Thursday, July 4, 2013

Changes to the HRP Act Make the NID Unnecessary; Unfortunately, Steering Committee Forges Ahead Anyway

As one of the last acts of the NYS Legislature, a bill making changes to the Hudson River Park Act was passed by both houses and Governor Cuomo is expected to sign it into law. Text of the bill is available here.

While members of the NID Steering Committee have been spreading the word that the changes only provide potential sources of capital to repair Pier 40 and finish building out the Park and provide no money for maintenance and operations, that isn't true. In fact, the bill includes multiple sources of new revenue and cost savings for the Hudson River Park Trust that, in conjunction with prudent budgeting, cancel any need for the NID.

New, Immediate Revenue 
The short-term cash needs of the Trust will be greatly helped by a $2/ticket surcharge on sightseeing, entertainment, day and dinner cruises that embark or disembark from the Park. The surcharge covers the Circle Line, World Yacht, Spirit Cruises, City Sightseeing and some smaller operators, but excludes the NY Waterway Ferries and the large ships that dock at the Passenger Liner Piers. The surcharge will be paid directly to the HRP Trust quarterly and the bill allows the Trust to demand it on a more frequent schedule.  Deborah Glick has estimated that the surcharge could total $1.5 MM/yr. and it goes into effect as soon as the Governor signs the bill.

Immediate Reduced Costs
  • The new law requires NYC and NYS to indemnify the Park against all bodily injury and property damage claims. This means that the Trust does not have to buy insurance privately for this sort of claim, as it has been doing previously. Madelyn Wils has been quoted saying it is a $750,000/yr savings.
  • The tail of the Park below Chambers St. and along Battery Park City has been formally transferred to BPC so the Trust does not have to maintain it.
  • NYS now must provide legal services to the Trust for the accomplishment of its corporate purposes.
Increased Future Revenue
Several changes to the Act should lead to future higher rents on the piers that allow commercial activity:

  • Allowed commercial uses in the Park have been increased, adding restaurant, broadcast/television/film/media studio, performing arts facilities and schools and educational facilities . Artisan food production (perhaps in a facility comparable to Chelsea Market) is also now allowed. In addition, Pier 57 can now be used for business, professional or governmental offices.
  • Longer lease terms, of 49 and, if approved by government officials, 99 years are now allowed for Pier 57, 59, 60, 61, 76, 81, 83 and 98.
  • HRP Trust now controls ALL of Pier 76 (where the Tow Pound is now). Under the original law, the Park was supposed to control 1/2 of Pier 76 while NYC retained the right to develop the other half, and keep any revenues that development generated. Under the new law, the whole Pier will be part of HRP, with 1/2 for open space (the end towards the water) and the other 1/2 for allowed commercial uses (as above) and the Trust keeps all the revenue generated. Of course, NYC still has to vacate the pier (the law only requires "best efforts"), so this money may be far in the future.
Potential for a Major Capital Infusion and Money to Establish a Maintenance Endowment
The headline grabber item in the bill is the granting of the right to sell unused development rights ("air rights") to properties within one block east of the Park, subject to zoning. Like all potential large scale development, this will have to wend its way through the NYC processes and has already proved highly controversial. Neighbors Against the NID (and it seems the NID Steering Committee too) maintain that these changes don't directly affect the arguments for or against the NID, although we'd like to point out that any of the resulting money the Trust receives  above and beyond what is needed to repair Pier 40 is not restricted by the bill. Therefore, the Trust could place it into an endowment fund to provide perpetual income dedicated to paying for the maintenance of the Park.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

An Open Letter to the HRP NID Steering Committee

Dear HRP NID Steering Committee,

We got your blast email on May 14 (and now we see you've posted it on your Facebook page) and were happy to hear that you love Hudson River Park as much as we do!  However, we were shocked that you used your donor email list to accuse unspecified opponents of the HRP NID of spreading falsehoods and misrepresentations.  We strongly object to those characterizations and want to respond to the items that touch on our primary issues. 

To read our whole letter and see the Steering Committee's email, click here

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Alternatives to the NID

We're just ordinary citizens, so we don't see why we would need to propose alternatives just because we think the HRP NID is a bad idea. But since the Steering Committee and other HRP NID supporters have been falsely saying we don't have any, here goes:

1. Robust private fundraising. 2012 was the first year that FoHRP raised more than a de minimus amount for HRP. In contrast, the High Line website says they raise 90% of their operating budget from their membership program. The successful fundraising drive for the repair of Pier 25's playground shows we are generous when properly asked to voluntarily support projects we care about. 

