The board of the Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Business Improvement District has received the go-ahead to start negotiations with the New York Parks Department to acquire a sole source license in Hudson Yards Park, which will allow the district to sell goods and host events at the park. The Franchise and Concession Review Committee approved the request after an Oct. 9 community board meeting, which left some members uneasy.
“I think it’s the wrong road for the parks committee to support,” said Jean-Daniel Noland, executive member of Community Board 4’s Waterfront, Parks & Environment Committee, who was concerned about increased traffic at the park. Noland’s comments came after Robert Benfatto, executive director of Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Business Improvement District gave a presentation at the meeting geared towards courting the board’s support. Benfatto said that the HY/HK BID didn’t necessarily need the board’s approval to go ahead with negotiations, but it was necessary to keep the board in the loop, as it represented the community.
It is anticipated that the sole source license agreement will allow HY/HK BID to independently issue contracts to third parties, without intervention from the parks departments. The organization could then host occasional events sponsored by third parties; have holiday markets a few weeks per year; host park-related programming; and also have the power to authorize food concessions including movable carts. Benfatto said there was nothing sinister about the HY/HK BID’s application for this license, “we just want to make sure the park is well taken care of,” he said. “This would be a way for the BID to generate more money— all revenue raised in the park will go directly to the park.”
The HY/HK BID already receives funding from the state’s Community Parks Initiative, which directs $130 million towards the improvement of parks statewide. HY/HK BID receives a budget of $1.2 million for the first two years of operation with the potential of increasing to a maximum of $3 million after the fifth year of operation. Although Noland is aware that the extra money would “help a great deal” with the parks upkeep, he – along with some of the board members — expressed concern about the park becoming too chaotic. “We don’t want a situation like Central Park, where there is an overflow of events and locals can’t enjoy a peaceful stay at the park because of the chaos,” he said.
Formed in 2013, the Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Business Improvement District covers the area from West 30th to 42nd Streets between 9th and 11th Avenues. It was formed to provide maintenance for the emerging Hudson Park, and to enhance the quality of life within the neighborhood, like the extension of the No. 7 subway train. HY/HK BID is also responsible for the upkeep of parks in the area including cleaning, landscaping, horticulture, snow removal and repairs.
Magnus Thompson, who works at a nearby clinic, said he thought the recent upgrades in the area were a step in the right direction. “I think opening up the park and having more activities will create a resurgence of activity in the area,” he said. “For the longest time the area has been fairly still, but with the new upgrades it will bring much needed life into the area.”
John Athan, who has worked as a dogwalker in Hudson Yards for half a decade, shared similar sentiments as Thompson, and said although the concerns made by the board are valid, more visitors to the area would reduce congestion in Times Square and Central Park – creating an equal distribution of traffic between the parks in the city.
According to Benfatto, the additional revenue will go into a separate account and will be audited, to ensure accountability and transparency. The extra cash flow will go towards facility maintenance and economic sustainability. “As it stands the park doesn’t have a large capital reserve,” he said. “Things break and they need to get fixed. It’s always good to have some capital reserve to ensure that there is sufficient revenue to take care of such issues.”
Benfatto said, however, that acquiring a sole source license agreement would not mean that the organization would have carte blanche over the issuing of contracts—any sublicense agreements would be subject to the approval of the NYC Parks Department. But if the organization acquires the license, HY/HK BID will have a much bigger say in the the process. “Our sole aim is to make sure that we provide the best park facilities to the people in the area. And this is just one of those ways.”