The Sit-Down

Friends of High Line Co-Founder Robert Hammond Talks About Stepping Down

On the subject of urban planning, the Meatpacking District’s growth has been accompanied by growing pains and local controversy. Do you think the neighborhood has lost its old flair?  
If you ask anyone over 30 years old, they always miss whatever New York was like in their 20s. Nothing will ever be as good. The older you get, the more you dislike what’s there now. I always try to remember that change is what makes New York a great city. Cities or neighborhoods that get frozen become Disney versions of themselves.
Do I miss the slippery meat feelings and smell? Sort of. Do I miss the older, seedy clubs? Sort of. But that’s New York. If I don’t want anything to change, I can move to Seaside, Florida.

Two recent contentious real estate developments adjacent to the High Line speak to fears of the project being a victim of its own success. How do you feel about the Chelsea Market expansion?
We were supportive of that rezoning and don’t think it adversely impacts the High Line. One of my biggest concerns for the High Line is how to maintain it long-term. We pay all the maintenance costs, but the city is supposed to be responsible for long-term maintenance. But they have no money to be able to do that. The funding that would come from the Chelsea Market expansion is critical.

What about the 10-story, 175-foot tall 860 Washington Street? There are fears that it will impede High Line views.
Well, there was a building on that site that blocked those views before. There was a meat-packing plant that basically hanged over the High Line. So you’re not losing any views that even existed earlier than a year ago.

The writer Jeremiah Moss wrote an op-ed in The New York Times last summer that criticized the High Line. He painted a picture of a runway besieged by tourists and fashion models toting luxury shopping bags and of a park vaguely in cahoots with developers of a West Side corporate promenade. How do you respond to that?
You know, I think that people should criticize. We’re not perfect. But I think he got it wrong. That doesn’t accurately capture who’s up there. Almost half the people who visit the High Line are from New York City. That’s two million locals.

We do over 400 free programs that are specifically geared toward New Yorkers. And we could gear them toward tourists all day long. We do kids’ programming and lots of outreach to two New York City Housing Authority projects.
But when something’s successful, it’s tempting to kick it around a little bit.

Why are you stepping down now?
By the end of this year, a lot of the projects that I really felt were important will be complete or almost complete. We’ll almost be done with the Hudson Yards extension, which should open next year. We started a new capital campaign a couple years ago and are $81 million into that $125 million campaign. I’m ready. I’m an entrepreneur at heart and had this intuitive feeling that I wanted to start something new. I didn’t want to leave in a hurry. I wanted to announce it and give almost a year to find a replacement.

You mentioned that the High Line isn’t perfect. What’s one improvement you hope to see before you depart?
Hmm. Probably section three. Just the idea that we’re going to get all the way to the rail yards is something I never thought I would see. I thought it would take decades. Honestly, when we started this I didn’t think I would get to witness much of it. We’d start it, and someone else would finish it.

I’m definitely a dreamer, but I’m also a realist. I knew the chances of this thing happening were low.

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