This is from an article published at <www.cityandstate.com> by Seth Barron on 23 July 2013. It’s about High Line Park in Manhattan but it may have some application to issues here in Queens. Bank on it! So without further ado, some excerpts…
The High Line is revered internationally for repurposing a post-industrial wreck into a refreshing aesthetic public experience. The park has also anchored an explosion of billions of dollars of high-end development in the [New York City] Council-rezoned “Special West Chelsea District,” designed specifically around the High Line.
The organization that built and runs the park, Friends of the High Line, is dominated by a wealthy and politically connected coterie of real estate developers [emphasis added] and property owners, which has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars, directly and as intermediaries, into Christine Quinn’s mayoral election campaign. Friends of the High Line, formed in 1999 as a tiny nonprofit by two civic-minded fans of urban decrepitude, has quickly become the richest park conservancy in the city, after the Central Park Conservancy. Friends of the High Line raises double the revenue of the Prospect Park Alliance, for instance, and takes in more than 20 times as much as the Friends of Hudson River Park.
There is something about Friends of the High Line, however, that makes it very different from these other organizations. First, there was the actual Central Park, and later the Central Park Conservancy was formed to take care of it. In the case of the High Line, first there was a group of real estate developers called Friends of the High Line, and then they built a park to be friends with, making sure that zoning rules were changed to facilitate the right kind of residential property alongside it. The development of the High Line was coterminous with the development of the area around the High Line.
The City Council, first under Gifford Miller and then Christine Quinn, has doused the High Line with cash. Estimates of city funding for the High Line before it even opened ranged between $130 and $170 million. This money was only for the improvement of an existing structure, because the rail line itself was donated to the city by the CSX Corporation.Since the park opened, despite the largesse of FoHL and its claims that 90 percent of park expenses are raised privately, the Council continues to make allocations to its expansion and maintenance, including a $5 million capital disbursement two years ago.
When the City Council “slush fund” scandal was revealed five years ago, it turned out that the largest beneficiary of these improper disbursements was the High Line. The scandal, in which the Speaker’s office budgeted Council funds to shell organizations in order to dispense the money later to favored groups, resulted in $290,000 going to FoHL. The group has received yearly allocations of $75,000 to $100,000 from the Council since then…
The real question is, why give money to the FoHL at all? They don’t need it. The organization is awash in cash from its board and corporate sponsors. The High Line floats in the center of billions of dollars of residential real estate that was built specifically around it. One of the highest paid staffers for the FoHL is a person listed officially as “Director of Food,” who makes more than $100,000 per year. It doesn’t seem like they would miss an annual five-figure disbursement if the Council decided to direct the money toward some other park.
Perhaps the Council’s little allocations are more like tribute than funding: annual tokens that the Speaker makes to real estate and special interests to whom she owes so much. And they accept it because it affirms to them that here, here is someone we can trust, who will continue to do our bidding…
Director of Food? NoWay QueensWay.org warned you about these out-of-towners and their fetish with food! See the All The News That Fits post (23 March 2013).
Meanwhile the Trust for Public Lands, that unsavory coterie of lawyers, bankers, and real estate interests, along with their lackey FQs can’t wait to grow up and be just like their bloated, gentrifying big brothers from Manhattan, feeding at the public trough.