deal of the art

Philanthropist Offers City Free Building to Save Doomed Hudson Yards Arts Center

Director Michael Allen (LEFT) and assistant director Dennis Santella at the Affirmation Arts gallery, 523 W. 37th St. The space faces demolition as part of a Hudson Yards park and roadway expansion, May 2, 2019.
Director Michael Allen (LEFT) and assistant director Dennis Santella at the Affirmation Arts gallery, 523 W. 37th St. The space faces demolition as part of a Hudson Yards park and roadway expansion, May 2, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The owner of a Manhattan arts complex says he’s willing to give away the cultural institution to save it.

William Hillman’s Affirmation Arts, which sits in the path of a planned Hudson Yards park and roadway expansion, faces the wrecking ball, along with nine other nearby properties. He says he’d gladly hand over his building to the city — on the condition it remain intact as a cultural center.

“I would like to give this building to the people of New York City to share with the world,” the artist and philanthropist testified Tuesday at a hearing on plans to condemn his West 37th Street property to make way for the last phase of a park and boulevard north of Hudson Yards.

Hillman would not say how much he expected to get for his renovated, three-story 1920 structure, should the city seize it as planned. But he told THE CITY Thursday donating the building would be “by far the greatest philanthropic gift” of his lifetime.

William Hillman of Affirmation Arts
William Hillman of Affirmation Arts Photo: Courtesy of William Hillman

Whatever the cost, he added, would be worth it.

A Hudson Yards Development Corporation lawyer said the agency is “open to all discussions and proposals,” but left little hope that Affirmation Arts could be saved – at least in its current spot between 10th and 11th avenues.

“The city will work with displaced businesses to help them find suitable places to relocate,” said the lawyer, Lincoln Patel. “This park has been planned for over a decade and will provide much needed public open space.”

City’s Most Expensive Park

The 2005 deal that yielded the Hudson Yards megadevelopment included a new Hudson Park and Boulevard on the six blocks directly north, beginning at 33rd Street. The first three blocks of the green space — recently renamed Bella Abzug Park after the late member of Congress — opened in 2015. The city is now moving on condemnations related to the second phase of the project, as previously reported by Politico.

When complete, the park would bring about four acres of green space to the middle of the blocks between 10th and 11th avenues, from West 33rd to West 39th streets. According to Crain’s, the dual costs of acquiring the properties and building over rail tracks could make the park the most expensive in city history. Mayor de Blasio announced last year that the city set aside $500 million for the project, to be managed through the Hudson Yards Development Corporation.

Besides Affirmation, which is in the way of the planned extension of Hudson Boulevard, properties on the condemnation list include an 11-story hotel, multiple auto repair shops and a car service.

Hillman’s attorneys told him the city could take over his building soon as the fall.

“We were hoping there would be a lot more time,” said Michael Allen, Affirmation’s director. “It’s depressing. We will not be able to create space like we did here.”

Hillman custom built the airy arts haven 15 years ago in what was then a desolate area. Allen and staff this week were planning the opening for an exhibit of Hillman’s photography.

Affirmation Arts on W. 37th Street, May 2, 2019.
Affirmation Arts on W. 37th Street, May 2, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Also on tap: Events for the Haiti Cultural Exchange, the Josephine Herrick Project and a possible fall fundraiser for the National Museum of Brazil, which was nearly destroyed by fire last year.

Hillman says he knows chances he’ll be able to stop the city from taking his property via eminent domain are “slim to none.” But the self-described optimist hopes New Yorkers will rally around his cause.

“If we’re not bold and hopeful, nothing will happen,” he said. “We have to be hopeful and move forward as though we’ll be here.”

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