A Decades-Long Development
The Riverside South development has been decades in the making,
at least if you factor in proposals for building on the site
that have been circulating since the early 1960s. The version
under construction today was a saga in itself.
The 74.6-acre site on Manhattan's West Side long housed railyards
for the Penn Central Railroad, which itself had planned a
mixed-use development on platforms over the rail yards in
conjunction with the Amalgamated Lithographers Union in the
1960s. That effort fizzled, and other proposals came and went
over the years, said Julia Vitullo-Martin, a senior fellow
at the Manhattan Institute and director of its Center for
"One of the most striking things about New York is that
it has had no respect for its West Side waterfront,"
she said. "New Yorkers just tolerated that mess."
A proposal in the early 1980s by the Macri Group to build
a residential project with public spaces at least "changed
the terms of the debate," Vitullo-Martin added.
Donald Trump, who had owned the site in the 1970s and sold
it to Macri, repurchased it with partners in 1985 and proposed
a 16.5-million-sq.-ft. development that would have included
a 150-story building and studios for the NBC television network.
"The proposal was to build the tallest building in the
world and all of these gigantic buildings," said Penny
Ryan, district manager for Manhattan's Community Board 7,
whose area encompasses Riverside South. "There was tremendous
Trump later changed the scope to scale down the site, but
even that revised plan met strong opposition.
"This was very divisive," said Gail Brewer, a New
York City Council member who represents the district in which
Riverside South now sits. "There were tons of lawsuits.
The community opposition was strong from Lincoln Towers, which
is a few blocks east and would get views of the Hudson River
With the development in stalemate, Trump's company briefly
in bankruptcy, and its lenders pushing for movement on the
project, Vitullo-Martin said an opportunity arose for a group
of civic organizations that had opposed Trump's proposal.
Spearheaded by Linda Davidoff, the director of the Parks Council
who died in 2003, the group known as "the civics"
met with Trump to frame a new proposal that would include
a major new park.
"I don't know if it would have gone forward without
them," Brewer said. "It was a different kind of
The six organizations - the Parks Council, Municipal Art
Society, Regional Plan Association, Natural Resources Defense
Council, Riverside Park Fund, and Westpride - ultimately joined
with Trump in 1991 to create the Riverside South Planning
Corp. Trump's company withdrew its original proposal and jointly
with the planning corporation developed a plan for Riverside
South that was smaller, lower-density, neighborhood-oriented,
and had the 21.5-acre waterfront park as its centerpiece.
Even though there was still community opposition, the plan
finally won public support from city officials. The zoning
and building-size guidelines in the plan approved by the City
Council in 1992 still govern the development.
The nonprofit planning corporation remains involved today
as the legacy of the civics. Its primary role is to monitor
the development's compliance with architectural design guidelines
for the buildings and for design and construction of the open
space. It also is working to secure funds for the relocation
of the existing DiMaggio Highway, an elevated structure that
bisects the park. Under the broader Riverside South plan,
the highway would move to below-grade and at-grade alignments
elsewhere on the property.
"They drafted the plan that was ultimately adopted -
they reduced the size of the buildings and put the park in,"
Ryan said. "The community board obviously weighed in.
But the civics were the key to the whole thing."