In this era of both political and budget gridlock, it's important to recognize a truly "quiet victory" that has been won for all New Yorkers and for Hudson River Park, the City's largest new Park in 150 years, which stretches all the way from 59th Street to the Battery, along the Hudson River. Long troubled by loud and disruptive helicopter tourism from the 30th Street Heliport, on April first the Park will finally be free of these tourist flights.
Ever since Hudson River Park's creation, Park users have been continually assaulted by noise, fumes, wind, and dust from the Heliport. In fact, when the Park was formalized by the Hudson River Park Act of 1998, helicopter tourism was prohibited, but this ban was ignored by Air Pegasus Heliport, Inc., Liberty Helicopters, Inc., and their landlord, the Hudson River Park Trust.
In 2007, Friends of Hudson River Park filed legal action to stop the sightseeing flights operating out of the Park, to bring the Heliport into compliance with the Hudson River Park Act. After seven months of negotiations a 2008 agreement was reached to end the tourist flights on March 31st 2010. After April first, the Heliport can only be used for commercial, government, or emergency take‐offs and landings.
In addition, Friends' legal action also secured a cap on non-tourist flights at then-existing levels, and a commitment from the operators of the Heliport to cease all helicopter operations by December 31st, 2012 at 30th Street, provided a new location for helicopter operations has been established within the guidelines of the legislation.
The Hudson River Park Act defined the parameters for the development of a unique, urban oasis, along the formerly blighted West Side Waterfront after decades of community activism laid the groundwork for its creation. Eliminating sightseeing flights from the Park will improve the experience of everyone that uses and enjoys the Park, as well as the quality of life of its surrounding neighborhoods.
Today the Park hosts 17 million visitors a year and has been shown by a 2008 study to add significant value to surrounding properties. The better the Park is built and maintained, the better it is for the City as a whole and for its adjacent communities in particular.
Ending loud, dirty, and dangerous sightseeing flights is a first step in delivering on the commitment of uninterrupted open space along the waterfront for midtown Manhattan. We need to pressure our elected officials to take the next steps of relocating the Heliport and fully financing the transformation of the blight in this area like they have in Chelsea, Tribeca, Upper Clinton, and Greenwich Village.
The Park, now nearly 80% complete requires approximately $200 million in additional funding to finish the job. During tough financial times, it is important to keep the project moving not only to save jobs, and to avoid putting the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars already invested in the Park at risk, but to deliver on the promise of a continuous, five-mile long waterfront park New Yorkers need now more than ever.
The end of helicopter tourism originating from Hudson River Park brings us closer to a new, and tranquil reality for Manhattan's West Side Waterfront, and reminds us just how precious its uninterrupted access and a quiet victory can be.
Pietrantone is the Executive Director of Friends of Hudson River Park.