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Taking a Stroll Along the High Line

Taking a Stroll Along the High Line

New York Times 11/28/2008

By AMY CORTESE

ON a bright, blustery afternoon in November, construction workers were packing up their gear on the High Line, the park being created atop the old elevated railway in the West Chelsea area of Manhattan, leaving it empty for a few intrepid visitors to tour. Even amid the bitter cold and building materials, it was easy to see why the project has inspired even some of the most jaded New Yorkers.

Designed by an architectural team from Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the High Line offers a retreat from street life, a bucolic space floating 30 feet in the air with Hudson River views. Yet it retains many elements of its gritty past: graffiti is prevalent on the buildings it wends through, and some of the rails have been restored in the park. That the park — which grew from an idea hatched 10 years ago into a $170 million project —is being built at all is a marvel.

“When we first started people thought it was crazy,” said Robert Hammond, a co-founder of Friends of the High Line, the community group that pushed for the park.

No longer. The first section of the park will open to the public this spring, but it has already transformed the area near its 22-block stretch near the river, prompting some of the most ambitious development in the city in years.

Condominiums, hotels and office buildings — designed by architectural talent like Jean Nouvel, Annabelle Selldorf, Renzo Piano, and the Della Valle Bernheimer firm — are sprouting along the park’s span, which runs from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street. About 1.5 million square feet of construction is already under way, with an additional 2.5 million square feet in planning stages, according to Robert C. Lieber, the deputy mayor for economic development. All told, that translates into roughly $4 billion in private investment, he said.

A stroll down the High Line, starting at the north end of the first phase, at 20th Street and 10th Avenue, and heading south toward Gansevoort, provides a glimpse of what is to come.

Near the Frank Gehry building for IAC/InterActiveCorp on 11th Avenue, between 17th and 18th Streets, a 21-story residential tower designed by Mr. Nouvel is rising. Marketing literature promises “the most highly engineered and technologically advanced curtain wall ever constructed in New York City,” with a “Mondrian-like window pattern” of nearly 1,700 panes of glass.

East of the park is 520 West Chelsea, a residential building by Ms. Selldorf, combining a glass facade with blue-glazed terra cotta. Keep strolling and you come across the Caledonia, a $350 million residential development by the Related Companies and Taconic Investment Partners that looms over the High Line at West 17th Street. The building contains a mix of 190 condos and 288 rental units, including 56 designated for low-income renters.

Then it’s on to the High Line Building, the 10-story glass office tower by the developer Charles Blaichman and designed by Morris Adjmi that is rising atop the High Line and a former meatpacking plant.

Above Washington Street, André Balazs’s highly anticipated Standard Hotel is nearing completion. The 18-story hotel, designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, literally straddles the High Line. It is expected to have a soft opening in December with about a third of the 330 rooms open. A restaurant and rooftop pool and lounge won’t open until next February or March.

At the south end of the park, a new branch of the Whitney Museum designed by Renzo Piano will provide a cultural bookend. The new museum is expected to open in late 2012.

And on that bitterly cold November afternoon, a nattily dressed man and his entourage appeared, heading for the Standard Hotel. It was Mr. Balazs, the developer. He confirmed a December soft opening — “very soft,” he says. When asked how much the hotel’s rooms would cost, he said: “I don’t know. The market is changing so fast.”

That sentiment hints at the discomfort some developers are feeling as their grand plans run up against a deteriorating economy and credit squeeze. Even the High Line district, as it is being called, cannot escape the tightening economic vise.

The developers of the Nouvel tower have run into cost increases and delays; its opening has been pushed back from December to next summer.

And there are no signs of construction yet on a couple of lots near the 18th Street entrance to the High Line, where Edison Properties plans to build two towers designed by the architect Robert A. M. Stern. Edison did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Still, many condominium buildings have presold their units. Residents have started moving into condos in the Caledonia. Its condos sold out in eight months starting in 2006, at prices from $600,000 to $4 million. And the rental units began being offered in May.

More than 80 percent of the Nouvel building’s condo units have sold, at prices from $2 million to $22 million, said Craig Wood, the developer, including two sales in late September. Despite the difficult environment, his firm, Cape Advisors Inc., refinanced its construction loans in September, he said.

Charles R. Bendit, a co-chief executive of Taconic Investment Partners, said: “We all imagine the High Line will be a phenomenal amenity for the area.”

John H. Alschuler Jr., chairman of HR&A Advisors, a real estate appraisal firm, estimated that proximity to the High Line has added 10 to 15 percent to the value of properties. And New York City officials have predicted that the High Line park will bring the city $900 million in revenue over 30 years.

Even as the first phase is readied for a spring opening, a second phase, from 20th to 30th Street, is expected to be completed in 2010. Mr. Hammond, whose organization will oversee the park in a new role as a conservancy, is taking the long view.

“We’re in this for the long term,” he said, and in an otherwise dismal economy, the High Line “is a real bright spot.”

He added: “It shows that New York can still think big and do big things.”