Sunday, December 11, 2011

High Line Leads City Parks In Alcohol Tickets

Following The Rules. This couple watching the sunset at the 2.8 acre High line were not one of the 287 people issued summonses over the last two years at the popular strolling esplanade. By comparison Central Park - with 35 million visitors and 843 acres - had 105 tickets issued during the same period. Park rules prohibit glass bottles which is of particular of concern to the High Line because it is elevated three stories above the street. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.


By Geofrey Croft

One of the City's most romantic spots is also the most ticketed for illegal alcohol possession. The 2.8 acre High Line - recently expanded to 5 acres - leads all city park properties in alcohol summonses NYC Park Advocates has learned.

Fifteen percent of all tickets issued in city parks by Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) were written in the tiny West Chelsea park property. Over the last two years 287 tickets have been issued with illegal wine consumption the most ticketed followed by beer and champaign according to several sources.

Through November of this year 113 tickets were issued on the High Line. At 256 acres Randall’s Island Park is the runner up with 105 summonses and 91 tickets were issued so far at the 150 acre Hudson River Park. By comparison just 66 tickets have been issued in Central Park's 843 acres.

Last year High Line's neighbor, Hudson River Park lead the city with 332 tickets, followed by the High Line, 174 summonses, and Battery Park with 128 tickets. Central Park had 39.

The number of tickets issued in the High Line is also noteworthy considering the popular strolling park has quietly lost more than 50 % of its uniformed PEP officers. When the park opened 2009 11 full-time officers were assigned there. That number has been quietly slashed to four officers plus two supervisors.

The Porch, located on the High Line between W. 15/16th Street, is the only place the public can drink legally on the elevated esplanade. Patrons have been known to bring drinks from the concession onto the elevated park. This summer a woman relieved herself in the middle of the park after drinking there.

According to several sources drinking regularly occurs throughout the esplanade but the hotspots are between 14-17th streets. This year two new concessions run by Friends of the High Line ( FHL) - The Porch, located between W. 15/16th Sts. and The Lot on Tap At W. 30th St., a beer garden underneath the former elevated rail line this summer created problem drinking areas according to several law enforcement and FHL employees.

The Lot On Tap At W. 30th St. was a temporary space that contained an outdoor beer garden. September 25, 2011 was the final day is was open to the public. The Related Companies and Abington Properties donated the space for use this summer. According to several law enforcement and FHL employees the Lot became a problem drinking area on the High Line due to poor security at the consession.

"That was definitely a problem this summer because the numbers were so great," said a Friends of the High Line employee. "People would come up (to the High Line). You could tell they were from there because of the wrist bands."

The situation improved somewhat according to several sources when security company was changed.

The Best Excuse for Drinking

One man said he was an employee of Google and thought because his company had donated to the park it was all right to drink.

In the summer a woman urinated in the Chelsea Market Passage section of the park after partying at the Porch, the Friends of the High Line concession, the only area where drinking is legal. After relieving herself the woman attempted to clean it up with a mop.

Last week Friends of the High Line issued a new request for proposals to operate the Porch.

"Food and beverage are important public amenities that enhance the High Line experience in a positive and significant way," according to the RFP. "Food and beverage will also be an important source of revenue to support the High Line."

Although the Friends of the High Line were supposed to be responsible for raising all the maintenance and operation funds (excluding security) according to its agreement with the city, they were recently allowed to be begin keeping concession revenues from both on and below the City owned property. According to the City Charter concession revenue is required to go to the City's general fund.

According to the RFP issued last week by the Friends of the High Line, "Food and beverage are important public amenities that enhance the High Line experience in a positive and significant way. "

The group is seeking a concessionaire to offer "food, wine, and beer at The Porch, a seasonal venue that features seating for fifty (50) and sweeping views of the Hudson River." The RFP continues, "The Porch may be able to serve beer & wine, pending the successful renewal of FHL’s New York State Liquor Authority license."

Public safety is also a concern for a park that is three stories above the street.

"I remember when they came to us and said there was going to be a concession selling beer, and we said, "'Really, are you kidding,"' said a city Parks Department employee.

"There are so many bars and clubs already. People come up after they've been partying. All we need is someone falling over, plus with the low railings and low light, not good."

"Its one of the most money oriented parks. It's all about making money. I've never seen anything like it," the source continued.

"A typical New Yorker knows they are not allowed to drink in public," said another city park employee.

"That was definalty a problem this summer because the numbers were so great," said a High Line employee. "People would come up. You could tell they were from there because of the wrist bands."

The situation improved somewhat according to several sources when the security was changed.

A Friends of the High Line employee said they are instructed not get involved with patrons who are drinking especially when they appear to be drunk because of the potential for the situation escalating. They are instead instructed to call PEP on the radio.

