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Riverside South Travesty

Politicians kill park component at Trump Development on West Side

by Carter B. Horsley

Major highways cutting through many of New York's suburbs have in recent years been fenced in.

It seems that some suburbanites don't like noise and had little difficulty convincing politicians to spend hundreds of millions, probably billions, to put up large concrete walls around highways.

Such absurdity is being taken to new heights by Gov. George E. Pataki and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani who have decided that the Upper West Side of Manhattan does not need an extension of Riverside Drive south and that Donald Trump's mammoth Riverside South development will sit just fine smack dab up against the elevated West Side Highway that will mar views of the majestic Hudson River and cast shadows on the large park that is planned for much of the site.

Remember when many Upper West Siders thought that a proposed tower at the Coliseum sight might cast a momentary thin shadow on Central Park?

Where are they now?

The decisions and attitudes of the governor and the mayor and their spokespersons in this matter are outrageous.

Their reversal of the plan is incredible given the remarkable redesign of the project in a very rare instance of community participation with city planners and the private development sector. Given that the Upper West side is unquestionable the city's most vocal, voluble and cantankerous group of civic activists, the success of the revised plan that drastically lowered Trump's overly ambitious original proposal, which at one time included the world's tallest building, and substituted a contextual architectural style and major extension of Riverside Park to midtown for a tower-in-the-park scheme by architect Helmut Jahn that actually bordered on being a modern interpretation of Le Corbusier's famous tower-in-the-park plan. The scheme was not perfect, but would have produced a stunning new and modern enclave.

Jahn was dismissed in the process and Alexander Cooper, who was one of the creators of the design guidelines for the residential portion of Battery Park city, was brought in and designed a phalanx of Central Park West Art Deco-style towers that were only 40 to 50 stories tall by and large and formed an undulating streetwall to a large park that was to be built over a reconstructed and sunken highway. The plan was the brainchild of Westpride, the Municipal Arts Society, the Parks Council, the Regional Plan Association and the Riverside Park Fund, all under the leadership of Richard Kahan, the former head of the New York State Urban Development Corp., and Battery Park City, and a very savvy and astute negotiator and planner.

The new plan was accepted by Trump and city officials who felt that its compromises would facilitate its construction and result in a major public benefit not only to the West Side community but also to the city as a whole. When Trump agreed, it was widely hailed as a milestone in Post-War II large-scale development in the city.

The new plan is uninspired and pedestrian and a wasted opportunity, but nevertheless is handsome and quite acceptable as it significantly extends the ambiance and architectural style of both Riverside Park and Riverside Drive.

"Big projects can't be arbitrarily subject to changes in administration. But that doesn't mean you support something stupid. We had to say no. To do this now makes no sense to us," Deputy Mayor Fran Reiter told The New York Times, Feb. 25, of this year.


Well, Deputy Mayor Reiter may not be stupid, but she certainly knows nothing about the city, the Upper West Side, parks, real estate, development, and integrity.

Charles A. Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, was quoted in the same Times article as describing the highway removal as a "luxury," adding "and we certainly can't afford luxuries these days."

Mr. Gargano may not be stupid, but he's not brighter than Deputy Mayor Reiter.

What's involved here is politics of the most dastardly, venal, corrupt, irresponsible and unforgivable nature.

The project is strongly opposed by Congressman Jerrold L. Nadler, Democrat of Manhattan, who has a long-standing feud with Donald Trump, which is perfectly o.k., and a pet project to put a new freight tunnel across the Hudson River.

The city has a number of things it would like to do with Federal highway funds, which are available. It wants Nadler's tunnel, which has received relatively little public discussion, and which costs a lot. It wants a rail link to the airports, which it desperately needs. It wants to create an East Side access to the Long Island Rail Road. It wants to convert the James A. Farley Post Office building into a rail hub that would replace Penn Station. It wants to improve the subway system and the Gowanus Expressway and the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges and the Staten Island Ferry Terminals. Most of these are laudable goals.

The Riverside Park extension, however, is the second most important. The most important is a rail link to the airports, of course.

The Riverside Park/Riverside South controversy is an embarrassment to politicians because the local officials let the Federal Government go ahead and spend $70 million recently to renovate the elevated highway in question. Well, that was stupidity by all three branches of the government, but such stupidity does not justify breaking one's trust and making a total mockery of all local government agreements. If a corporation tried such financial shenanigans, it would quickly find it had bad credit at the very least.

The civic groups involved in the compromise with Mr. Trump should sue the city and state to block any project that seeks to use funds from the Federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act before Riverside Drive and they should use every weapon in their arsenal to embarrass the governor and the mayor until they support it as their first priority.

By burying the highway here, the new buildings will have unobstructed views to the river, but more important so will the city's residents. Who cares whether Donald Trump makes or loses money? What is important here is the city and taking a terrible blight that has remained fallow for decades and making it part of one of the world's great parks at one of the world's greatest locations. It is a no-brainer and it also is relatively inexpensive.

Parks are not luxuries. Political careers are and no one should ever vote for Pataki and Giuliani unless they change their directives immediately and they should be banished to New Jersey, which must find this very amusing. Perhaps private citizens should build an elevated train directly in front of City Hall and the Governor's Mansion and see how they like it.

The Coalition for a Livable West Side filed a law suit in the fall of 1997 that maintained that Donald Trump had not kept a promise to use a viaduct for the southern extension of Riverside Drive through his 75-acre project.

The coalition is suggesting that Trump file a new environmental impact statement and its actions drew the scorn and wrath of some other civic groups, such as the Municipal Arts Society of New York, that worked with Mr. Trump on the current plan for Riverside South as the project is known.

Construction has begun already on the first two of 16 residential towers at the former rail yard site where 1.8-million sq. ft. of commercial space is also contemplated.  The new towers are expected to be completed next year.

The viaduct in question was included in a 1992 planning agreement between Mr. Trump and the city as a way to make room for a relocated West Side Highway that could be placed beneath a new 23-acre waterfront park.  

Mr. Trump committed himself about a year ago to building the road in question atop a mount of landfill rather than on a steel frame, according to an Oct. 2, 1997, article by David M. Halbfinger in The New York Times.

His article quoted Brendon Sexton, the president of the Municipal Arts Society, as describing the coalition's opposition as "obstructionism": "They'll do anything at this point to punish the project."

A lawsuit by the coalition against the project "failed in 1995 after a series of appeals" and, the article continued, "a second lawsuit, aimed at blocking Riverside South from being connected to the North River Sewer Treatment Plant, is still in Federal Court," and "A third lawsuit, challenging $356 million in Federal mortgage guarantees for four of the buildings was dismissed."

The article said that Mr. Trump maintains he is not legally bound to build a viaduct and that there is no specific site yet agreed upon for it. (10/4)


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