NEW YORK - In a city where real estate is king, seven acres of open space is precious - even if it's 18 feet above the ground.
The High Line, a 1.5-mile elevated railroad spur built 70 years ago to carry freight trains to the far West Side of Manhattan, has accumulated knee-high grass, wildflowers and rust since the last train rumbled through in 1980.
Now, some civic groups and politicians are pushing to have the High Line turned into parkland as part of the city's effort to revitalize the industrial neighborhood and boost chances of landing the 2012 Olympics.
"It was built to move in eggs and butter to factories in New York City. Now it can be used to move people in and out of the galleries, restaurants, apartments and offices that those warehouses have become," said Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit group dedicated to its preservation.
The High Line has become a "critical element" in the city's West Side revitalization plan, said Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, who also envisions a stadium for the Olympics and the New York Jets for the neighborhood.
"It's a wonderful example of New York's industrial past that renovated and landscaped - or whatever it becomes - could be a unique asset for New York City," Doctoroff said.
The art deco viaduct was built in 1929-34 to elevate dangerous and clogged railroad traffic above city streets, including Tenth Avenue - which once had the nickname "Death Avenue" because of the accidents caused by the mix of rail traffic, cars and pedestrians.
The Friends of the High Line estimates it would cost $40 million to $60 million to renovate the steel structure.
Some neighboring property owners have long considered the High Line a blight that should be demolished, but they have been less vocal as ideas emerge to transform the structure.
A design competition has attracted 720 entries from 38 countries, with ideas ranging from a sculpture garden to an amusement park featuring a "Big Apple roller coaster."
ON THE NET
Friends of the High Line: http://www.thehighline.org/
Surface Transportation Board: http://www.stb.dot.gov/