Features

Christine Fazio – Hudson River Park Trust

Hudson River Park Trust GC manages deep flow of legal matters

A four-mile stroll through the middle of Manhattan can take someone from the Flatiron Building, one the first skyscrapers in the U.S., past the Empire State or Chrysler buildings, through the bustle of Times Square or past the grandeur of Grand Central Station and on to the entrance of Central Park.

But if one walks a few blocks west along banks of the Hudson River, say from Pier 25 to Pier 97, the landmarks, vistas and attractions of Hudson River Park can seem much less urban as they pass through six neighborhoods and along rebuilt piers that hearken back to the Big Apple’s maritime past.

Christine Fazio | General Counsel | Hudson River Park Trust

Christine Fazio | General Counsel | Hudson River Park Trust

Created by a New York state law in 1998, Hudson River Park is a western boundary for famed neighborhoods that exude city atmospheres from Tribeca to Hell’s Kitchen, but it also provides kayakers a place to launch, Hudson River aquatic life a place to swim, and everyone a place to escape the shadows of buildings for sun-drenched riverbanks.

Christine Fazio is very familiar with Hudson River Park—she walks and jogs there while enjoying its amenities. And as general counsel for the Hudson Park River Trust, the park is at the center of her legal career and requires her to manage nearly as many legal areas as the visiting and recreation activities the park offers.

“What’s nice about this job is the collaboration with all the different departments with the common goal of finishing and maintaining the park, plus providing the free educational and event programming to the public,” Fazio says.

Still building after 25 years

Hudson River Park is a work in progress and requires Fazio to work with numerous Trust departments, an abundance of city and state officials, no fewer than three Manhattan community boards, several outside legal firms and the public in general to steer the park’s future course.

This year, the Gansevoort Peninsula area opened at the lower end of the park, opposite the Whitney Museum of American Art. The peninsula differs somewhat as it sits on solid ground instead of repurposed piers. It’s where kayakers and other non-motorized watercraft launch, and there’s an adjacent beach with 1,200 tons of sand, Adirondack-style chairs and umbrellas, a picnic area, and a sports field.

But the peninsula is also part of the Hudson River Park Estuarine Sanctuary and has a salt marsh highlighted by oyster beds planted to improve water quality and educate the public about the river.

Christine Fazio | General Counsel | Hudson River Park Trust

On the peninsula’s southern end, public art is hardly served on the half shell as visitors can view David Hammons’ sculpture Day’s End, donated by the Whitney.

The 5.5-acre peninsula is also a microcosm of Fazio’s legal support for the Trust. Once used by the New York Department of Sanitation, converting the acreage to public use required planning processes with stakeholders, preparing requests for proposals to develop the area and construction contracts and working with the museum on agreements related to the public art. She also helped the Trust successfully defend itself in litigation over the peninsula’s design and use.

At the park’s northern end, an extensive expansion north of Clinton Cove Park on Pier 97 is scheduled to be finished this year. Park features include an activity field, a playground with water spray features, sculptural shade structures and an elevated walkway with seating. Meanwhile, Fazio says planning for mixed-use development of the 245,000-square-foot Pier 76 continues, and the Trust has released an RFP for upgrades to the walkway between 29th Street and 44th Street.

Fine food, fine print

Developing and maintaining Hudson River Park is achieved with funding from various sources, including federal, state and city funding. But the commercial use is a crucial revenue source, too.

Park visitors enjoy plenty of places to eat and drink on piers or aboard the floating restaurants serving oysters, lobsters and Mexican food. There’s even City Vineyard, where one can sip wines made in New York City from grapes grown around the U.S. while sitting beneath grapevines.

Fazio is responsible for helping set the menu of offerings as she assists in the RFP process to bring in restaurants and concessions and works on the lease arrangements (although some leases predate the park). The Trust’s selection committee reviews proposals for rent and compatible use.

Fazio says the procurement process for services is complicated for her and applicants. Contracts for all construction and services, including facilities maintenance, need to consider state and city compliance programs. For instance, Fazio says any contract for $5,000 or more is subject to state procurement requirements, and contracts of $25,000 or more trigger state requirements to include companies owned by women, minorities or veterans.

Christine Fazio | General Counsel | Hudson River Park Trust

Shortly after joining the Trust, Fazio began working with its 13-member board of directors to streamline and simplify its operations. The board comprises five state and five city appointees and three from the Manhattan Borough.

Fazio introduced a consent agenda to speed up proceedings by grouping smaller items for consideration (any contract of a year or more requires board approval), and the board president can now spend more time on larger park contracts and planning at the meetings.

Working with the public, city and state officials and private businesses to develop and maintain Hudson River Park also requires expertise from outside counsel. Among the firms Fazio relies on is Holland & Knight, which supports construction contracting. Sive Paget Riesel assists particularly with environmental and land use issues. Rozario Touma P.C. helps with landlord-tenant questions while Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC offer expertise on labor and employment law, and Carter Ledyard & Milburn serves as environmental and real estate counsel, she says. Steptoe & Johnson also provides pro bono trademark advice.

Visible results

Fazio was raised up the Hudson River in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Rochester. After graduating, she joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to the Dominican Republic.

When her tour ended, she went to work with the Environmental Protection Agency, where she discovered most of the agency’s decisions were made by its legal department. Though she recommends that people work between earning an undergraduate degree and entering law school, she says the experience at the EPA piqued her interest in a law career.

Christine Fazio | General Counsel | Hudson River Park Trust

After earning her J.D. from Fordham Law School, Fazio joined a firm with a strong environmental law practice. After nearly 18 years, she was ready to take an in-house role. Serendipitously, Hudson Park River Trust was looking for a general counsel.

Whether it’s supporting development or Park events such as a blues barbeque festival or annual post-Halloween pumpkin smash providing compost for the park, whatever legal tangles Fazio faces are cleared away.

“It’s fun when you work on a contract or permit and see the event or finished product,” she says. “I love to see the results of the contracts and the community excitement for events, programming and places.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Winter I 2024 Edition here.

Published on: November 22, 2023

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