Casino at the High Line: Park advocates launch campaign to say NO to major development project

Wynn New York City_Hudson Green_Rendering Courtesy of Related Companies and Wynn Resorts
Rendering of the development.
Photo courtesy of Related Companies and Wynn Resorts

A group of New Yorkers launched a campaign Wednesday to protect part of Manhattan’s High Line, a green space oasis, from turning into a mini metropolis with more buildings and less nature.

Members of the new Protect the High Line public awareness campaign want to stop plans for a major, $12 billion development that would include three sky-reaching towers and a full-service Vegas-style casino. A project of this size, the advocacy group said, would “negatively impact” the visitor experience at the iconic, elevated West Side park. 

Protect the High Line is an initiative of Friends of the High Line, the organization that maintains and operates the city-owned park. The campaign includes a newly launched website, social media channels, field organizing in the High Line vicinity to gather support signatures and a possible ad campaign.

“Our job is to tell New Yorkers — the 7 million people each year who visit and use the High Line — what this proposed development would do to their experience on the High Line,” Alan van Capelle, executive director of Friends of the High Line, said. “We are first and foremost a public park. We’re one of the jewels of the NYC park system. We have botanical-level gardens and museum-quality sculptures, and it’s all for free.”

Related Companies, in collaboration with Wynn Resorts, released renderings of the development — dubbed Wynn New York — in March. The project would be positioned between W. 30 and 33 Streets and 11 and 12 Avenues in the Western Rail Yards, located on the park’s north end. 

With an 80-story tower and full-scale gaming facility at the centerpiece of the project, it would sit in stark contrast to the gardens, trees and art installations that line the 15-year-old park, van Capelle explained.

This proposed plan is bad for the High Line and everyone who loves it, and we will work with the community to make it better,” he said. 

Despite opposing Related’s plan, Friends of the High Line does not mind development for the area. In fact, van Capelle  cited a 2009 agreement between Related, the mayor’s office and the city council that included a commitment to more than 3,000 units of housing, including the possibility of up to 5,700 units, and 4.3 acres of open space with multiple public access points along the Western Rail Yards.

But the current development is a far cry from the original 2009 agreement, van Capelle said.  

“The plan that is currently being proposed by Related is seeking to build massive towers in that area,” he said. “It’s removing light, it’s removing air. It’s creating a huge podium for a proposed casino, and it would overwhelm the High Line.”

Related is currently applying to the city for approval to replace the original 2009 zoning agreement. A spokesperson for Related said the new plan, although different from the 2009 agreement, will still feature 5.6 acres of publicly accessible, contiguous greenspace, and provide other benefits, including more than 5,000 permanent union careers and 35,000 union construction jobs. 

“Related Companies has a long history of supporting and working cooperatively with the High Line, which is why we met with them seven times in the last year alone to discuss our proposal for the Western rail yard,” the spokesperson said. “We approached these meetings in good faith and made substantive changes to our plans in response to their concerns, after which they did not raise additional issues with us.” 

As reported in amNew York Metro in March, the development also includes practical amenities such as a daycare center, a public school with 750 seats, office space and a residential building to include affordable housing.

Still, members of the newly launched campaign, which includes community leaders, block association presidents, tenant leaders and many others, oppose the plan. 

Miguel Acevedo, who lives in the nearby Fulton Houses, is an avid supporter of the High Line and wants to preserve its charm for years to come.

“I love the High Line,” he said. “The High Line is a neighborhood treasure and we all need to do everything we can to protect it and make sure it stays that way for future generations of New Yorkers.”

Carmen Matias, another nearby resident and member of the High Line Neighbors Council, said the park is a mainstay in the area.

“The High Line is our neighborhood’s park,” she said. “Our residents and neighbors will not stand for a plan that dramatically undermines the essence of the High Line.”

Casino proposals in NYC

The Hudson Yards/High Line-area casino bid is just one of at least nine NYC-metro area locations being considered for three available casino licenses in the coming years. 

Other locations in Manhattan for proposed casinos include Freedom Plaza on the East Side and Times Square. Right now, all casino bidders are in the early stages of the licensing process, which is conducted by the state and includes an extensive series of approvals.

The spokesperson for Related said the company will continue to work with stakeholders on the land-use process, despite widespread opposition to the project from the community.