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Friends of the High Line Newsletter

August 12, 2009

About the Proposed High Line Improvement District

Dear Friend of the High Line,

A group of interested community leaders, property owners, business owners and residents has formed a Steering Committee to propose creating a special assessment district (the High Line Improvement District) to raise funds to help cover some of the maintenance costs of the park. This is an important issue for the High Line, one that could have a positive impact on its long term future. The proposed Improvement District would be created through a future public process, and we are currently collecting feedback on the proposal as it now stands.

The proposed Improvement District (ID) would be similar to a Business Improvement District (BID), except that it would be dedicated to park maintenance, and it would only cover only a portion of the maintenance costs for the High Line. The map below shows the current boundaries of the proposed Improvement District. It reflects the feedback that we’ve received from members of the local community and further analysis we’ve performed, but may change further as we continue to study the issue. The District will also function as a voice for the community on High Line issues, and it will require community support and initiative to be established.

PROPOSED MAP AS OF AUGUST 12, 2009. Under the currently proposed plan, properties on the map in Subdistrict A would pay the District more than 9 cents per square foot per year. Properties in Subdistrict B, and storage and warehouse facilities throughout would pay 1/3 of that rate, or no more than 3 cents per square foot per year.

We thought it would be helpful if we provided you with some basic information, and answers to questions we are hearing. You can also always access information about the proposed district at www.thehighline.org/district. The process of collecting public input on this proposal has just begun this summer, and the proposal will likely change as we learn more about what will work best.

Who is responsible for maintenance of the High Line?
Both the City and Friends of the High Line (FHL) are responsible for the maintenance of the High Line. Following the model of other major parks organizations, such as the Central Park Conservancy, Bryant Park Corporation, Madison Square Park Conservancy, and the Prospect Park Alliance, FHL has entered into a license agreement with the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, under which FHL has principal day-to-day maintenance responsibilities for the High Line. The City is responsible for providing security on the High Line, as well as maintaining the High Line structure itself and its elevators. The total projected annual maintenance cost for Sections 1 and 2 is $3.5 - $4.5 million. FHL is responsible for over 70% of those costs.

What is an Improvement District?
Normally called a Business Improvement District (BID), these are special districts set up by the property owners, commercial businesses, and residents within the District who agree to pay a small special assessment to help fund services and sometimes capital improvements that are supplemental to what the City provides. In most areas, this includes additional street cleaning and security, marketing of the area and local businesses, and general quality of life improvements. There are now 64 BIDs in New York City, and each one has its own program of services designed by the people in the district to serve their area's unique needs.

How is the High Line Improvement District different from a normal ID or BID?
The High Line Improvement District would be different from other Improvement Districts in that its funds would be used solely for park maintenance on the High Line and at its access points, keeping our services focused and, most importantly, keeping the assessment low. This Improvement District is also distinguished from other Districts because the creation of the High Line as a unique, linear public open space was directly facilitated, in large measure, by the creation of the Special West Chelsea High Line zoning district. The District would also help ensure the High Line is maintained at the high standard required to retain its value as a neighborhood amenity.

An important way in which this is like a normal BID is that, by law, the services it provides can only be supplemental to what the City is providing. Thus, the City cannot reduce its services to the High Line because the District exists and expect the District to make up the difference.

How does this assessment work?
Once the District is established (see below for information on this process), a non-profit organization is set up to manage the district and signs a contract with the City to do so. The City then collects the assessment and turns 100% of the funds back to the organization managing the district.

What is the assessment?
The assessment is different in each District and is determined by the stakeholders when the District is established. In this case, the Steering Committee is proposing a $1 million budget cap and an assessment rate based on dividing that budget by square footage in the District.

Properties on the attached map in Subdistrict A would pay no more than 9 cents per square foot per year. On an 800 square foot property, that would mean $72 per year, or the equivalent of $6 per month. Properties in Subdistrict B, and storage and warehouse facilities throughout the District would pay 1/3 of that rate, or no more than 3 cents per square foot per year. On an 800 square foot property, that would mean about $24 per year, or $2 per month. As more square footage is created in the District, through development, the assessment on each property will decrease.

