By Tara Kyle
GREENWICH VILLAGE — The Hudson River Park Trust is facing a $10 million budget gap for the coming year, at a time when its nonprofit arm is exploring plans - inlcuding a possible tax levy - to ease shortfalls over the long-term.
The Hudson River Park Trust needs nearly $14 million to cover daily park operations and over $9 million for long-term capital maintenance over fiscal year 2012, according to Friends of Hudson River Park executive director A.J. Pietrantone.
The gap, which Friends of Hudson River Park founder John Doswell informed Community Board 4 members of at a recent waterfront meeting, is mostly due to long-delayed repair work to the roof at Pier 40, at West Houston Street in the Village.
The pier, which currently hosts a baseball program, has been subject to several failed development proposals in recent years. A plan by the Related Companies, quashed in 2008, would have brought in additional revenue through a Cirque du Soleil program dubbed "Las Vegas on the Hudson" by neighborhood critics.
"We've got to do things on all different fronts to make sure the park is sustainable," Doswell, a member of the Park's advisory council, said Wednesday, calling the shortfall a "wake-up call."
One possible piece of the solution is an idea long bandied-about by Friends of the Hudson River Park — creating a neighborhood improvement district in the vicinity of the Park, from 59th Street south.
While the concept of creating a neighborhood improvement district — akin to the business improvement districts in Flatiron and the Garment District — was originally floated in the 1980s, it has gained momentum in recent months.
No formal plan exists yet, but tentatively, Friends of the Hudson River Park would seek to bring in approximately $5 to $10 million annual revenue through a special tax, according to Pietrantone.
The nonprofit has not decided whether the property tax would apply to both commercial and residential properties, but it would likely be "something very modest," Pietrantone said, perhaps on the level of five cents per square foot (in other words, $50 annually for a 1,000 square foot apartment).
That figure might also differ among the diverse neighborhoods impacted, which would include both the desolate western boundaries of Hell's Kitchen and high rent fringes of the West Village. Boundaries for the improvement district are preliminary, but would likely extend to around 0.7 miles east of the river.
"It's a very large area with a lot of issues to sort through," Pietrantone said. "We want something that's going to be fair to all communities."
If the improvement district is in fact created — a plan is likely to go before public meetings for review in the fall — any funding would go to many uses beyond capital maintenance needs like the Pier 40 repairs.
Those include improving access to the park, safety measures, landscaping on the park's Eastern edges, and marketing collaborations with neighboring city parks, according to Pietrantone.
With the park still at least seven years and roughly $170-$200 million away from completion, Doswell and Pietrantone said that a potential improvement district would be just one piece of the fiscal puzzle.
Other solutions could include legislative changes to the Hudson River Park Act, Doswell said.
The Act currently limits leases at Pier 40 to 30 years (a sticking point that ultimately felled the Related Properties plan). Longer leases, like those granted at Chelsea Piers and Pier 57, could make the site more appealing to developers concerned about the $50-$60 million in necessary remedial work to the site.
That might also attract developers with less lucrative, but more neighborhood-friendly, plans than Related's circus proposal. Removing a provision from the legislation that prevents the Hudson River Park Trust from issuing bonds could have a similar effect, Doswell said.
Bringing more commerce onto less developed sections of the waterfront near midtown could also help, according to Doswell. One idea currently under analysis is leasing space at Pier 54 for an exhibit related to the Titanic. Other proposals might include cafes or more water-based excursions.
Additionally, the park is exploring ways to expand its fundraising programs and base of philanthropic support, Pietrantone said.
"Quite simply, we're exploring every avenue and resource for the park," Pietrantone said.