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.