With a Park, an Urban Transformation

Three decades ago, Manhattan’s Hudson River waterfront was a troubled landscape of barbed wire and decaying warehouses. Faced with sharp declines in maritime commerce, New York had the opportunity to reimagine the waterfront. The city and state chose to create a new park on the Hudson, and today, Manhattan’s Far West Side has been transformed. 

Recently hailed by former NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe as “the most important physical transformation of Manhattan in the last 80 years," Hudson River Park emerged from a historic agreement between New York City and New York State to provide a major public amenity to the region. But the park remains only 70% complete, while public investment in the park has declined since the Great Recession. 

On behalf of Friends of Hudson River Park, RPA prepared a study looking at the park’s influence on the regional economy, tracing effects on employment, tourism, economic development, property values and more. The report, Realizing the Benefits of Hudson River Park, makes the case for the benefits of completing the park. 

Among the report’s key findings: 

Hudson River Park has a strong return on investment. In addition to creating a world-class public amenity, investments of $720 million in the park (inflation-adjusted to 2015) have secured more than $1.121 billion in indirect economic benefits for New York City and $1.425 billion for New York State from 2000 to 2015. 

The pace of new construction near the park is robust. The total value of all new development in the Hudson River Park neighborhood – the area within a quarter mile of the park from Chambers Street to 59th Street – constructed from 2000 to 2014 (valued at about $8 billion) today represents a fifth of the total property value of the entire neighborhood (about $40 billion). 

The neighborhood is leading Manhattan in new development. The Hudson River Park neighborhood’s growth, in terms of new square feet of real estate, represents more than a quarter of all new development built in Manhattan from 2000 to 2014.. 

Hudson River Park is bolstering New York City’s bottom line. From 2000 to 2015, property tax revenue within the Hudson River Park neighborhood, currently totaling about $1 billion, is growing 9% faster than in the area below 59th Street in Manhattan, and 28% faster than Manhattan as a whole. 

The number of families and seniors near the park is growing. From 2000 to 2014, the Hudson River Park neighborhood has grown in every population category. With strong gains in youth (+66%) and seniors (+112%), the neighborhood’s total population has grown quickly, from 46,400 in 2000 to 71,700 residents as of 2014 (+54%). 

New businesses are taking root near the park. From 2002 to 2013, in addition to steady growth in traditional sectors like finance (+41%) and professional and scientific services (+75%), employment has grown quickly in emerging sectors, including health care (+54%), retail (+69%), management (+77%), hotel and food (+159%), arts and entertainment (+171%), and education (+277%). 

The park creates and supports thousands of jobs. Hudson River Park directly generates more than 3,000 full- and part-time jobs – a figure that is expected to grow to approximately 5,000 jobs over the next few years following improvements to Piers 26, 54, and 57. Moreover, each year, investments in the park’s continued construction, operations, and maintenance indirectly support hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in wages in our region. 

Investment in Hudson River Park has transformed blighted sections of the waterfront into a regional destination and an economic engine for the Far West Side and beyond. Continued investment in Hudson River Park will underpin many of the developments identified in the study. With an additional $150 million investment, the park could largely be completed.

Thirty years ago, the idea of Hudson River Park began to take root. Over the coming decade, it is up to the city, the state, and other key stakeholders to work together to finish the job. 

Photo: Julienne Schaer