Shari Hyman, the president and chief operating officer of the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) since 2014, is resigning to take a senior post with the Westfield retail complex, at the World Trade Center.
BPCA chair Dennis Mehiel recounted Ms. Hyman’s tenure at the Authority by citing, “record amounts of new, free, high-quality community programming; a range of vital capital projects completed on-time and on-budget; ever-improving relations with the community at large; better-than-ever parks and public spaces; a ‘AAA’ bond rating and reduced overall budget; and an inclusive approach to comprehensive resiliency planning to protect this great neighborhood for the next generation and beyond.”
Ms. Hyman said, “Battery Park City is a place like no other: a magnificent place to live, to work, to raise a family; a place set apart from the Downtown crowds, yet perfectly integrated with Lower Manhattan.” She also characterized the community as, “a place that is well-managed, fiscally sound, financially prudent; and a place firmly positioned to meet the coming challenges of climate change with coordination and expertise.”
Ms. Hyman is slated to remain at the BPCA until the end of September, after which she will become vice president and general manager of Westfield World Trade Center. She takes the helm at Westfield during a challenging time: the complex is comprised of 360,000 square feet of retail, which competes directly with 250,000 square feet of shops to the west, at Brookfield Place, and another 65,000 square feet of retail space in Fulton Center (also operated by Westfield), directly to the east. And all three of these shopping centers will soon be pressured by another 300,000 square feet of stores, slated to debut next year in the South Street Seaport, plus 200,000 more square feet of emporia now being developed at 28 Liberty Street. All of this rapid development comes at time when legacy shopping malls across the nation are struggling against the increasing prevalence of online retail.
Ms. Hyman’s tenure at the BPCA included several controversial episodes, such as the 2015 transfer of North Cove Marina to Brookfield Properties, after the facility (which is mapped as parkland) was taken away from the local resident and small businessman who had operated highly regarded community programs there for more than a decade. Another flashpoint was the summary dismissal later that year (for no reason that was ever publicly explained) of Tessa Huxley, the widely admired longtime chieftain of Battery Park City’s public spaces, along with the decision to absorb the once-separate Parks Conservancy into the BPCA. A third BPCA move that aroused widespread criticism was the Authority’s 2016 decision to replace the Parks Enforcement Patrol officers who had patrolled the community since 1992 with private security guards from a firm once owned by an investment group at which a senior aide to the Governor Cuomo previously served as a top executive.
As Mr. Mehiel noted, however, her time at the Authority’s helm also included the first stages of planning a massive resiliency effort that aims eventually to render the community safe against rising sea levels and extreme weather events. Ms. Hyman also oversaw the advent of Open Community Meetings, at which residents are able to question senior BPCA decision-makers directly. This was seen as a significant step toward mending a perceived breach of trust between the Authority and people who live within the community it governs, arising from years of controversial decisions.
Ms. Hyman’s departure parallels that of her husband, Daniel Horwitz, who was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to oversee the State’s corruption watchdog, the Joint Commission on Professional Ethics, in 2013, but resigned last September. Mr. Horwitz has recently been nominated by Governor Cuomo to serve on the board of the Port Authority. (The Port Authority is Westfield’s landlord at the World Trade Center.)
With Ms. Hyman gone, the BPCA will be functioning without two senior staff members. The other is the Authority’s chief financial officer, a post that was manned for decades by Robert Serpico, who retired at the end of 2016. His replacement, Janet Ozarchuk, served for only a few months before suddenly resigning under circumstances that were never fully explained.
How quickly a replacement will be designated for Ms. Hyman is unclear. Equally opaque is the process for recruiting such a candidate. Appointments to the BPCA staff (as with the Authority’s board) are ultimately controlled by the Governor. But historically, the Executive Chamber has often been influenced by recommendations from the BPCA board chair — in this case, Mr. Mehiel, who also serves as the BPCA’s chief executive officer. If precedent is any guide, however, the community is unlikely to be consulted in the choice of who will lead the government agency that oversees it.
One drawing point for prospective replacements will be the post’s salary: the BPCA president is paid $225,000 per year. This is the second-highest compensation of any Authority president in the New York State system of public-benefit agencies. Only the president of the New York State Power Authority, with a salary of $235,000 per year, earns more.