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A Miniature High Line Comes to the Bronx

Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on June 28, 2017

Riverdale, The Bronx

Rooftop Park

The rooftop garden at the Whitehall co-op in Riverdale – a miniature High Line in the Bronx

June 28, 2017

The Whitehall co-op in Riverdale turned a necessary capital roof repair into something unique: a 30,000-square-foot park that sits one story above street level  and looks like a miniature High Line. The resemblance is no accident. SiteWorks, one of the major landscape architects of Manhattan’s renowned High Line, was a consultant for the Riverdale project. “The demolition of our old, leaking roof would’ve cost us $4 million,” says co-op board president Jeffrey Moerdler. “So we thought, Why not spend $6.5 million and get our very own park?”

And a park they got, with grass and shrubs and trees, two playgrounds, meeting places for all kinds of activities, a fire pit, even a waterfall and a jogging path with a rubbery surface made of recycled tires. “I wanted to create a space that became a destination,” says Genie Masucci, principal of G. Masucci Architects. “I wanted to draw people to it. The way it’s set up, it draws the attention toward the green areas and away from the building. You can lose yourself in the moment on that roof.”

The co-op’s main building is a 23-story tower with 430 units. It has a one-story extension, which houses an underground garage, a health club, and a New York City public school annex. The board saw the extension’s roof as an opportunity. It contains a glass-enclosed swimming pool surrounded by a deck with 40 cabanas made of concrete blocks and bricks. “Those cabanas made the deck look much smaller,” says Moerdler. “And that pool deck leaked. It was a 12-inch concrete slab, with a defective waterproofing membrane below that dated from the 1970s. For 10 years we had known about the problem, but we deferred replacement and did proactive work to extend the life until we could do repairs.”

Then two things happened: First, the co-op refinanced its mortgage, nearly halving the interest rate from 6.5 to 3.75 percent. The reduction in interest allowed the co-op to borrow an additional $11 million and reduce its annual debt by $450,000. Second, the city did not renew the lease for the school annex, so the co-op signed a lease with a day-care center that would operate all day, year-round. The demolition of the roof, which involved jackhammers, had to be done before the new tenant came in. “We did it in two phases,” says Moerdler. “While we were doing phase one we planned what we will put on the roof.”

The demolition alone cost $2.5 million and the replacement of the deck would have brought the project to a total of about $3.5 million. “At that point we thought if we’re doing a several million dollar job already, then why not add an amenity for the residents?” says Moerdler. “Something unique, something that would also improve the value of the building.” Something like the High Line.

The sponsors, who own just over half of the units, loved the idea. With input from shareholders, the board put together a wish list of what the rooftop park should contain. “We wanted to build something that would strengthen the community,” says Moerdler. “We have a very diverse building...and we want to attract young families who will be long-term residents.”

“We needed to accommodate as many needs as possible,” adds Masucci, the architect. “The green spaces separate the recreation areas, and people can use it in different ways simultaneously. You feel you go to a different place when you walk along the path.”

Now the Bronx has its very own High Line – and it was completed without an assessment or maintenance increase.

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – MANAGEMENT: Rose Associates. ARCHITECT: G. Masucci Architects. CONTRACTOR: Grandline Construction. LANDSCAPE DESIGN: Design Farm Group. CONSULTANT: SiteWorks.

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