In the News… Daily News’ Juan Gonzalez: “Mayor Bloomberg’s Union Square Park Restaurant Deal Tasteless”

Juan Gonzalez has an excellent piece in today’s New York Daily News: “Mayor Bloomberg’s Union Square Park Restaurant Deal Tasteless.”

Gonzalez writes:

A $7 million private donation to the project from an anonymous source is based in part on construction of the [restaurant] concession, a [Union Square] partnership spokesman confirmed yesterday.

So why can a private donor give money only on condition that a portion of a public park become a private concession?

The fire sale of public space for private business deals has become all too common in the Bloomberg era. Mullaly Park in the Bronx was sacrificed for the new Yankee Stadium.

Randalls Island was turned over first for a water park concession, but the deal later collapsed. Then there was a deal to give rich private schools preference on using the island’s ballfields. A Supreme Court justice voided that deal and the city has appealed.

The article also revealed something I did not know. Restauranteur Danny Meyer who is presently co-chair of the Union Square Partnership (the local business improvement district/BID) which controls much of Union Square Park already — was “a founder and director of the Madison Square Park Conservancy” at the time he was given concession space within that park. That concession is the “popular” Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.

Gonzalez continues:

Meyer, who owns Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern, also heads the Union Square Partnership and is a major promoter of the $20 million renovation.

Meyer has sworn under oath he would not bid to run a restaurant in Union Square Park.

That’s not the question. The question is when will Mayor Bloomberg stop giving his rich friends city parkland?

And let’s not forget the plans for the naming of the Fountain in Washington Square Park “Tisch Fountain” which occurred after the Tisch Family made a $2.5 million “donation” to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.

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Corrected NY1.com story: “Judge extends injunction against Union Square restaurant”

NY1.com corrected their initial story from yesterday (Monday, April 28th) which gave an incorrect version of what happened in court that morning.

The expanded story, “Judge extends injunction against Union Square restaurant” states:

“Last week, a state judge ordered a temporary stop to construction at the park after a community group filed suit against the city in an effort to block the conversion of an old pavilion in the park into a restaurant. Monday, the judge ruled to extend the injunction, while allowing construction on other parts of the park to move forward.”

The “other parts of the park” which will be moving forward include the playground which is the main aspect of the renovation of Union Square Park that the community wanted. Opposition by community groups is directed towards the NYC Parks Department’s “plan” to add a private, expanded restaurant, further privatizing the Park, and the chopping down of 14 mature trees.

The story continues: “The judge did not say when she would rule on the restaurant. But she did issue a temporary restraining order preventing construction workers from cutting down trees or doing any restoration work on a pavilion at the north end of the park.”

NY1.com: “Judge ends injunction on Union Sq Park Construction”; Temporary Restraining Order Continues on Restaurant/Pavilion

Update: NY1 headline is misleading. Overview: Judge ruled NO work to be done by City on the Pavilion/Restaurant and NO cutting down of trees while Judge makes her decision. Temporary Restraining Order is still in effect on those aspects. No injunction on construction of the playground — the playground is the area the community would like to see built.

Right now, NY1.com reporting: “Judge ends injunction on Union Square Park Construction.” The site states: “While a judge decided today not to extend an injunction blocking the Parks Department from continuing some construction at Union Square Park, she left a decision on building of a restaurant at the location up in the air.”

My Conversation With Parks Commissioner Benepe: “It’s all the crazy bloggers spreading wrong information”

I spoke with NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe after the Morningside Park ceremony yesterday, Sunday, April 27th, commemorating 40 years since Columbia University was stopped from expanding taking over part of that Park from the community for a gymnasium. We had an interesting discussion. At one point, he said to me: “It’s all the crazy bloggers spreading wrong information.”

I found out that Commissioner Benepe has some wrong information himself. I’ll report back on that later today or tomorrow.

Arbor Day Protest at Union Square: Stop the Privatization of Public Space Event Report Back

An Arbor Day protest on Friday, April 25th in Union Square Park united artist/vendors with tree-savers and bike riders around the theme: Stop Privatization of Public Space / Protect Our Trees.

Artists, performers, eco-activists and community members leafleted the thousands of people streaming through Union Square Park with information about what’s happening in our city – the mass cutting down of trees in our parks, the privatization of public space, and reduction of public space – under the auspices of Mayor Bloomberg.

Many of the Washington Square Park activists who have worked so hard and for so long to help that Park came out in support of protecting the trees and stopping the privatization at Union Square and in our City overall. I met some WSP blog-readers too!

Members of the Bronx Treekeepers arrived with a new petition and collected many signatures as we circled the Square. We approached – and were approached by – numerous people (including people playing Twister on the plaza who held the flyer in their mouths so as not to lose their positions!). They all wanted information on how Mayor Bloomberg is encroaching on our public space and his tree destruction (despite his MillionTreesNYC p.r.). The information that 14 trees were going to be chopped down to make way for a private restaurant left people aghast.

There were other protests going on that evening — notably the Sean Bell verdict protest in Queens had been called for the same time — so we knew that many activists who would have attended had headed over there, understandably.

