is already massively used by New Yorkers from every borough and is on the must-see list for tourists. It has already opened the way to massive redevelopment of the far west side of Manhattan, generating billions of new tax revenue.

    The City and State must first take pride in the creation of this great waterfront park. Then our local elected leadership must take the lead to persuade their colleagues to assure that the future of this park for all New York is not greatly diminished.

    Tom's idea is rooted in the concepts that created the park and it may still be the best way to move forward, but one way or another government failure to assure its future is not an option.

    • Please ask Mr. Fox if the intent of the law wasn't for those "commercial uses" to be Water Dependent Uses, like sailing, boating, canoeing, swimming, skiing, docking, etc. Not digital marketing OR ball fields.

      • The intent of the legislation was to permit maritime, recreation and entertainment activities that were consistent with an urban waterfront park. Hotels, office’s and residential uses that were better sited inboard were prohibited in the Park and three specific nodes where limited appropriate development should be allowed were identified. The Chelsea Piers, The first of these nodes was completed in 1994 less than 2 years after they won the RFP.

        • Thanks so much, Tom. I hope that you are telling elected leaders to stick to the law. "consistent with an urban waterfront park" – YES! Doesn't the act often say, "Water Dependent Uses"? — that's what they wanted then, and that's what we want now.

          If that means no ball fields, so that we don't have flood-able buildings, then that's what it must be. It's the sports teams that are indirectly forcing the HRPT to build commercial development vertically on the Pier, so that there's room horizontally for fields. It's only making things worse.

          Were it not for the last-ditch hope to keep the playing fields, anyone of the previous RFPs would have been finished by now. Sorry kids, but you're part of the problem, not part of the solution thanks to Tobi and his supporters. Change is good. Less is More.

  3. That's Tobi not Tpbi.

  4. The river, the river. Over 26 years ago there was an agency that had jurisdiction over the waterfront.It was called Ports and Trade. It maintained the piers and properties and even collected rents!!!! It was disbanded and since then the piers have collapsed the income has dried up the ports have gone to NJ. Why you may ask? Corruption and greed. What can be done to fix it? I have no idea at this point. And obviously neither do the powers that be. Of all the great waterfront cities ours has become a disgrace, De Blasio could care less as now Mr. Bighead has decided to become president. We need to elect progressive leaders as mayor like Scott Stringer who appears to have the citizens interest at heart.

    • "Why you may ask? Corruption and greed." — Seriously? Are you so sure about that? You don't think it had anything to do with the invention of the shipping container that required bigger ships and deeper waters, and could be loaded onto an 18-wheeler, so it made financial sense to do that in NJ? You have a right to your own opinion, but not your…. oh, forget it.

    • Scott Stringer will no doubt save us. Like he saved us from the massive "NYU 2031" destruction of the Village. Give me a break.

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