High Line Holds Its Hand Out

Considers tax on neighbors

Folks at the High Line have a new twist on a biblical phrase: Tax thy neighbor for thyself.

It's only been open since June, but the new park is already asking for money. Stiffed by funders because of the bad economy and facing much larger crowds than expected, the High Line's founders are suggesting a business improvement district that would tax property owners who live nearby, according to a published report.

Most of those property owners, of course, say no way.

"We want to make sure we can keep maintaining the High Line to this level that has worked so well," Friends of the High Line co-founder Robert Hammond told The New York Post. "We've been talking about it for awhile, but now it's become necessity."

Visitors have been swarming the High Line – about four times as many as projected. About 20,000 people show up to the park on the weekends, and between 6,000 and 10,000 come on weekdays – and more people means more maintenance costs, Hammond told the Post

The High Line, built in the 1930s to carry freight, stretches 1.5 miles, running from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District all the way up to 34th Street along Manhattan's West Side. The trestle runs through blocks and buildings, offering a unique insider view of New York City and serving as a reminder of its manufacturing roots. 

It took $152 million – and 10 years – to build the park, which the city owns. Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit, monitored the design and construction; the group has a contract with the city to operate and manage it. 

It costs about $3.5 million to $4 million a year to operate the park, Hammond told the Post. The city throws in $1 million, but Friends of the High Line has to come up with the rest – and given the unfriendly fund-raising climate these days, they're seeking alternatives.

One option is the business development district, which would generate about $1 million annually. The nonprofit would then only have to come up with about $1.5 million rather than $3 million. Anyone who owns a 1,000-square-foot apartment in the district would pay a yearly fee ranging from $30 to $90, depending on their location, reports the Post.

Not surprisingly, the people who would be paying aren't so keen on the idea. And it's not just about the money. It's a matter of principle.

"It's not the $30 a year I would have to pay, but I don't believe it should be done this way," Maya Hess, who lives on West 21st Street, told the Post.

Another resident in the area called the proposal "the epitome of chutzpah," saying, "You build this beautiful park and then come and ask us to pay for it.

Hey now, come on – it's not like the Friends of the High Line planned to open the park in the middle of a recession, Hammond said. He also said the organization has amassed enough cash to handle costs this year, according to the Post

The district would cover from Gansevoort Street north to 30th Street, and from 10th Avenue west, the paper reported.

A formal proposal won't be submitted to the city until the end of the year, but if the community demonstrates strong opposition, it's likely it won't go anywhere, Hammond said. 

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