Save the Spur

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:14

    After years of grassroots activism, the High Line has been saved. Or maybe not. The well-loved elevated railroad on the West Side is set to become a public park and green space by next year. Friends of the High Line, the organization that fought developers’ demolition efforts, unveiled the plans created by the design firm Field Operations earlier this year. The first stage of the $170 million project (between Gansevoort and West 20th Street) is set to open to the public in spring 2009, and the second stage (between West 20th and 30th streets) may be completed the following year. New buildings by international architects have already begun to rise up along the structure, and the Whitney Museum plans to build a new outpost along the park as well. But while community groups and fans rejoice, preservationists say it’s not time to become complacent since the entire structure is not safe from destruction.

    In fact, the portion of the High Line north of West 30th Street, including the 10th Avenue spur, isn’t as soundly protected as some might think. Related Companies, which has been contracted to develop the West Side railyards, has found itself saddled with one-third of the High Line’s span. Community groups continue to watch the developer, worried as the city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority deliberate over this portion of the relic’s future.

    “If all these parties align and say that in order to develop what they need on the railyards site this part of the High Line is going to be demolished, then that part of the High Line is going to be demolished,” explained Katie Lorah, spokesperson for Friends of the High Line.

    Related caused a stir in September when, at a meeting with the Hudson Yards Advisory Committee, it showed a plan for the West Side railyards that did not include the High Line’s 10th Avenue Spur, a broad offshoot of the main route which extends out to the east and terminates in midair. Since then, the company has included the spur in its design predictions and has offered verbal support of the High Line. But the historic rail’s supporters—including constituent community groups as well as Rep. Jerrold Nadler—believe that the High Line is a public resource whose survival should not be decided by a private company.

    Friends of the High Line is especially concerned about the 10th Avenue spur, which is valued for both its panoramic view of the city and its historic relevance—it once connected the High Line to the Morgan Parcel Post Office building.

    But at a Dec. 1 railyards forum hosted by Community Board 4, Related representative Vishaan Chakrabarti said the company had made “no decisions about the spur.”

    “There are some concerns about its location relative to the buildings on that site,” he said. “It’s very large, it’s very dark in that area.”

    Related participates voluntarily in forums like these, and the company has already changed its plans somewhat to accommodate the concerns of High Line supporters. Friends of the High Line was disappointed, however, with the developer’s ambivalence about its plans for the spur. They saw the forum as an opportunity to remind Related of how much popular support there was for the High Line, and they inundated the Red Cross center the evening of the forum with bright red “Save the Spur” T-shirts. Other citizens felt inspired to speak up, too. Miguel Acevedo, a resident of the public-housing development Fulton Houses, told attendees that it was crucial to keep all of the High Line intact. In a later interview, Acevedo said his neighbors couldn’t believe they would ever see such a historic, beautified public park in their area.

    “I literally had to walk around with a picture, tellin’ ’em, ‘Look at it; this park is coming!’” he said, adding, “This is a park that’s gonna be open to everybody; it’s gonna bring the whole community together as one, and that’s what we want.”

    After the Dec. 1 forum concluded, community members approached and interrogated Related representative Jay Cross as he sat before a small table. They challenged him on issues like affordable housing as well as the High Line Park.

    “They know this is a hot issue,” said Anna Levin, chair of Community Board 4’s Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Land Use Committee. “They know how important it is to them from a timing perspective. They don’t want this project to get bogged down in controversy.”

    Representatives from Related Companies as well as the MTA declined to comment for this story.

    Lorah, the spokesperson from Friends of the High Line, expressed a broader perspective on Related’s plans. “It’s a major financial gamble for them,” she said. “To get off on the wrong foot with the community would be a huge mistake, and they know that.”

    Whatever difficulty the High Line might pose to development of the West Side railyards, those parties must be aware of its potential as an economic windfall: according to mayoral spokesman Andrew Brent, the High Line Park has already stimulated roughly $4 billion in private investment around the southernmost sections of the High Line, where construction has begun already.

    Friends of the High Line co-founder Robert Hammond said that the High Line is likewise crucial to the vitality of Related’s West Side railyards investment.

    “If you build an 80-story commercial building at the corner of 30th and 10th Avenue and you tear down the High Line, you’re just going to have another corporate plaza,” said Hammond. “Look, the High Line is a problem. It’s hard to deal with. But that’s what makes it part of New York. ITAL Broadway ITAL is a problem. It winds through the city. But that’s what makes New York City not normal. And office towers ITAL like ITAL normal.”