BY EILEEN STUKANE | Murals of color pop, seem to speak to each other, across West 37th Street between Ninth and 10th Aves. Compartmentalized square sections, welded together to create block-long walls of steel no higher than an average adult, had once brought a dreariness to this street, in a neighborhood where residents already lived with ramps to the Lincoln Tunnel below their feet. Today, bleakness has been banished thanks to visions of artists brought in by the Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance (HYHK), the Business Improvement District (BID) that is committed to beautifying the community it serves.
On the north side of West 37th Street, The Very Air We Breathe and The Seeds of Life murals are inspired by artist Patti Samper’s concern for the environment, while on the south side, the mural Ancestral Harmony is artist Dennis RedMoon Darkeem’s honoring of East Coast indigenous communities and African American heritage.
“Having the Lincoln Tunnel in our district is a challenge but also an opportunity. We have all the murals because of the infrastructure surrounding it,” said Isabella Conway, HYHK’s Marketing/Programming Manager, during a summertime walk with Chelsea Community News (CCNews). “One of our goals is to beautify the neighborhood, make it a happy habitable place for residents and visitors” said Conway, who recently concluded her work with the Alliance. “Reappropriating the infrastructure of the neighborhood allows us to do that.”
HYHK is the second BID to be featured in our new series about how Downtown Manhattan BIDs are repositioning their respective areas to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of our post-COVID era. As we mentioned in the first BID of the series (click here to access the Meatpacking District Management Association profile), New Yorkers may not be aware of the extent to which BIDs are transforming neighborhoods. These alliances of property and business owners (76 of them throughout NYC’s five boroughs) unite in a defined geographical area to keep it clean, beautified, and safe. They create marketing events, facilitate capital improvements, and encourage business development.
From NoMan’s Land to Destination: A BID is Created
Hudson Yards, the 28-acre, $25 billion complex of supertall buildings that has been brought to life by Related Cos. and Oxford Properties Group on a platform over the Far West Side storage yard for the Long Island Railroad, was central to the emergence of the Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance in 2014. The rectangular boundaries of the BID are: Ninth Ave. on the east side, 11th Ave. on the west, West 42nd Street as its north border, West 30th Street as its southern end.
Ironically, although the development of Hudson Yards spearheaded the creation of the BID, the Hudson Yards complex oversees its own maintenance and sanitation. The Phase 1 development of Hudson Yards—the eastern section from West 30th to West 34th Streets, 10th to 11th Aves., with six buildings, and The Shed and The Vessel completed—is not maintained by HYHK as the rest of the BID areas are. As Conway explained, “Relaed Cos. is just another property owner in the district. They [Related and other real estate developers] sit on the board, and they’re a property owner. And like all private property owners, Hudson Yards has its own maintenance, sanitation, and security, because the property is not public space.” (Worth noting is that during the pandemic, two of the three tallest buildings in Hudson Yards opened, 50 Hudson Yards and The Spiral—a 66-floor office building developed by Tishman Speyer which inhabits the whole block between 10th Ave. and Bella Abzug Park / W. 34th and 35th Sts. The pandemic did not slow real estate development.)
Aside from the luxury shops in the Hudson Yards mall, there are approximately 300 businesses within HYHK. The comings and goings of businesses, any trends, were not specifically tracked by the BID during the pandemic, although now, post-pandemic, those on the BID have noticed the trending proliferation of cannabis storefronts on Ninth Ave. The BID, however, keeps its focus on its mission.
“Our Mission Statement,” says Daniel Scorse, HYHK Vice President of Operations, is a commitment “to improve the quality of life for the people who live in, work in, and visit the area. How we do that, of course, is what we do through beautification, maintenance, programming, and security.”
The BID contracts Streetplus, a sanitation business that provides clean, safe services to major cities across the country. “During the pandemic, our clean team continued to clean the trash and keep the streets clean,” recalled Conway. “People who were living outside of our district were asking, ‘How does this part of the neighborhood look this clean?’ The day-to-day streetcleaning is really important to the neighborhood and is definitely one of our important tasks.”
Introducing Nature and Art
HYHK has enhanced the walk along Ninth Ave. in the West 30s by the addition of large planters of foliage, curbside. Then there are the “bumpouts” on W. 37th and 39th St. corners—designated semicircular areas bordered by planters where pedestrians can safely stand, (sometimes sit), and cars have to widen their turns. On CCNews’ tour of the BID, Conway also pointed out the “Canoe” area at W. 36th St. and Ninth Ave.
Right now the Canoe, an open plaza which previously had public seating and programming, is on hold due to the need for greater security for the area. “We’re still maintaining the plants, so it looks beautiful—but as far as the programming goes, the tables and chairs, we’ve put a pause on that until the city, or we, can figure out a security solution,” explains Scorse, “We’re working on it so hopefully next year we’ll relaunch the Canoe again.” The large planting bed on the north side of the Canoe area still looks lush—and the permanent public artwork, the 9-foot metal Ascension sculpture by New York artist Jordan Baker-Caldwell, remains in place and intriguing.
