“Public-Private” Partnerships at NYC Parks Leave “Public” Behind While Lack of Media Scrutiny Continues

Brooklyn Bridge View
Brooklyn Bridge View

Updated 10/30, 11:37 a.m. – In NYC, there once was more significant coverage of “public-private” “partnerships” – and the issues that come along with them. 2013 seemed to be the height of media attention. Since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, the public-private seems to be receiving far less scrutiny and … it’s all good, if we believe the press and elected officials.

Loss of Key Reporters Covering Private – Public Conflicts

Key reporters who had written excellent pieces on this topic are sadly no longer doing so – such as Patrick Arden who was at Metro and Next American City, Michael Powell at The New York Times who was moved to the Sports section !! – such a loss for us, a gain for sports, where writers are often more strategic and outline better, and Kate Briquelet at The New York Post; she recently moved to Daily Beast. (She covered the arrival and secrecy around the creation of the private Washington Square Park conservancy. Briquelet also covered the “hot dog” vendor ouster hoopla. Links to be added.) The writer who covers parks the most in New York City right now, Lisa Foderaro at The Times, seems to not weigh in or or consider that there is debate around private entities and public parks.

One park and its affiliated private entity has received some in-depth scrutiny in the last year: Brooklyn Bridge Park and its Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation.

I’ve Got a (Brooklyn) Bridge to Sell You?

The latest from DNAinfo, Brooklyn Bridge Pierhouse Violates City-Protected Scenic View, Survey Finds:

Brooklyn Bridge Park’s embattled Pierhouse intrudes upon a city-protected scenic view from the Promenade by nearly 20 feet, according to a new surveyor’s report commissioned by opponents of the project.

The Pierhouse, a luxury hotel and condo building constructed on public land along the East River, rises too high above the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, breaking the city’s zoning rules by encroaching on the scenic view, the report, commissioned by Save the View Now, found. …

The six-story Pierhouse will include 108 condos priced between $1.1 million and $11.1 million as well as a hotel, according to state documents. …

“This is the latest example of how the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp (BBPC), a not-for-profit outside of normal New York City government and controlled by the mayor, has failed to provide any meaningful oversight to the construction by Toll Brothers and Starwood on Pier 1,” the group wrote in a press release.

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Why the Parks Department “Back-Up Plan” to Barry Diller’s Pier 55 Island Should be the Actual Plan

Diller's Proposed Island
Diller’s Proposed Island

As outlined by DNAinfo today, the New York City Parks Department has a “back up plan” if the $151 million privately financed Pier 55 project proposed by “media mogul” Barry Diller and friends falls through. The Diller plan aims to transform a pier of Hudson River Park into a “floating paradise for fundraisers and theater shows.” The alternative plan would be somewhat more modest in nature. It would be similar to … the rest of the park. At this site, I have outlined before the problems when private influence takes hold at public parks – and this is no different.

City has Back Up Plan if Barry Diller pulls out of Island project:

via DNAinfo 

CHELSEA — Billionaire media mogul Barry Diller plans to build a $151 million island oasis in Hudson River Park — if the group that runs the park meets his demands to revitalize nearby dormant space along the waterfront.

Under a lease inked with the Hudson River Park Trust, Diller has the right to pull his money from the project at Pier 54 if overhauls at neighboring piers don’t meet his satisfaction.

The lease sets out expectations that two long-troubled points in the cash-strapped park — Pier 57, a dilapidated former garage, and Gansevoort Peninsula, a swath of unused land whose fate is tied to the construction of a waste transfer station — will be developed into parkland and a commercial space.

Diller’s donation is also predicated on the construction of a publicly funded $22.5 million esplanade that will serve as an entrance to the island.

The city has pledged $17 million toward Diller’s vision and the adjacent esplanade. But DNAinfo New York has learned that, to hedge against the possibility of Diller bowing out, the Parks Department and the trust created a backup plan, a more modest $30 million park at Pier 54.

DNAinfo reviewed a working draft of the contract between the city Parks Department and the trust, which reveals that if Diller pulls out, the city’s $17 million investment will go toward a park in the same spot — but it’ll come without the bells and whistles in the billionaire’s vision. The contract is still in the process of being approved.

The difference between the parks is dramatic. Where Diller imagines a floating paradise for fundraisers and theater shows, the alternative park would be similar to other pier parks along the Hudson.

Is that so bad?

A commenter at DNAinfo named punto said:

Though this is far from my neighborhood, Inwood, I have seen what happens when private interests get concessions for projects built on publicly owned land. What was supposed to be an enhancement to the area has turned into a magnet for huge crowds that overwhelm the neighboring streets all summer long.

Just build a park that maybe, just possibly, the nearby residents could enjoy rather than one more glitzy, overdone tourist attraction, encouraging expenditure and overindulgent behavior by weekenders and tourists. The city can supply its own “entertainment” without Mr. Diller’s help just by being itself. I have been to just about every waterside area the entire length of the west side people seem to be having a good time where the main amenities are benches, water fountains and maybe a bit of grass to sit on here and there.

Strings Attached

“Mr. Diller’s contemplated donation should be understood within context,”

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