The protest was to begin at the Gandhi statue, and a number of folks gathered there. I started out near the statue of George Washington on his horse and the Main Plaza, and met up with a few others there. Chalking messages on the voluminous plaza seemed to garner the crowd’s attention (wondering perhaps what is this chalk-wielding woman doing?). One message: “Stop Mayor Bloomberg from Privatizing our Parks – Union Square is Next!” In the days immediately following September 11th, 2001, Union Square had become the main gathering point for “peace” speak-outs, and the Park back then was filled with chalked messages of New Yorkers searching for loved ones and expressing their desire for “No War” and for peace. (If only they’d listened to the Voices of Union Square Park back then…)

When I finally got to the Gandhi statue, a spirited group was flyering the crowd. Artists had painted and set up signs on every table. Official-looking posters, signed by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, adorned nearby trees as well as the Park’s four prominent statues. These posters, with UPC-bar codes (see the photo above); were each sponsored by a different corporation, and cited the kind of tree that would be cut down, signifying the privatization of our public space. (The sign in the above photo states: Property of Bank of America, Tree # USP6 Bloomberg Gingko, To be cut down and its plot privatized.)

Later, we met up with the folks from Critical Mass who were about to embark on their monthly bike ride, which gathers at Union Square. Street artists were everywhere! Once they’d closed up their tables, many helped hand out flyers and carried signs such as: “Stop Park Privatization,” “Stop Harassing Artists” “Green Market – Yes, Artists – Yes, Privatization – No.”

The Park itself was abuzz that night with all sorts of political and artistic projects. “Free Tibet” protesters set up one hundred white candles encased in glass containers all along the Main Plaza. 9/11 Truth activists collected signatures. Musicians, dancers, tourists, pounded out the cadences of a new counterculture emerging. Union Square on Arbor Day: It was an amazing tribute and example of a great use of public space.

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Thank you to Rebecca, Mitchel, Robert L., Elizabeth, Gloria, Joel K., Tony, Miriam, Ned, Alex, Ernie, Jessie, Sharon, Linda, Carl, Kevin, Suzannah, Susan (and partner), Ben, ALL the street artists, and anyone else I inadvertently left out for your help, support, and great activism around this event.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe at Morningside Park Today, Sunday, 2 p.m.

From Joel Kupferman, lawyer extraordinaire:

IRONY – Adrian Benepe, NYC Parks Commissioner, speaking at a ceremony commemorating the halting of Columbia University’s gym construction 40 years ago. (WSPB note: The University’s plans were to take over a large swatch of Morningside Park, and were stopped by protest and action, in court, and in front of the bulldozers.)

PROTEST —- Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who masterminded the destruction of Washington Square Park, by moving and shrinking the fountain plaza, is speaking at a ceremony commemorating the halting of Columbia University’s gym construction 40 years ago. Sponsored by Friends of Morningside Park. This is the last part of Columbia 1968 and the World: A 40th Anniversary Event.

Some background: “This spring marks the 40th anniversary of the 1968 student protests at Columbia University. A group of alumni participants, working with faculty and students, has developed a program for a three-day conference to reexamine those events from a wide range of viewpoints and in the context of what was happening in 1968 in the country and the world.

NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe will speaking at 2:00 PM today at Morningside Park @ West 113th Street.

The Parks Department continues to privatize parks and restrict the use of parks to gather and to protest. (See previous entry.)

Central Park was set off limits by the Parks Department for a huge anti-war rally on the great lawn during the Republican National Convention. See IndyMedia coverage.

The Parks Department continues to install ARTIFICIAL TURF in scores of city parks, including Riverside Park. Despite the fact that this synthetic turf reaches over 160 degrees in the summer (disparately impacting children who cannot leave the city in the summer), contains many toxic elements and compounds, and damages the environment; and that there are NY state and city legislative bills calling for a moratorium on the use of such grass, Commissioner Benepe still claims it is safe to use. Read more at New York Environmental Law & Justice Project.

JUST A LITTLE FOOD FOR THOUGHT while you picnic.

Joel R Kupferman
New York Environmental Law & Justice Project

NYC Parks Dept.-2/3 cuts in workers and endless privatization schemes

According to New York Jobs With Justice: “Years ago, NYC’s public parks were administered by over 7,500 municipal employees of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Today, it’s only 2,500 municipal employees taking care of NYC’s public parks. This number continues to shrink as the years go by. Much of the labor has been privatized through city partnerships with non-profit administrators resulting in a two-tier work force of public servants in the City’s public parks.”

That is a 66% reduction in Parks Department workers. Since so much has been willingly privatized (by the City), it’s hard to know what the actual number of workers is now.

Another result of the reduction in the Parks Department budget and the City government’s focus on privatization of our public spaces is that private entities manage the space and also deem how that space is used.