Can the assessment go up?
Not without changing the law that set up the District. The maximum budget is capped by law when the District is established. The budget cannot be changed without changing the law, which would require an entirely new public process involving the stakeholders. The assessment can go down, though, and will go down as new buildings are built and additional property area is added to the District.

Who runs this (B)ID?
The Improvement District is run by a separate non-profit, independent of FHL, with a board that is elected by the people paying the assessment. The board presents a budget and plan for the year to the District's members each year at an annual meeting, and stays in touch throughout the year with newsletters, surveys, and other communications.

Do I have a vote?
Everyone in the District (see map for currently proposed district boundaries) has a vote as a member of the non-profit discussed above. The process for creating the District, described below, does not involve a formal vote per se, but will not go forward without sufficient, clearly demonstrated support across the broadest spectrum of interested parties in the District.

How is it created?
The formal process for creating this type of district is spelled out in law. Right now, the Steering Committee is reaching out informally to those in the area to gauge support, and make adjustments to the proposal as appropriate in response to the feedback they receive. Once the current outreach process is completed, if the Steering Committee and the participatory City agencies feel that there is enough community support to move ahead, they will look to start the formal process.

The first step is formalizing, in a District Plan, the services, budget, and assessment method. Then under the oversight of the NYC Department of Small Business Services, the year-long legislative process for formally approving the District can begin. That process will involve presentations to and recommendations by Community Boards 2 and 4, notification to the Borough President and Borough Board, and required public hearings and votes by both the City Planning Commission and the City Council. If the District is approved by the City Council, the Mayor will hold a public hearing and can then sign legislation creating the District. At any of the hearings, or in writing, stakeholders will have the opportunity to express their support of or opposition to the proposed District. Generally, the legislative process for approving a District takes nine to twelve months.

What is the relationship between the District and Friends of the High Line?
The District is independent from FHL and is directly accountable to the members of the district – everybody who lives, works, and owns property there. FHL, though, carries out the actual maintenance of the High Line under its license agreement with the City. The District would contract with FHL for the use of the District's funds to maintain the High Line and could negotiate with FHL over the use of those funds. In essence, regarding High Line maintenance, FHL is accountable to the District Board and the District Board is accountable to the property owners, business owners, and residents.

What is unique about maintaining the High Line? What is driving the park's maintenance budget?
In addition to the park's high volume of use – we expect to have more than one million visitors by the end of this year – there are the unique challenges of operating an intensely planted public space on an elevated structure with limited access, unique horticulture, complex systems and utilities, and specific public safety requirements. The projected annual maintenance cost for the park, once Section 2 is open, is $3.5 to $4.5 million.

It is important to note that during the design process, every effort was made to choose designs, materials and support systems that would minimize future maintenance costs, while still creating a unique and valued neighborhood amenity.

Why isn't the City paying for all the High Line's costs? Does the City cover the full costs in other major parks?
The High Line is similar to other City parks that have supporting private organizations, such as the Central Park Conservancy or the Bryant Park Corporation, which provide a substantial amount of funding to support those parks. For example, the Central Park Conservancy provides approximately 85% of the costs of maintaining Central Park, and Bryant Park Corporation pays 100%. Those organizations, however, were founded in reaction to the parks being in a distressed condition due to a lack of funding over time, while the High Line has been a public-private partnership between Friends of the High Line and the City from its inception. The goal of the Improvement District, which would cover roughly 30% of the park’s costs, is to ensure that the High Line always has sufficient, stable funding to be maintained at the level it is maintained today.

How much of the maintenance budget will the District cover?
The $1 million District budget will cover roughly 20% to 30% of the High Line's maintenance budget. The park has many constituencies and beneficiaries, and we are trying to apportion the costs of maintaining the park fairly among them. While the High Line is a neighborhood amenity, it is also a citywide and worldwide attraction. In recognition of that fact, we are proposing a budget which raises only about 30% of the park's maintenance costs directly from the neighborhood.

What will the money pay for?

These funds would help cover the costs of:
• Trash removal
• Restroom cleaning
• Cleaning and maintenance of all pathways, seating areas, stairs, and elevators
• Horticultural upkeep: watering, weeding, plant replacement
• Opening and closing assistance
• Repairs to railings, benches, wood seating areas
• Maintenance of electrical, plumbing, and irrigation systems

What does the money NOT pay for?
These funds would not be used to pay for the administrative costs of FHL, nor any of its salaries or fundraising expenses.

