High Line rolls up numbers; Visitors top 2 million mark


By Albert Amateau

High Line rolls up

numbers; Visitors

top 2 million mark

It was a perfect April 1 on the High Line last week when Friends of the High Line, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and City Planning Chairperson Amanda Burden welcomed the 2 millionth visitor to the elevated park since it opened in June last year.

Two youngsters from Raleigh, N.C., Zack Hauser, 12, and his sister, Lexis, 10, took the double honors of being numbers 2,000,000 and 2,000,001 when they arrived with their mother, Debbie, and their Chelsea friend, Richard Connolly, at about 11:40 a.m. Thursday.

Benepe, Burden and Josh David, a founder of the Friends of the High Line, which administers the park with the city, met the visitors at the park’s south entrance on Gansevoort St. They escorted them to the promenade where they helped plant an eastern redbud sapling among the spring blooms on the former railroad viaduct.

Benepe pronounced the elevated park a big success.

“The world’s most unusual park, the only thing like it is the Promenade Plantée in Paris,” he said. “Two million visits in less than a year puts the High Line up with New York City’s major attractions, and contributes to New York’s important tourist business.”

The 2 million figure was a “good guesstimate,” Benepe said. Park rangers have had counters at the entrances since June, mostly on weekends, to make sure the High Line didn’t get overcrowded, and the numbers provided a baseline for the estimate.

The Hausers were chosen arbitrarily from among the visitors coming for a stroll 30 feet above the street on the cloudless April Fools’ morning. It was no joke, though: The two youngsters received a plaque commemorating the event and two gift bags from Diane von Furstenberg, a major High Line benefactor.

“We’ve been on an incredible journey,” said David, recalling when he and Robert Hammond first proposed the park 11 years ago. He paid tribute to Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose support made the park possible.

Burden called the park, “magical.”

Congressmember Jerrold Nadler recalled the successful efforts that he joined in the 1980s to save the High Line from demolition.

“We didn’t think of it as a park back then. We thought it might be restored as a freight line or a light-rail service,” Nadler recalled.

Gifford Miller, who was City Council speaker five years ago and an early supporter of the High Line, was also on hand. So was Philip Aarons, a developer, former member of the City Planning Commission and the first chairperson of the Friends board of directors.

The railroad viaduct was built 76 years ago by the New York Central Railroad to get freight trains off the streets of the West Side. The steel-and-concrete structure extended from 34th St. down to the St. John’s Terminal — today known as the St. John’s Center — at Houston St., and served the W. 33rd St. General Post Office, the Meatpacking District and Lower Manhattan along the way. But rail traffic declined and the last freight train rolled along the viaduct in 1980 with a load of frozen turkey.

In subsequent years, much of the viaduct was demolished, leaving the existing structure, between Gansevoort and 34th Sts., to be converted into a 1.2-mile park in the sky at a total cost of $173 million.

The first section, from Gansevoort St. to 20th St., opened last June; the second section, under construction between 20th and 30th Sts., is expected to open in spring 2011. The third section, between 30th and 34th Sts., which loops around the West Side Rail Yards from 10th Ave. to West St., will be developed in the future in conjunction with the rail yards redevelopment.