2. Air rights transfers: Friends of the High Line has received an estimated $25M from transferred air rights. HRPT should explore the possibility of transferring park air rights sensibly to inland areas that can accommodate higher buildings in exchange for payment.

3. The establishment of a Conservancy: Central Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park are supported by Conservancies and the idea is being explored for Washington Square Park.

4. Make a deal (finally!) to redevelop Pier 40.

5. Institute an "Adopt the Park" program for businesses that pay for daily sanitation and maintenance of a defined section of the Park. Signage, if done sensitively, could satisfy both the businesses desire for recognition and the desire of park goers not to be assaulted with advertising.

6. Tax the tourists with a surcharge on Circle Line and Intrepid tickets and any way else you can (their cities do it to us when we visit, after all). While you're at it, find a way to collect some cash from the commuters going through the NY Waterways depot, like a surcharge on the coffee and snack sales there.

7. Use the public and your political connections to get additional city and state funding. We've got plenty of voters who love HRP, but hate the NID, ready to lobby their representatives.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Village Independent Democrats Oppose the NID

At their Thursday, May 9 General Membership Meeting, the Village Independent Democrats overwhelmingly approved a resolution strongly opposing the Hudson River Park Neighborhood Improvement District:

"Therefore Be It Resolved that The Village Independent Democrats (VID) urges Catherine McVay Hughes, Chair of Community Board 1, David Gruber, Chair of Community Board 2, Corey Johnson, Chair of Community Board 4, and Speaker Christine Quinn, Council Member Margaret Chin, and Council Member Gale Brewer to oppose the establishment of the proposed Hudson River Park NID as totally unjustified and against public policy, and calls on all NYC and NYS elected officials to properly fund Hudson River Park as required by law."

Read the full text here.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Save Hudson River Park the Right Way

Everyone wants Hudson River Park to say safe and clean, but HRP has overspent its budget and is in financial trouble. Now HRP bigwigs want to bend the Business Improvement District (BID) law to impose a new tax on local residents and businesses to bail out the Park.

What should be done?

Hudson River Park Says
Neighbors Against the NID Says
HRP gets no government funding because the HRP Act says it should be self-supporting
The Act also says, "Additional funding by the state and the city may be allocated as necessary to meet the costs of operating and maintaining the park"
Distort the BID law to create a "Neighborhood Improvement District" ("NID")
It's a blatant abuse of the BID law, will make it harder for local businesses to create a real BID if they need one, and needs to be stopped!
Use the "NID" BID to impose a new tax on homes and businesses within 1/3 mile of the Park, from Murray to West 59th
Parks are a public good and should be funded with general tax revenues, not privately controlled slush funds
60% of the money will support the Park
Maybe. The BID Plan allows the BID to hold the money indefinitely in a reserve fund and promises that debt service will take precedence over all other budget items
The other 40% will go to improving Park access and safety and maintaining the highway medians
The BID Plan also call for a W. 50s pedestrian bridge (paid for by debt!), overhead for staff and office space, and NID-branded and controlled street vendor stands, newsstands and pay phones (aka advertising space!) on our streets
Property values are up because of the HRP; therefore we should "give back"
Increases are already captured in higher property taxes; our properties were hard hit by Sandy
It's the best and only way to help HRP
Better solutions  exist: Conservancy model (e.g. Central Park), robust private fundraising (e.g. High Line), and renewed pressure on City and State for proper funding

Look around to learn more. If you agree that the BID idea should be stopped, make sure you sign out Petition (click on the Sign Our Petition tab above to get there).

This table is from our newest flyer, which you can get here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sierra Club Against the NID

The Executive Committee of the Sierra Club New York City Group adopted this motion in mid-April:

“The Sierra Club’s longstanding policy concerning the lower Hudson River and its waterfront is to protect the aquatic habitat, which is of extraordinary national importance; to facilitate public access with a simple green waterfront park based on open space, grass, and trees; and to oppose development and inappropriate commercial uses that would undermine these goals. To that end, we oppose the proposed ‘Hudson River Park Neighborhood Improvement District’ because it is likely to be used to help finance environmentally damaging work in and over the critical habitat in the near-shore waters of the lower Hudson River, among other things.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Downtown Independent Democrats Against the NID

On April 9th, the Downtown Independent Democrats issued a statement echoing many of our concerns and urging the affected Community Boards, the City Planning Commission, Borough President, and City Council to reject the plan.

Read the full statement.