Laurie Silberfeld on Hudson River Park

Laurie Silberfeld

As Vice President and General Counsel at Hudson River Park Trust (the Trust), Laurie Silberfeld has played an important role in shaping Hudson River Park. Silberfeld talked with CityLand about her career and the progress of Manhattan’s waterfront park. role in shaping Hudson River Park. Silberfeld talked with CityLand about her career and the progress of Manhattan’s waterfront park.

Silberfeld, a former Regional Attorney with the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, joined the Trust in 2000. She became familiar with the Trust while working on the park project’s permit approvals at DEC. When the Trust’s General Counsel position opened, Silberfeld viewed it as a unique opportunity to be part of building something with tangible results.

When asked about the legal issues that cross her desk, Silberfeld first explained that the Trust is building a park, while at the same time operating a park. In the park’s completed sections she handles “operational” issues. In areas under development, she reviews construction contracts and tenant issues; once construction is finished, she works on concession bids, selections, and contracts. Silberfeld said, “It’s A to Z — admiralty to zoning, and just about everything in between.”

The beginning. The history of Hudson River Park is complex, but its concept can be traced back to the events that followed the demise of the Westway project, the controversial waterfront development plan that proposed filling in a portion of the Hudson River to accommodate new parkland, buildings, and a submerged highway. Following its defeat in 1985, the City and State formed the West Side Task Force and the West Side Waterfront Panel to develop land use recommendations for the area. Out of these efforts came the Hudson River Park Conservancy. The Conservancy, a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation, established the design philosophy for creating the park, stressing the need for creating public space and protecting the river’s natural resources.

In 1998, the State legislature passed the Hudson River Park Act. The Act accomplished a number of things: it designated the waterfront as parkland, created the Trust as the “keeper” of the park and de-linked the Trust from ESDC, leaving it as a stand-alone public benefit corporation. The Trust is a City/State partnership, and Silberfeld explained that the Act enabled the Trust to move forward with its mission by establishing a cooperative framework that effectively resolved any potential jurisdictional battles before they happened.

Developments on the horizon. The Trust has been actively building the park over the last decade. It reached the 60 percent completion milestone earlier this year and once new areas in Chelsea and Tribeca open in 2010, the park will be 80 percent complete. The 550-acre park stretches from Battery Park City to 59th Street, encompassing 13 public piers, and includes 400 acres of the Hudson River’s estuarine sanctuary. Using a photomontage of the area lining the Trust’s conference room walls, Silberfeld discussed the park’s recent progress.

On July 30, The Trust conditionally designated Youngwoo & Associates as the developer of Chelsea’s Pier 57. The pier is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Youngwoo’s proposal includes transforming its existing industrial building by using refitted shipping containers to create an open air market, a rooftop park that will include a permanent venue for the Tribeca Film Festival, and an “underwater discovery center” built in one of its caissons.

The Pier 57 project is still in preliminary stages. It requires a memorandum of understanding, environmental and land use review, lease negotiations, and approval from the Trust’s 13-member board before construction can begin. Silberfeld believes Pier 57’s development is vital to the park. She pointed out that the 1998 Act requires the Trust to be self-sufficient “to the extent feasible,” and Pier 57 is one of the few areas of the park that is not dedicated exclusively to free park use and is permitted to generate much needed revenue for the Trust.

Silberfeld is also excited about the park’s estuarium, a proposed marine research facility. Located on Pier 26, the estuarium will provide a research and education center offering programs targeting everyone from elementary school groups to college students. She said the Trust is now working with a number of other agencies on ideas for the facility and to plan an extensive stakeholder outreach process to determine how best to proceed.

The future. Despite the current economic climate, Silberfeld remains undaunted. The City and State financial support continues and attendance at the park’s free programming grows. In regard to completing Hudson River Park, Silberfeld stated that the Trust is reaching “a critical mass” and the “train is moving forward.” — Peter Schikler


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.