Supporters of the High Line aim to block plan to build a casino nearby
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Supporters of the High Line aim to block plan to build a casino nearby
The site of a proposed casino in the Hudson Yards development as seen from the High Line, the 1.5-mile rail-line-turned-park on the West Side of Manhattan, on July 9, 2024. Supporters of the High Line are concerned that a proposal to build a casino near the park could block views of the city. (Sara Konradi/The New York Times)

by Stefanos Chen

NEW YORK, NY.- A plan to build a casino over a sprawling rail yard on Manhattan’s Far West Side has a new, formidable opponent: parkgoers.

Friends of the High Line, an influential nonprofit that operates the nearby 1.5-mile rail-line-turned-park, said Wednesday that it will muster supporters to attempt to thwart the development plan. The opponents of the casino proposal said the development would block views of the city from the High Line and create gusty winds and cast long shadows that could hurt local businesses.

The proposal, submitted in February, would also create a 1,180-foot apartment tower, a 1,376-foot office building, a public school and day care. The development, in Hudson Yards, is being led by Related Companies, which built the eastern half of the site, and Wynn Resorts, a Las Vegas gambling giant. The project could be completed by 2030.

But the biggest sticking point is a plan to build a podium as tall as 200 feet near the westernmost section of the High Line, on which the developers will build a casino and a skyscraper with 1,750 hotel rooms.

Alan van Capelle, the park group’s executive director, likened the over 200,000-square-foot, 20-story podium to six Costco warehouses stacked on top of each other.

“This will gravely endanger the High Line experience,” van Capelle said on a recent morning from a sunny strip of the park, where he says visitors could soon be staring at a wall instead of the city skyline.

The High Line helps generate $50 million a year in local spending, according to a 2019 report the group commissioned with HR&A, an economic development consulting firm.

A spokesperson for Related said in a statement that the developer had met with the High Line group several times this year and had “made substantive changes to our plans in response to their concerns, after which they did not raise additional issues with us.” The revised plan will still include 5.6 acres of public green space and will generate thousands of union jobs, she said.

“It is now evident they simply do not want new development in their backyard, no matter the obvious economic, housing and community benefit it will bring,” she said.

The park group’s opposition to the plan is significant, local leaders said. To obtain one of three coveted state licenses to operate a full-fledged casino in New York City, developers must win majority approval from a six-person panel chosen by elected officials.

“Their opinion is going to count,” Brad Hoylman-Sigal, the state senator who represents the area and will appoint a member of the voting committee, said about the park group. He called the group’s opposition “extraordinary,” considering its longtime relationship with Related, which has benefited from pitching the park as an amenity for its many nearby properties. Related has donated millions of dollars to Friends of the High Line since the park opened 15 years ago.

“It highlights the depth of concern in the West Side community,” he said.

On Wednesday, the nonprofit planned a rally at the High Line. The group reopened a western portion of the park ahead of schedule to allow visitors to see what could be lost, said van Capelle, who is a former deputy comptroller for New York City.

Van Capelle said his group is not opposed to development on the site, or even to a casino necessarily, but that the proposal, especially the tall podium, “would overwhelm the High Line.”

But the concerns of the park could pale in comparison to the economic benefits of Related’s development plan, said Gary LaBarbera, the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, which represents unionized construction workers.

“We’re talking about tens of thousands of construction and permanent jobs,” he said.

The developers’ desire to include a casino on the 13-acre site reflects how lucrative New York’s untapped gambling market could be. At least 11 bidders are vying to build a casino in the New York City area, and Related has made one of the most ambitious proposals, estimating that its project will cost $12 billion.

But gambling has been a tough sell across the city, and nearly every proposal has met public pushback. A proposal for a casino in the middle of Times Square has raised the ire of prominent Broadway theater owners, and a plan to convert parkland into a casino next to Citi Field in Queens has been opposed by the local state senator.

In Hudson Yards, community groups and local politicians are already wary of the proposal. Community Board 4, which includes the development site, said in an April letter that the casino plan was a dramatic departure from what it committed to build in 2009, before Vegas-style casinos were permitted in the region, and when zoning was approved for much more housing and far less commercial space. The original plan called for up to roughly 5,700 apartments to be built, but with the addition of the casino and resort plans, that number has shrunk to closer to 1,500 units.

Related has also proposed an alternate plan that does not include a casino, but it would still include a large podium that community groups oppose.

“I am highly skeptical of any alterations to the existing zoning regulations and the potential reduction of housing units,” Erik Bottcher, the local City Council member who will appoint a member of the voting committee, said in a statement. Tony Simone, the district’s state assemblyman, said he was “philosophically opposed” to a casino.

The clock is ticking for casino bidders to secure public support. New York state’s Gaming Facility Location Board, which is overseeing the application process, said it expects to announce the winning casino proposals by the end of 2025.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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