When Florent Morellet opened his bistro on Gansevoort Street 17 years ago, most of his neighbors were meatpackers. He’d like to keep it that way.
Bistro owners and butchers are finding common ground in an effort to forestall new construction in the meatpacking district. They have another unlikely ally in preservationists who want to transform the 1.5 mile swath of the adjacent High Line rail tracks, a carcass of early 20th century freight-handling, into a park.
The matter already had its first day in court, with a state judge last month throwing out a demolition and development plan hatched by former Mayor Rudy Guilliani and property owners. For now, development is prevented by a 1991 easement, reserving the property for rail and transport purposes.
But earlier this month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg anounced that the city will conduct a four month review of proposed uses for the site, deciding at end whether to tear it down or make it a park. The process will pit competing visions for one of the most dynamic neighborhoods in the city.
The High Line runs parallel to 10th Avenue from 34th Street to Gansevoort Street, and was built in the 1930’s to serve Gansevoort Market and the Meatpacking district. Beneath the two-story-high steel ribbon is a 40- to 60- foot avenue of vacant land – seven acres worth – connecting the Javits Center with the meatpacking district.
Like other firms tha town property underneath the viaduct, Edison properties wants to tear down the High Line. “It is a hindrance to taking full advantage of our property. It should be demolished,” says Michael Lefkowitz, vice president and general counsel for Edison.
Newark-based Edison and other property owners argue thet reuse of the High Line is impractical and the the aged infrastrucure, which blocks views of the Hudson River, presents a safety hazard.
“It is a blight on the neighborhood,” says Mr. Lefkowitz.
Mr.Morellet, owner of neighborhood dining icon Florent, sees blessing, not blight. “If the High Line becomes a park or the like, there is great potential under it and in the buildings surrounding it of land values going up,” he says.
Other owners of restaurants, shops and galleries in the neighborhood also favor turning the High Line into and elevanted park or promenade, or perhaps a light rail system. Preserving the industrial character of the area will enhance its appeal to film production and design offices, they argue, and make a good fit with buisnesses that have established themselves in renovated brick buildings, such as bistros Pastis and Meat and clothing sore Jeffrey.
Preservationists and community activists continue to push for historic landmark designation of the High Line. The Save Gansevoort Market Task Force has asked the Landmarks Preservation Commisssion to expand the existing historic district boundaries to include the whole meatpacking district.
Another not-for-profit group, Friends of the High Line, has floated plans to transform the High Line into an elevated walkway through the federally sanctioned “rail-banking” program. Similar rails-to-rails initiatives have already created more than 11,000 miles of rail trails nationwide.
Real estate veteran Bruce Sinder advocates a middle path. “There could be some kind of combination of preservation and development potential,” says the president of Sinvin Realty Corp., an firm involved in leasing many buildings in the Chelsea-SoHo area. “The High Line needs to be developed into something. Leaving it as a rusting hunk of steel is no good for anyone.”