A ‘quiet victory’ is won for the Hudson River Park

By A.J. Pietrantone 

In this era of both political and budget gridlock, it’s important to recognize a truly “quiet victory” that has been won for all New Yorkers and for Hudson River Park. The city’s largest new park in 150 years, Hudson River Park stretches all the way from 59th St. to the Battery, along the Hudson River. Long troubled by loud and disruptive helicopter tourism from the 30th St. heliport, on April 1 the park will finally be free of these tourist flights.

Ever since Hudson River Park’s creation, park users have been continually assaulted by noise, fumes, wind and dust from the heliport. In fact, when the park was formalized by the Hudson River Park Act of 1998, helicopter tourism was prohibited. But this ban was ignored by Air Pegasus Heliport, Inc., Liberty Helicopters, Inc., and their landlord, the Hudson River Park Trust.

In 2007, Friends of Hudson River Park filed legal action to stop the sightseeing flights operating out of the park, to bring the heliport into compliance with the park act. After seven months of negotiations, an agreement was reached in 2008 to end the tourist flights on March 31, 2010. After April 1, the heliport can only be used for commercial, government or emergency takeoffs and landings.

In addition, Friends’ legal action also secured a cap on nontourist flights at then-existing levels, and a commitment from the heliport’s operators to cease all helicopter operations by Dec. 31, 2012, at 30th St., provided a new location for helicopter operations has been established within the guidelines of the legislation.

The Hudson River Park Act defined the parameters for the development of a unique, urban oasis along the formerly blighted West Side waterfront. Decades of community activism had laid the groundwork for the park’s creation. Eliminating sightseeing flights from the park will improve the experience of everyone who uses and enjoys the park, as well as improve the quality of life of its surrounding neighborhoods.

Today the Hudson River Park hosts 17 million visitors a year. It was shown by a 2008 study to add significant value to surrounding properties. The better the park is built and maintained, the better it is for the city as a whole and for its adjacent communities, in particular.

Ending loud, dirty and dangerous sightseeing flights is a first step in delivering on the commitment of uninterrupted open space along the waterfront for Midtown Manhattan. We need to pressure our elected officials to take the next steps of relocating the heliport and fully financing the transformation of this area’s blighted condition, just like they’ve done in Chelsea, Tribeca, Upper Clinton and Greenwich Village.

The park, now nearly 80 percent complete, requires about $200 million in additional funding to finish the job. During tough financial times, it’s important to keep this project moving — not only to save jobs, and to avoid putting the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars already invested in the park at risk — but to deliver on the promise of a continuous, 5-mile long waterfront park, a park that New Yorkers need now more than ever.

The end of helicopter tourism originating from Hudson River Park brings us closer to a new and tranquil reality for Manhattan’s West Side waterfront, and reminds us just how precious its uninterrupted access and a quiet victory can be.

    Pietrantone is executive director, Friends of Hudson River Park