Hudson River Park Begins Push for Tax on Nearby Properties

By Mathew Katz on October 15, 2012 3:10pm 

 A map of the proposed boundaries of the Hudson River Park Neighborhood Improvement District.
A map of the proposed boundaries of the Hudson River Park Neighborhood Improvement District.
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Friends of Hudson River Park

HELL'S KITCHEN — With its financial woes showing no signs of vanishing, Hudson River Park is getting serious about creating a tax on properties near the park.

Citing a study that argues the park is responsible for a huge increase in property values in buildings up to three blocks away, Hudson River Park's supporters hope to create a Neighborhood Improvement District to get a piece of the real estate action by collecting funds from nearby property owners.

The park, which receives no government funding, is run by a trust, which recently created an updated proposal and map to explain the plan, and will host three neighborhood meetings in November in the hopes of selling the proposed tax to the public. The goal would be to create steady and permanent financing for the highly-trafficked park.

"I think that real estate interests or values have gone up so substantially as a result of the park that it seems to me only fair to have these real estate interests, especially residential ones, chip in," said Franz Leichter, who as a state senator had authored the Hudson River Park Act, and now sits on the Hudson River Park Trust board. "I think they should make a contribution."

According to a map on the trust's website, the new tax would affect properties from Chambers Street to West 59th Street, as far east as Hudson Street in the Village and 10th Avenue in Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen.

The district would be a public-private partnership guided by a community plan, would need city approval before moving forward and would be run by a board comprised of property owners and residents.

It's not clear how much the tax would be, but it would be based on property value.  It would apply to both businesses and residences.

The park's financial woes run deep. Pier 40, which was envisioned as a revenue-generator for Hudson River Park, is currently sinking into the Hudson and will cost roughly $120 million to repair. The pier has only a few years left before it will have to be closed down, officials said.

The Neighborhood Improvement District is not the park's only money-making strategy. For much of the past year, park supporters have made unsuccessful attempts in Albany to change the Hudson River Park Act so it would allow greater commercial uses on Pier 40, including the potential of residential buildings.

Leichter said those changes, like the Improvement District, would help the struggling park diversify its income.

"Let’s at least open up all the possibilities, so when we go out for an RFP, we’ll allow people to come in with a new idea of fixing the pier to bring the revenue up on the level of what we need," he said.

"I’m not sold on residential, but I’d like to see the act eliminate all the restrictions that currently exist so we can see what comes up."

Several park-lovers, including State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, have cautioned against building condos in the park, arguing it would ruin the park as a public space.

According to the improvement district plan, the new tax would not only be a way to generate cash for the park's most ailing piers — it would also be a way to improve access and beautify the nearby area.

Park officials are currently not allowed to spend earmarked cash on infrastructure outside of the park itself, but the Neighborhood Improvement District funding could be spent on such projects. In particular, supporters said the extra funds could be a way to build easier and safer ways to cross the West Side Highway to get into the park.

"We are building a great park and we’re gonna get it done," said Leichter. "We’ve got issues, but we’re going to solve them."

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