An Important Message from Co-Founder Robert Hammond

EnlargePhoto by Barry Munger

We are about to begin an exciting new chapter in the life of the High Line.

Friends of the High Line Co-Founder Robert Hammond today announced his intent to step down at the end of the year. Along with Co-Founder Joshua David, Robert has worked tirelessly for 14 years to build the High Line and make it into a beloved public space.

Follow us after the jump to read Robert’s letter to supporters.

Dear Friends,

I want to let you know about some important changes coming to the High Line. I have decided to step down as Executive Director of Friends of the High Line at the end of this year.

This is an exciting, but bittersweet moment for me. Together we have worked tirelessly to build the High Line, and to make it the beloved public place it has become, but the time has come for me to move on. Joshua David and I founded Friends of the High Line almost 14 years ago, and since then it has grown into an established, thriving cultural institution that has transcended the two people who started it. I will go into greater detail about my decision later in this email, but before I do, I want to inform you of some other important changes.

My decision means that Friends of the High Line’s Board of Directors will now begin the search for a new Executive Director, and I am confident that the individual they select will serve as a creative force in leading the High Line into the future. Joshua David will be staying with the organization and assume the role of President – a position that will enable him to continue his focus on fundraising and Board development.

There will also be changes to our Board of Directors. Earlier this evening, the Board voted to elect John Alschuler – who has served as Board Chair since 2009 – and fellow Board member, Catie Marron, as Co-Chairs of the Board, and Board member Mario Palumbo as Vice Chair. Early next year, John will step down from the chairmanship, but he will continue to serve as a Board member, and Catie will become the Board’s Chair.

John Alschuler has been our Board Chair since 2009, but his visionary leadership began long before that. In 2002, he conducted the economic feasibility study that made the financial case for the High Line. At every step of the way, he worked tirelessly to not only save the elevated railway, but to build the park and a strong organization to maintain and operate it. In recent years, he spearheaded our advocacy efforts to save the High Line at the Rail Yards, and his dedication to the project is a major reason why we were able to begin construction last year. On a more personal note, John has served as an extraordinary mentor to me over the past decade, and I will be forever grateful for his guidance. I am happy that John will head the search committee for our next Executive Director, who will be responsible for the leadership and vision of the organization.

Catie Marron brings invaluable experience to the chairmanship, having served on the Board of Trustees of The New York Public Library since 1993, and chaired its Board between 2004 and 2011. During her tenure, she led the Library to record levels of visitation, hours of service, and digital expansion; substantially strengthened its financial foundation; and oversaw the creation of five new branch libraries. Catie’s career has encompassed investment banking at Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers, magazine journalism at Vogue; and an extensive knowledge of parks, through her research for a book to be published by HarperCollins later this year.

Josh and I are thankful for John and Catie’s commitment to the High Line. With the two of them in leadership roles, along with Mario Palumbo, who is a founding member of our Board and our Treasurer, our organization will be in great hands.

Since those early years, when the park was just an idea on paper, I’ve had three personal goals for the project: that the High Line becomes a well-loved place; that it inspires other people to start their own projects; and that it gets even better after Josh and I leave. I feel that we’ve achieved the first two goals, and as to the third: Josh is staying on as President, and we’re both confident that we have built this organization with an eye toward the future. Josh and I will always be part of the High Line, but its success is not dependent upon us.

We have an amazing staff and dedicated Board of Directors who will define the next chapter of the High Line. Friends of the High Line has grown so much since we first founded the organization in 1999. Back then, it was just Josh and I, working in our spare time out of our apartments. Now our staff is comprised of more than 60 full-time staff members, each of whom is deeply passionate about their role as stewards of the High Line. We have accomplished incredible things together, and I am certain that their dedication, hard work, and commitment will bring great success to the park.

What will I do next? I am not sure. My passion has always been in starting new things, and I am looking forward to pursuing whatever my next project may be. In my heart I am an entrepreneur, and we began Friends of the High Line as a non-profit start-up. When Josh and I first met at a community board meeting in 1999, I never could have imagined what the next 14 years would hold for me. I’m a dreamer, but I’m also a realist. At the time, the High Line was viewed as a blight, and many people wanted to tear it down. Even I thought the chances of the High Line still standing in five years were slim – 1 in a 100 at best.

Our organization has come so far since that first community board meeting. Just look at last year. We started construction on the High Line at the Rail Yards; organized 450 free public events and activities, curated 31 art installations, and expanded our food concessions and merchandise programs – all while maintaining one mile of parkland that welcomed more than 4.4 million visitors. In the four short years since the first section opened, the High Line has become one of the most visited public parks per acre in the city. Yet all of its maintenance and operations are funded by a broad community of supporters like you, keeping it free and open to the public, 365 days a year.

The High Line will continue to evolve. I’ve never thought of it as just a park. To me, it is more like an ever-changing cultural institution. In the not-too-distant future, the third and final section of the High Line will open to visitors, but I don’t think that will be the end of the story. The High Line’s horticulture, design, art, programs, and community outreach will evolve, with new innovations and surprises each season. I bet in just five years, Friends of the High Line will be dreaming up new initiatives and ideas that we can’t even imagine right now.

To me, the High Line was never just about the plants and the design; it has always been about the people. A diverse community of people like you saved the High Line from demolition, and transformed it into public space. Josh and I frequently get all the credit for the project’s success, but the most important thing we did was raise the flag, and then other people rallied around us to help get it done.

This is still true today. Donors, members, volunteers, elected officials, city partners, community leaders, neighbors, and supporters like you made the High Line possible, and now you are helping us maintain it. Working with so many of you has been a highlight of my life. I will be forever grateful for your dedication and support, but this is not a goodbye. I will be here until the end of the year, and I will always be part of the High Line community – this family that we’ve created together.

With my deepest thanks,

Robert Hammond

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