Take a walk on the High Line. What was a weed-choked abandoned railroad track is now teeming with tourists, surrounded by new buildings and trendy eateries.
The Friends of the High Line’s Spring Benefit on Wednesday highlighted the people behind the buildings and the food, including Santina, a glassed-in Italian restaurant below the elevated park.
Builders first: Matt Bronfman and Michael Phillips, the chief executive officer and president of Jamestown, are creating office space above Chelsea Market, a project that calls for a delicate balance of the new and historic.
“It’s a constant struggle,” Bronfman said at the event, held at Pier 36 on the East River. “We have to maintain the authenticity but at the same time, for the neighborhood to thrive and for there to be the dollars to support the High Line, you need new development.”
Real-estate dollars helped the benefit raise $3 million for Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit that shepherded the conversion of an eyesore into a lucrative landmark, and now oversees it, including creative landscaping.
Among the 750 guests were Rob Speyer, co-CEO of Tishman Speyer and chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York, and Jeff Blau, CEO of Related, whose Hudson Yards is going up on the north end of the High Line. (The Whitney Museum of American Art has just opened on the south end.)
“I really enjoy what’s going on with the plants,” said Gary DeBode, who leads Edison Properties. Edison, along with its partners, recently sold a site near the park to HFZ Capital for more than $800 million.
Ben Levine, of Douglaston Development, which built the residential tower Ohm near Hudson Yards, introduced Eric Gioia of JPMorgan Chase to Mason Plumlee of the Brooklyn Nets professional basketball team. Another tall one: Jason Sander, founding principal at SandCap, a capital raiser for mega real estate projects.
Not every guest was 100 percent chipper about development.
“Some of the buildings are a little bit depressing,” said Sandra Bernhard, the multi-talented performer who has lived in an older building in Chelsea since 2000. “The ones going up on 10th Avenue, they’re hulking, big condominiums that start at $4 million.”
More than 6 million people visited the High Line last year, and that number is “definitely going to be a lot higher this year,” said Catie Marron, co-chairman of the Friends group. Admission is free.
On Saturday night, Marron and her family visited the Whitney, ate at Santina, and took a stroll up the High Line where Yutaka Sone’s “Little Manhattan,” a marble sculpture representing the island, caught her eye.
Santina is the High Line’s first sit-down restaurant, which brings us to the food stars of the event: Santina’s creators, the Major Food Group’s Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick, who were honored and also had some input into the menu catered by Bite, family-style, on tables decorated for a picnic with gingham napkins.
So there was Santina’s trademark crudite basket, full of carrots and radishes, and there were Carbone, Torrisi and Zalaznick, in the company of their significant others, looking just a bit more relaxed than they tend to appear when they’re talking with gusto about their ventures.
“It was their entrepreneurial energy that attracted us,” said Joshua David, co-founder of the High Line, who was also honored along with Jamestown and Susan Sarandon. “That’s what made us feel like it was the right fit. A lot of restaurants bid on that space.”
David likes the anchovies and the chickpea pancakes at Santina, though he hasn’t abandoned Hector’s Place, the old-school diner around the corner that was the meatpackers hangout.
“We just did our development director’s birthday party there,” he said.
Donald Mullen, John Mack, Edward Norton, John Blondel and Jane Lauder were also spotted at the party, which brought the High Line indoors by placing models on patches of grass in typical High Line poses -- reading, sunning, chatting with a friend on a blanket.