NY Daily News: A great deal for the East Side: An agreement with the UN would give the area a much-needed greenway
October 3, 2011
By Ed Koch
A deal to have the UN build a new office building would provide funds for the city to construct a much-needed esplanade on the East Side.
Imagine that New York City had the opportunity to build a new riverfront park for neighborhoods that have lacked true access to the water for three-quarters of a century.
Imagine that the funds to pay for it would originate from one of the city’s biggest employers, at no cost to the city.
And imagine that the deal would result in that employer pouring millions more into city businesses.
We have that opportunity right now.
Over the summer, the state passed legislation allowing the United Nations to build out its campus by purchasing from the city an adjacent playground on which it will build a new office building. UN staff located at nearby buildings would be consolidated in the new facility, allowing the city to sell those buildings, which have long been leased to the UN.
The proceeds from the deal would then go to the construction of a riverfront promenade from 38th to 60th Sts., giving what is virtually the last section of Manhattan without a greenway park exactly what it’s been longing for for generations. Unlike their fellow New Yorkers on the West Side, where the building of Hudson River Park has transformed leisure time and property values, Turtle Bay residents and others nearby need to leave the neighborhood to stroll, run or bike by a river.
Moreover, the East Side has less open space than any other area in the city.
So what could be wrong about such a deal? Beats me.
Support for the greenway project appears overwhelming in the communities that stand to gain. A recent poll commissioned by a coalition of neighborhood, environmental, civic and biking groups advocates found that nearly three-quarters of East Siders favor greenway construction.
And while residents near the East River will benefit most directly from a greenway, the value of the project – in revenue, jobs, tourism and continuous parkland – extends beyond Turtle Bay to the entire city.
But – this being New York – a small but determined opposition fails to acknowledge this.
Some object to the loss of one small park – a concern I’m sympathetic to, but that is ultimately overwhelmed by the tremendous benefit of the new greenway. The “park” that will be lost is essentially a stretch of asphalt.
Others object to a new skyscraper at First Ave. and 41st St. But it will be no higher than the existing Secretariat Building and will free up 1 and 2 UN Plaza. The personnel there will move into the new building. The existing buildings can then be sold with the proceeds used to pay for the plaza. Those objecting will have wonderful views when they use and walk on the esplanade.
Finally, some opponents believe the UN is undeserving of support for political reasons.
These objections have nothing to do with the project as a civic and economic good for New York City. Moreover, they don’t make sense on their own terms – even if, like me, you have concerns with UN positions.
I hardly need to say, for instance, that I find the preoccupation with Israel of many UN members to be racist, abhorrent and antidemocratic. I have other human rights-related concerns as well.
But that is precisely why I believe it is important that the UN has its headquarters in the United States, where it (as an institution and in the daily lives of its officials) is most subject to American influence, pressure and political values – as opposed to those of Geneva, Doha or Beijing.
So I have no ideological problems with supporting a deal that allows the UN to solidify its physical plant as it helps the city.
From its perch in Turtle Bay, the institution has long been a huge contributor to the city’s economy. It is one of our 20 largest employers. It has committed $1.7 billion to its current renovation project, 80% of which would go to city vendors and contractors.
This new building project is expected to create as many as 2,500 new jobs in the city. The sale of the park and neighboring buildings is expected to yield more than $200 million.
I hope the finished promenade, built out over the East River, looping north along the Harlem River and south to the Battery before curving back up the Hudson, wins over any remaining skeptics, as happened on the West Side.
Mayor Bloomberg, city and state officials need to agree on the details of the project by Oct. 10. Do it. An urban development model that brings to the city a greenway, revenue and jobs, without cost to New Yorkers, deserves our support. Yes, I have said the UN is a political cesspool. But every house needs one – or at least a sewer connection.
Koch was mayor of New York.