According to the Alliance website (click here to access it), HYHK maintains 124 planters in its district: 17 in two plazas, 29 in the Canoe, 32 in the Triangle at W. 36th St. and Dyer Ave., 46 within bumpouts, and in addition, the BID cares for 19 tree pits. Bella Abzug Park spans from W. 33rd to W. 36th Sts. between 10th and 11th Aves. alongside Hudson Blvd. E. The BID oversees all planting, watering, and pruning in the park, and decides upon the acquisition and installation of its public art.
Having just concluded its time as an installation in Bella Abzug Park, Shadows was comprised of 10 colorful, site-specific metal sculptures, the work of mixed media artist Fanny Allie (click here to read the CCN feature article). She was commissioned by HYHK to create a work based upon her personal observations in the park, and the workers captured her attention. She then proceeded to ask gardeners, sanitation workers, etc. to strike a favorite pose for an image she could use to draw their outlines, which she transformed into see-through steel silhouettes (each represented worker chose the color that expressed who he/she/they were in their outlined forms).
Under the trees, in the flower beds, behind benches, the silhouetted humans are playful, even joyful, and they have something to say. There is an audio component to the artwork available through a displayed QR code. As you hear songs and stories from the see-through silhouette in front of you, hidden dimensions of the person who inspired it are revealed.
Bella Abzug Park: Jewel of the Alliance
In 2019 during Bill de Blasio’s time as Mayor of New York, Hudson Park was renamed for that firecracker of an activist for women’s rights, Bella Abzug, lawyer, US Representative, and the first woman to run for the US Senate and for the Mayor of New York. Her namesake park, with its curved walkways and benches, fountains that automatically turn off in high winds, children’s playground, and the Toshiko Mori canopy that sweeps over the Number 7 subway entrance (btw. W. 34th & 35th Sts.) like an enormous protective clamshell, is a West Side oasis. It is also a median from the Hudson Yards complex into Hell’s Kitchen.
As noted earlier, Bella Abzug Park spans from W. 33rd to W. 36th Sts. between 10th and 11th Aves. alongside the newly-created Hudson Blvd. E. It is a City park within the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, but the department has little to do with the day-to-day management. HYHK is in charge of not only maintenance, but programming—which is considerable.
Among the free programming, there’s Spring Fling, a gathering of artists and local businesses from May to June; a Fitness Boot Camp Tuesday and Thursday mornings that ran from June 1 until September 28; Movies in the Park (a well-curated summertime screening series whose 2023 roster included Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Disney’s Encanto); and, coming up sooner than you think (aka winter), the Holiday Lights benefits from the high volume of illuminated objects rendered in bold, striking, hues. When viewed against the backdrop of a sprawling night sky, HYHK’s setting—uncongested in a manner rare for Manhattan—adds mightily to the sense of sprawl and wonder.)
Perhaps the most fully realized series from HYHK Alliance is the just-concluded summertime series Vinyl Nights, an all-ages dance party powered by the Disco, Funk, Soul, House, Boogie, and Latin music that shaped NYC club culture in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Each installment brought dozens (sometimes hundreds) of participants, grooving to a playlist curated, on site, by living legends such as Operator Emz, DJ Misbehaviour, DJ Woof, and MoneyMike & Friends (click here to see CCN’s photo coverage of the 2023 season opener). For the latest events in the park, follow @hudsonyardshellskitchen on Instagram.)
In addition to the ever-increasing slate of live event offerings, Bella Abzug Park itself is undergoing an expansion in the form of Blocks 5 and 6, from West 37th to 39th Streets (btw. 10th & 11th Aves.). At present, these additions are being vetted by the Public Design Commission (PDC), whose approval is the final step before commencement of construction. The extended park will be built on a platform over the Amtrak railroad, with engineering by the company WSP. To make way, eminent domain prevailed to ensure Midtown Convention Center Hotel, Affirmation Arts gallery, and Manhattan Aquariums will be demolished–a process that begins next year. The projected completion date for Blocks 5 and 6 is 2028.
That’s not all. Bella Abzug Park and its surroundings are about to change, due to the effect the pandemic had on New Yorkers’ need for open space. “We wanted shared streets on the park, where the pedestrians and the cars share the street and we had been told ‘no’ a few times by the city but after the pandemic the city said ‘Yes,’ ” says Robert Benfatto, President, HYHK Alliance, “We had a streetscape study about opening up the streets for more public use, shared streets and places to sit down. The pandemic just increased the need for that. We were already doing it, but the pandemic helped us in our goals.”
To follow the latest developments in the Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Alliance area–and sign up for email their email announcements, click here to visit the Alliance website–and keep scrolling down for additional photos and images.
Note: This editorial content was made possible through a 2023 grant from the West Side Community Fund, in support of Chelsea Community News’ expansion into neighborhoods previously on the periphery of our editorial coverage area: The Flatiron/NoMad and Meatpacking Districts; Hudson Yards; and Hell’s Kitchen/Times Square.
In May 2023, $100,000 was distributed to 21 organizations serving the west side of Manhattan. To learn more about the West Side Community Fund’s Spring 2023 Grantees, click here.
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