High Line helps attract high-end; More art on track


By David McCabe

In June 2009, the High Line park opened to public acclaim. It was praised for both its design and the way it revitalized a formerly abandoned industrial space. It appears that revitalizing feeling has spread to local business, as well.

The elevated park has had a positive economic effect on the surrounding community, according to local retailers. But at some high-end stores, representatives say that they haven’t seen much of an increase in foot traffic from the High Line.

At Banchet flowers, a clerk said that visitors to the High Line often see the store from the park’s southern end — which has a glass wall and looks down on to Washington St. — and will walk down to browse or buy.

Receptionists at the John Frieda Salon said parkgoers frequently stop in, and that they are able to take walk-ins.

In 2005, Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit group founded six years earlier to advocate for the park’s creation, commissioned a study that indicated that increased tax revenue from real estate around the High Line would outweigh the project’s construction costs.

Development around the High Line initially boomed, for the most part, but then slowed down with the rest of the economy. Construction on the High Line Building, which spans the park at W. 14th St., was stalled for sometime before the developer, Charles Blaichman, added the building’s glass siding this spring. Some of Blaichman’s other High Line projects have failed to get off the ground, primarily due to the bursting of the building bubble. While he had a hotel in the works with with rap artist Jay-Z and hotelier Andre Balazs, the group defaulted on their loan recently, according to the Web site Curbed.

But Balazs’s other venture in the area, the glass-and-concrete Standard Hotel, has become a popular entertainment hub for the neighborhood, housing the exclusive Boom Boom Room, the Standard Grill and the more populist ground-level Beer Garden.

The hotel has in turn brought a more high-end clientele to shops around the High Line. A manager at Zadig & Voltaire, a clothing brand headquartered in France, said that while they haven’t seen a jump in sales from the High Line alone, many of their customers are staying at the Standard, where the cheapest room costs upwards of $400.

At the outlet of Iris, a shoe manufacturer, a sales associate said they’ve seen smore window shoppers since the elevated park opened last June, but that it hadn’t translated into an increase in actual sales.

One thing attracting people to the High Line is the large amount of public art installed on the “park in the sky.” In fact, Friends of the High Line has retained an experienced curator, Lauren Ross, who has worked at the Whitney Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.

Two public art projects on the High Line came out of a partnership with Creative Time that precedes Ross’s tenure: a work in glass by Spencer Finch, which meditates on the idea of the ever-changing Hudson River; and an audio installation by Virginia-based artist Stephen Vitiello that plays a different bell every minute and plays them all together on the hour.

Ross, whose official title is the Donald R. Mullen Jr. Curator and Director of Arts Programs, said the new, cutting-edge park presents a special curatorial challenge.

“The High Line is such a unique park in its design, its structure and its layout, and in the way that people move through it. So we want the art program to be as unique as the park itself,” she said.

Ross added that art in the park tends to be “site specific or site responsive.” An example of this is an upcoming installation by Demitrius Oliver which will display five photos on a billboard that flanks the High Line at 18th St.

“The line between the park’s space and the surrounding space is so thin,” she said, noting she likes to install art that utilizes that in-between space. Artist Kim Beck will place statues atop surrounding buildings in the near future, blurring that line.

While dealing with a park that isn’t owned by the city’s Parks Department can pose its own problems, Ross said, she doesn’t see a reason why this should stop public art on the High Line.

“As long we can be creative to find solutions to challenges, anything is possible,” she declared.