January 18, 2016
By Jillian Jorgensen
Mayor Bill de Blasio said today he is not sure how much it will cost the city to build new horse stables in Central Park—but he believes it will be worth the money.
“We don’t have a final figure. We will get one as we do the research,” Mr. de Blasio told the Observer during a Brooklyn press conference today. “But I can certainly say we’re convinced it’s a good investment.”
The new stables are an integral part of a compromise deal to restrict horse-drawn carriages to Central Park, and The New York Times reported yesterday that the new home for the horses—to be located in a building the city already owns on the 86th Street Transverse—could cost $25 million, at city taxpayers’ expense. The new stables will replace existing ones on the West Side of Manhattan, preventing the horses from having to use city streets, and under the framework announced yesterday would be built by 2018. (Until then, the horses will be allowed on city streets only to get to Central Park.)
The 14,000-square-foot building slated for the stables is currently used as a Parks Department maintenance facility. It’s located next to the Central Park police precinct, which is housed in—you guessed it—former horse stables.
The plan has led some to wonder why the city is spending public money to set aside space in a public park for the use of a private, for-profit industry.
“Is this really the proper use of this beautiful parkland?” asked Tupper Thomas, executive director of the group New Yorkers for Parks. “Could there be other things done there that would be more useful to the citizens of the city of New York?”
Ms. Thomas said her group was not consulted at all about the proposed deal, and said it seemed many people within the Parks Department did not know much about it until the middle of last week. She feared the plan had not been well-thought out—the building being considered is at least 160 years old, she said, and sits on the most significant parkland in the world.
“I’m sure they haven’t even had time to look at how many horses would fit in that stable. They can’t demolish it,” Ms. Thomas said, noting the facility’s deep history and famous architects. “Then there is the question of who is it being built for? It’s being built for a private business. It’s not like you can concession it out to anybody.”
But Mr. de Blasio said today he thought everyday New Yorkers would benefit from the new stables, too.
“The value we’re getting here for the people is to address the congestion issue, again when the horses are coming from the west side to the central park, to address the congestion issue along all the roots that the horse carriage ply, to address the safety issue, because there have been a number of crashes,” he said. “I think it’s a good long-term investment to get the horses off the streets.”
Mr. de Blasio’s office just recently issued a study on what causes congestion in Manhattan as part of yet another political headache—his ill-fated bid to cap Uber—which listed construction and deliveries as culprits but made no mention of horse-drawn carriages.
“I think anyone who drives in New York City—data’s great, human experience is great too. I drove plenty of times behind those horse carriages,” Mr. de Blasio said. “And we’ve all seen the crashes and what they did to the people involved and the horses involved. This is a no-brainer: they don’t belong on the streets of the city.”
Mr. de Blasio had previously maintained the horse-drawn carriages didn’t belong anywhere in the city—vowing to ban them altogether on “day one” as mayor. Yesterday’s deal, announced on day 747, obviously fell short of that campaign promise.
“It’s real progress. Look, it’s not everything I wanted, I think I’ve been quite clear on that,” Mr. de Blasio said. “But that’s why we have a democratic process, and obviously a democratic branch and an executive branch.”
And despite support from Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, there was little political will in the city’s legislative branch, the City Council, to support Mr. de Blasio’s call for a ban. The thorny issue pitted animal rights activists—who relentlessly opposed Mr. de Blasio’s main rival for the Democratic nomination for mayor in 2013, former Council Speaker Christine Quinn—against organized labor, since the horse drivers are represented by the Teamsters.