Another reason not to get involved is of a political nature. During a recent Freinds of the High Line fund rasing event a (FHL) employee got fired after he trying to enforce a rule on not using an elevator.

The head of the High Line Rangers - whose purpose is to "ensure the safety of the High
Line's visitors" - lost his job over the incident.

The "offended" person went above his head and got him fired according to several High Line sources.

"It's very political up here as you can imagine," A FHL employee said.

A lot more tickets could be issued said several High Line and city employees.

"Some people don't think that this is a city park but it is. We have to abide by the same rules."

Another potential safety issue besides alcohol say employees is the design of the elevated rail spurs throughout the park which people constantly trip over.

"We see it all the time," said one. "You kinda get used to it."

Top NYC Parks for Illegal Drinking summonses ( Park Enforcemet Patrol)

2011 (Jan-Nov)
1. The High Line - 113 tickets
2. Randall’s Island Park 256 acres - 105 tickets
3. Hudson River Park - 150* - 91 tickets

Citywide - 29,084 acres - 753 tickets
Central Park- 843 acres - 66 tickets

1. Hudson River Park - 150** acres - 332 tickets
2. The High Line - 2.8 acres - 174 tickets
3. Battery Park - 25 acres - 128 tickets

Ciywide - 29,084 acres - 1,248 tickets
Central Park - 843 acres - 39 tickets

* Only 2.8 of seven acres open to public
** Excludes additional 300 acres of water acreage that is part of the Hudson River

The Porch. Alcoholic beverages may only be served and consumed in the designated area according to the concession agreement but with lacks enforcement from the concessionaire it was frequently up to the public to comply with the rules.

"They were supposed to have someone posted there," said a city official, but as the season went on that became a problem."

That’s why they call it the High Line

They don’t call it the High Line for nothing.

The Parks Department dished out 113 summonses between January and November to people boozing it up on the former Manhattan railway-turned-aerial esplanade — the most of any city park, The Post has learned.

In fact, a whopping 15 percent of the 753 tickets issued for illegal drinking in the nearly 30,000 acres of parkland in the five boroughs during that period occurred at the popular seven-acre High Line.

Some of the biggest culprits were couples — especially tourists — who arrived with bottles of wine or champagne and glasses to toast romantic sunsets off the Hudson River, Parks Department sources said.

IN THE RIGHT SPIRIT: While these folks have no problem enjoying an alcohol-free High Line, the city has issued 113 tickets for illegal drinking — many to champagne-toasting tourists — in the elevated park this year.
IN THE RIGHT SPIRIT: While these folks have no problem enjoying an alcohol-free High Line, the city has issued 113 tickets for illegal drinking — many to champagne-toasting tourists — in the elevated park this year. (Photo: Matthew McDermott)

“This is the make-out park of New York City,” said a Parks enforcement officer.

Most people are let off with warnings, he said, adding that the department could have written hundreds more of the tickets, which usually run $25.

The passionate boozing sometimes stems from picnics in the scenic vistas offered by the elevated park — which makes it all the harder to miss in the narrow enclave, said another officer.

Offenders, she quipped, are usually “the philharmonic crowd and the upwardly mobile.”

The park only allows drinking at a small open-air bar on West 15th Street called The Porch, which opened last spring. Some of those ticketed were bar patrons who had snuck outside toting their beer or wine, officers said.

“It’s the romance, the lights, the sunset. People get lulled into a magical place where they think they don’t have to abide by the law,” said Geoffrey Croft, of the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates.

He added that he’d witnessed many a couple strolling and sipping.

One offender, a staff member at Google’s Chelsea headquarters, tried to work his way out of a ticket by claiming that he thought Google employees could drink there because the company donated $1 million to the campaign to build the High Line, which opened in 2009.

Vickie Karp, a Parks spokeswoman, noted that High Line summonses “reflect a microscopic proportion” of the park’s 3 million visitors this year.

Randalls Island Park, with 105, and Hudson River Park, at 91, came in second and third in tickets for the period. And just 66 were issued by Parks peace officers at the city’s most visited green space — the 843-acre Central Park.

Meanwhile, with fewer officers patrolling New York’s parks due to fiscal cuts, fewer tickets are being written. Last year saw 1,248 summonses issued for drinking — with Hudson River Park’s 332 at the, er, high end and the High Line second with a relatively paltry 173.

The NYPD did not reply to repeated requests for data concerning the alcohol-related tickets it has issued in the parks this year, but sources pointed out that cops focus on more serious park crimes and rarely issue summonses for drinking while sightseeing.

Additional reporting by Frank Rosario

Read/View More:

New York Post - December 12, 2011 - By Rich Calder

My Fox - December 12, 2011 - By Ashley Mastronardi

NY1 News - December 12, 2011

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