New York’s East Side Land Swap

If you heard people at the United Nations talking about a land deal, you might assume that they were referencing a plan to bring peace to some troubled region in the world. But the land deal in question is playing out on the peaceful banks of the East River. And it’s a good thing.

Folks at the U.N. have been gazing longingly at a humble, one-acre playground named for Robert Moses just south of its headquarters. They’d like very much to build a new building on the site, at First Avenue and 41st Street. In the meantime, the city has been trying to figure out how to pay for the completion of a greenway along the East Side waterfront.

In the finest traditions of diplomacy, there may be a deal on the table that will benefit all parties. The U.N. will pay the city $65 million for the park site. The city will use the money to build an esplanade from 41st to 53rd streets. Meanwhile, Con Edison will chip in with $13 million to help convert a pier it once leased near 38th Street into a park.

If everything works out as planned, the city will complete, at last, a 32-mile greenway along the Manhattan waterfront. The greenway’s completion will mark a major victory for pedestrians, tourists and Manhattan residents who have long lamented the city’s indifferent commitment (until recently) to waterfront access.

It’s a good deal for the U.N., too. Currently, the U.N. rents two buildings near its headquarters from the city. It will move its offices from the rental properties to the building it will construct on the playground. The city will then sell the two buildings, with the money going to the greenway.

It’s not very often that the interests of the U.N. and the city coincide so well. But the moment is here. While the deal is not certain—the U.N. has not committed to it just yet—it would be foolish to let the moment pass. Critics of the U.N. stopped a similar deal a few years ago. They shouldn’t be allowed to do so again.

New York’s East Side Land Swap