How else are funds being raised for maintenance and operations?
The proposed Improvement District would be one of several revenue streams. Other anticipated revenue streams would be the responsibility of FHL, not the District, and include annual private fundraising (membership, foundation support, corporate support, and events), an endowment, and concessions. Rather than relying on a sole revenue source, FHL is planning a diversity of revenue streams to ensure that the High Line is always well-maintained, even in times of economic downturn. Because the Improvement District funds are stable and show strong neighborhood support, they would, in turn, help to leverage all of the other sources described above, as well as City funding.

Are residential buildings assessed in other BIDs?
Yes, in about 13 existing BIDs. These include the Bryant Park Corporation, Union Square Partnership, and NoHo NY.

Why didn't this come up sooner?
FHL has been proactively pursuing plans to ensure that the High Line never experiences a period of neglect and decline that so many of our great parks went through before stable funding sources were established. The idea for the assessment emerged out of discussion with members of the community, who came together as a committee to look for ways to provide structured support for the High Line and to establish more community involvement in its management. The District would do both. The process for reaching broader community consensus and, we hope, establishing such a district, is very lengthy, however, so we wanted to begin this process as soon as we, as a group, had agreed on an approach.

The Steering Committee is actively soliciting feedback on this proposal through meetings and via email at district@thehighline.org. Please visit www.thehighline.org/district for more information and future updates.

Generous support for the efforts to establish a High Line Improvement District has been provided by the J.M. Kaplan Fund.


Featured Summer Programs

High Line History Program: Starting the High Line with Co-Founder Robert Hammond
Friends of the High Line Co-Founder Robert Hammond will talk about his experiences -- both setbacks and successes -- as part of Friends of the High Line for the last ten years. Robert started Friends of the High Line in 1999 with Joshua David, when the two sat next to each other at a Community Board meeting. Robert will talk about the organization's foundation, growth, and how it took the High Line from the brink of demolition to one of New York City's most popular public places.

Wednesday, August 19
6:30 PM - 7:30 PM
Meet in the High Line's 14th Street Passage

RSVP is recommended but not required. Walk-ins will be admitted until the program is full.

Walking Tours
Walk the High Line with an expert!
Our small group walking tours are a great introduction to the park, as well as an opportunity to hear directly from the High Line's staff and designers about its history, design, gardens, and other areas of interest. Tours are every Sunday at 2:00. They are one hour long and cost $5 for Members and $10 for Non-Members. Become a Member.

August 16: Lisa Switkin, Associate Principal, James Corner Field Operations

August 23: Horticulture Staff, Friends of the High Line

August 30: Peter Mullan, Director of Planning, and Patrick Hazari, Design & Planning Fellow
Friends of the High Line

September 13: Matthew Johnson, Senior Associate, Diller Scofidio + Renfro

September 20: Horticulture Staff, Friends of the High Line

September 27: Jeff Hafner, Friends of the High Line

To see our full calendar of events, please visit our events page.

Friends of the High Line programming and community outreach is made possible with support from the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Johnson Family Foundation, and the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development.

Friends of the High Line’s publications, program materials, and Web content is made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.


Update on 14th Street Access Point

Due to ongoing construction adjacent to the High Line at 14th Street, the sidewalk on the south side of 14th street is now closed to the EAST of the High Line, between the High Line and Washington Street. Access to the 14th Street stair is still open, but can only be reached from the WEST. If you want to enter the High Line at 14th Street and are coming from the east, you will need to walk on the north side of the street to 10th Ave., cross to the south of the street, and then walk back to get the 14th St stair.

The stairs at Gansevoort Street, 18th Street, and 20th Street, and the stair and elevator at 16th Street remain open.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you, and we will keep you posted of any changes as construction progresses.


Become a Member of Friends of the High Line

Become a member today. Our members provide critical operating support to ensure that the High Line lives up to the high standards we all hold for this innovative new park. Support from our members allows us to hire gardeners to keep the park’s flowers and trees in peak condition, and maintenance crews to ensure the High Line is safe for its visitors.

Click to Join

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