High Line opens; Greenway raises parks to a new level


By Albert Amateau and Patrick Hedlund

The first segment of the High Line park opened on Monday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony including Mayor Bloomberg and other officials, along with Joshua David and Robert Hammond, who 10 years ago began promoting the idea of converting a derelict, elevated railroad into a park-in-the sky.

A class of 22 first-grade students from P.S. 11 in Chelsea was among the gathered officials, Friends of the High Line and press celebrating the June 8 opening of the park segment between Gansevoort St. in the Meat Market and W. 20th St. in Chelsea.

Construction crews were also on hand ready to continue working on the second segment of the elevated park, between W. 20th and W. 30th Sts., with 2010 as the target completion year.

The project’s third and final segment loops west around the Metropolitan Transportation Authority rail yards at W. 30th St. and goes up to W. 34th St., where the old rails dip below the street across from the Javits Convention Center. But the third segment’s future is uncertain.

“We will be working very hard to make it part of the park, but it belongs to the M.T.A. and it depends on what’s going to happen there,” Bloomberg said of the High Line’s northernmost section. The M.T.A. has designated The Related Companies to develop a project above the rail yards, but Related has not yet decided whether to preserve the High Line segment or take it down.

Bloomberg, however, had some definite good news for the High Line. The city had just signed off on the sale of city-owned land to the Whitney Museum for the new Whitney Downtown to be built at the Gansevoort St. end of the elevated park, the mayor announced.

The High Line park, with grand stairways at Gansevoort, 14th, 16th, 18th and 20th Sts., will be open to the public seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Bloomberg called the park “a great gift to the city” from Friends of the High Line, the largely volunteer organization founded by David and Hammond, which will run the park under the supervision of the city Department of Parks and Recreation.

The park’s landscape design, by James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio Renfro, with plantings by Piet Oudolf, “exceeds expectations,” the mayor said.

Segments one and two are projected to cost $152 million and Friends of the High Line has raised $44 million, the mayor said. The city has committed $112.2 million to the project, and The Friends will be responsible for 70 percent of the cost of maintaining the High Line.

New York State recently provided $400,000, and during the past couple of years kicked in $23.8 million.

Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg, who together donated $5 million to the High Line in 2006, more recently put up another $10 million, conditioned on a matching donation, which was met in short order by Philip Falcone, a billionaire hedge-fund manager, and his wife, Lisa Marie, the mayor said.

Hammond recalled that the High Line was built 75 years ago to raise New York Central Railroad tracks off the street where trains were a menace to pedestrians. David thanked Bloomberg for embracing an idea that had been mocked by his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani.

At High Line ribbon cutting on Monday, flanked by P.S. 11 students, from left, the students’ teacher, Farida Ahmad, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Robert Hammond of Friends of the High Line, hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone, Josh David of Friends of the High Line (partially hidden from view), Mayor Bloomberg, Lisa Marie Falcone, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, Diane von Furstenberg and Borough President Scott Stringer.

Amanda Burden, the City Planning Commission chairperson, said that when she first came up to the High Line she knew that the city had to preserve an irreplaceable part of the city infrastructure. The rezoning of the right of way was a key piece of the project that is just being realized, Bloomberg said, noting that there are 33 new buildings recently completed or being constructed as a result of the rezoning. The ribbon-cutting ceremony took place under part of Andre Balazs’s recently completed Standard Hotel, which straddles the High Line at Little West 12th St. Balazs’s project, however, wasn’t affected by the rezoning, which was only in Chelsea, north of 14th St.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe was in his glory, opening another park two weeks after reopening the renovated part of Washington Square Park and a few days after opening the rebuilt Harlem Piers on the Hudson River.

Congressmember Jerrold Nadler recalled 1983 when he joined the late Peter Obletz in an effort to save the elevated rail line that was being dismantled piece by piece from Spring to Gansevoort Sts.

“We didn’t envision anything like this,” Nadler said.

Back in the 19th century, the state Legislature said that trains on 10th Ave. had to be preceded by a man on horseback waving a red flag or a lantern. In 1929, the state authorized the West Side Improvement, popularly known as the High Line.

Later on Monday, during an informal question-and-answer session, Burden ranked the park among the city’s greatest achievements during her tenure.

“This is without question — no contest — my favorite project,” she told The Villager. “It’s been my number-one priority since the day I got appointed, so there’s tremendous satisfaction in seeing this happen today.”

The event evoked a more emotional response from Hammond, who said he’s recently been driven to tears while witnessing the fruits of his labor.

“I’ve been crying a lot,” he said. “My dad always said the best response to joy is tears, and that’s definitely been happening.”

For David, who has spent as much time atop the High Line as anyone throughout the years, actually seeing the public take to the park has been his greatest reward.

“It isn’t really complete until today, when the doors open and people come into it,” he said. “It’s just so exciting to see people walking up the stairs and looking around and beginning to use this park. It’s magical.”

The High Line represents another leap forward for the fast-growing Meatpacking District, which rose in recent years from gritty to glam seemingly overnight. Annie Washburn, executive director of the Meatpacking District Initiative, said the new public space will encourage a more diverse crowd to explore the newly upscale area.

“Hopefully, what the park will do is draw in the people that feel that they can’t come to the neighborhood,” she said. “And the neighborhood will then start to include more people as a response to that.”

Just-married couple James Lui and Cynthia Tsui had planned to take their wedding photos nearby in the West Village before getting the news that the park was already open.

“It was easy enough just to walk up and see if it was open,” said Lui, who used to live with his wife in Chelsea. “We came right up, and it was amazing — it was really beautiful.”

The two posed for shots along the length of the High Line as passersby congratulated them.

“Our photographer’s in heaven,” Lui added. “She really likes a lot of the angles, the perspectives — just the whole look and appeal of everything.”

On Tuesday, the High Line’s official opening day, a handful of visitors took to the park in the morning despite intermittent downpours.

Danielle Roberts and Michael Rodenbush made their way down from the Upper East Side to take a tour, and said they’d trek down regularly because “it’s a destination.”

“I think it’s really nice that they saved something that was an important part of the city’s history, and I think it’s really well executed,” said Roberts, 45.

Ella Georgiades, a West Villager, came with her two daughters, 2-year-old Tasha and 2-month-old Bea. The High Line is “completely awesome and very kid-friendly,” she said.

“I didn’t quite get that it was going to be so landscaped; I thought it was just going to be like a walkway,” said Georgiades, 31. “I got the whole park-in-the-sky, oasis thing, but I didn’t think it would really work out. I think it’s worked out very, very nicely. It’s the kind of thing you’d see in Montreal, not in New York City.”

Bethany Wall, a Jersey City resident, made a quick stop over at the High Line in between work engagements in the area.

“I love different perspectives of New York and also the connection to history,” said the 48-year-old. “I will definitely come back here as a destination, myself and with others.”

Patrick Shepherd, 29, an actor who was auditioning in a building that overlooks the park, came down after he saw construction workers replaced by regular visitors that day. He worried that, as a public venue, the park might suffer from New Yorkers’ disrespect.

“Within in a week it’ll be all graffiti and spit and gum and whatever else all over it, but for now it’s beautiful,” he said. Regardless, he predicted crowds will still flock from all over to experience the High Line.

“I definitely think that it’ll be a thing that tourists will come check out when they’re in the city, because it’s unique,” he said. “How many parks are in the sky?”