Should the HRPT be patting themselves on the back?

Pier26onthe-hudsnwpier25_90September 21, 2013- Opinion By Steven E. Greer, MD

The Friends of Hudson River Park” is throwing a “Robin Hood” style gala on October 3rd at Pier 57. The event will “honor” Goldman Sachs and Michael Novogratz (Chairman of “Friends”, hedge fund tycoon, and former Goldman Sachs Partner). Celebrities will be there, including “Honorary Co-Chair” Julianne Moore, and host Hugh Jackman.

Should the HRPT really be throwing a “One percenters” gala, patting themselves on the back for a job well done? Are financial woes of the HRPT really the main problem, or is managerial incompetence the culprit? Is Mr. Novogratz really interested in helping the Hudson River complex for altruistic reasons, or is he trying to make a real estate deal that will benefit his current hedge fund?

The track record of the current HRPT administration is dismal. Run by Chairwoman Diana Taylor and President/CEO Madelyn Wils, key infrastructure has crumbled into the sea, literally. Most notably, the Pier 40 complex and its ballfields are in dire need of repair after Hurricane Sandy damaged then further.

Lacking a strong leader from the HRPT, two moguls began to fight over the development rights of Pier 40. On one side was real estate legend Douglas Durst (developing the World Trade Center Tower 1 now), and on the other side was lesser known Mike Novogratz. Each had elaborate architectural plans presented before town hall meetings with hundreds of residents in attendance. Mr. Novogratz’s plan won, and Mr. Durst resigned from the HRPT board.

Mr. Novogratz’s plan to save Pier 40 requires the governor’s signature of the new amendment A8031 to the HRPT law, which will allow the sale of air rights over Pier 40 to adjacent properties inland and raise $100 Million for the HRPT. (Coincidentally, Mr. Novogratz’s hedge fund, Fortress Investment Group LLC, owns the St. Johns real estate across the street from Pier 40,which could be turned into a multibillion dollar real estate complex if it gains the air rights.) However, the governor seems to have had second thoughts, and has not yet signed the bill into law, stalling any progress at the various piers controlled by the HRPT.

Another proposal championed by the HRPT leadership to ostensibly save the underfunded parks was to secretly ram through a new tax in the form of a Neighborhood Improvement District (NID-tax). Resolutions were secretly passed by the Community Board 1 (comprised mostly of HRPT cronies), with the plan of getting it approved by City Hall. However, with modern social networking tools and good local reporting, a well organized group of TriBeCans shot that plan down. Major backers of the NID-tax withdrew support.

On the southernmost border of the sprawling HRPT land is Pier 26, still under construction after many years. The original Pier 26 had a boat house and marine estuarium. The Community Board 1 (CB1) of Manhattan passed several resolutions regarding the design of the replacement pier, but the HRPT went ahead with plans that defied the CB1 and possibly were illegal per the HRPT Act. Recognizing the risk of proceeding with the construction, the HRPT leaders have stalled the project. With bill A8031 still unsigned by the governor, the HRPT’s plans for Pier 26 could become a major debacle.

This summer, the HRPT leaders, along with their CB1 cronies, secretly arranged for a summer series of loud amplified music concerts on Pier 26, enraging resident who lived in nearby Tribeca. After town hall meetings, Madelyn Wils apologized and promised to not have any more concerts. One month later, more concerts took place. Once again, the HRPT was operating in rogue fashion, bypassing and ignoring the public.

Far more serious than any quality of life problem caused by the inept HRPT leaders is the violent crime that is spiking along the waterfront. One year ago, a 21-year-old actress from TriBeCa jogged to Pier 25 and watched the sunrise. She was then brutally raped by a Level-3 sex offender recently released from prison. No HRPT patrol officers were around. It took 30-minutes before someone spotted it and called the NYPD.

This month, a father was jogging on the bike path when a gang of teenagers on bikes came up and knocked him unconscious just for the joy of it. No HRPT patrol were around.

One year after Hurricane Sandy, portions of the HRPT waterfront still have no lighting, creating hot spots for drug dealing and prostitution just north of Pier 40 by Christopher Street.

Madelyn Wils and the HRPT cannot claim that a lack of funding has caused the park to go without city park officer patrols. There still exists an entire fleet of electric vehicles and dozens of employed officers. The HRPT cannot claim that lack of funding caused the areas of unlit crime hot spots. Incompetent management caused those problems.

What job experience do the top executives of the HRPT really have to qualify them for their posts? Madelyn Wils is a career bureaucrat having been a former leader of the CB1. Her experiences listed on the HRT website lists no experience in the private sector where competency is required. The CFO, Daniel Kurtz, has a background in real estate but no training in accounting or finance, according to the website. The rest of the top executives listed are mostly lawyers.

The only competent people associated with the HRPT seem to be the finance tycoons running the “Friends” fundraising organizations. Michael Novogratz is a smart man with a Princeton and Goldman Sachs education, but his drawbacks are the egregious financial conflicts of interest with Pier 40.

The HRPT controls most of the west side Manhattan and suffers from a vacuum of leadership. Over the years, one real estate or finance tycoon after the other has tried to take advantage of the weak leadership with grandiose designs for the piers, and all have failed. Meanwhile, the infrastructure has crumbled.

It is time for the governor to appoint some competent leadership at the HRPT. Funding should not be increased until that crucial step is made.

 

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