In addition, the City sells off naming rights to, for example, the fountain at Washington Square Park under the ruse that they can’t afford to repair it otherwise, and they agree to re-name it Tisch Fountain for $2.5 million (and it ends up being moved, unnecessarily “aligned,” along with the deal) …

The Parks Department accepts a $7 million “anonymous” donation with STIPULATIONS – strings attached – that this donation ensures that there is a private restaurant in the historic Pavilion at Union Square. Although it hasn’t been revealed who the donor is, somehow restauranteur Danny Meyer, who is also co-chair of the Union Square Partnership (the local BID-business improvement district), is the only name bandied about as the choice to helm the restaurant.

You can see how much of a slippery slope this whole privatization game is.

Spring in Washington Square Park – The Park is Bustling. What Happens Next?



There’s something about the spirit of Washington Square Park that even now, despite virtually HALF of the Park being closed for the City’s “renovation,” the open space is still filled to the brim with people commingling, creating music, art and conversation in new locations. (There’s no choice as the Fountain, its Plaza, and the Arch are behind gates and off-limits).

Interconnections happen at Washington Square Park in ways that just do not happen in other spaces. That is why it is such an internationally known, perfect public space.

The City’s redesign plans don’t take this into account. Their aspiration is to create a Park that is prettified and glossy and passive.

The areas at Washington Square Park where people are gathering now – the north east corner by the picnic tables, the Garibaldi statue, the teen playground – those areas will all be REMOVED with the completion of the City’s redesign plan. In the North East corner (well, in every ‘corner’ of the Park), there will be a “plaza.” What that means I am not quite certain but the significance of that is – without question – a diminishing of the public space. The Fountain and the surrounding Central Plaza – the premiere area where people gather at the park – are scheduled to be reduced 23 percent. How is this allowed to happen?

At Union Square Park right now, it’s a familiar drama that is being enacted. Some of the same actors, slightly different script, same basic plot, all being pushed through by Mayor Bloomberg and the City’s Parks Department — in the interest of privatizing and reducing the public space. If this is troubling to you, you have to something to say, join us Friday at Union Square Park from 6-8 p.m., pick a Park in the City to represent, create some art, make some music, dress up.

New York Times: “Judge Blocks Overhaul of Union Square Park”

Today’s New York Times‘ article by Timothy Williams, “Judge Blocks Overhaul of Union Square Park, covers the latest at Union Square Park.

As noted in the article, “The dispute over Union Square, one of the city’s most popular public spaces, is the latest in a series of disagreements between the parks department and neighborhood groups over changes to local parks that have ended in lawsuits and protracted court battles.

Such as with Washington Square Park, Yankee Stadium, Randall’s Island, among too many others. The article continues:

Workers started site work at the park several days ago. On Tuesday, hours after the restraining order was issued, a backhoe sat idle in the park’s north plaza, its arm resting atop a large mound of dirt. Equipment from two of the park’s three playgrounds had already been removed.

The Parks Department declined to comment. However, “in a statement, Ramin Pejan, a lawyer at the city’s Law Department, said that the Bloomberg administration would eventually prevail.”

Isn’t that continuously the attitude of the Bloomberg administration? That they will “eventually prevail.” It’s non-stop arrogance towards communities across the five boroughs as they bulldoze through massive changes in the composition of our city. Privatization of public space is just one method in their arsenal but it has reverberating effects.

The lawsuit was filed by the Union Square Community Coalition, NYC Parks Advocates, former City Council Member Carol Greitzer, among others, against the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, The City of New York, New York City Department of Buildings, and Union Square Partnership(the local BID, Business Improvement District).

They will be back in court on Monday, April 28th at 9:30 a.m. at Supreme Court of the State of NY, NY County Courthouse, 60 Centre Street, IAS Part 55 to determine if a preliminary injunction will be ordered by the Judge.

Event: Stop Privatization of Public Space/Protect Our Trees – Arbor Day; Fri April 25 Union Sq Park

Street Artists, Activists, Community Members, Public Space and Free Speech Advocates (Everyone Invited) Gather to Protect Our Trees and Protest Privatization of Public Space

In Honor of Arbor (Tree) Day Friday April 25th

When: Friday, April 25th, 6-8 p.m.

Where: UNION SQUARE PARK, 14th Street betw. Union Sq East and Union Sq West by Gandhi Statue, Manhattan

Despite Mayor Bloomberg’s hyping of his “MillionTreesNYC” P.R. initiative, thousands of mature trees have been cut down in all five boroughs at our City’s Parks, mostly in the interest of privatization of public space, which has dramatically increased under Mayor Bloomberg.

Under the Bloomberg Administration and NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, the plans (stopped at the moment by a Temporary Restraining Order) move forward for Union Square Park to lose a large portion of its public space and 13 mature trees in order to accommodate a private restauranteur.

Since Friday, April 25th is Arbor Day, a day in which we celebrate, nurture, and plant trees (the first Arbor Day took place in 1872), we thought it a perfect day to look at Mayor Bloomberg’s true legacy on trees in our city, particularly in our Parks.

As Union Square Park is the latest Park being descended upon by the Bloomberg Administration, we plan to gather there.

BRING ART, CREATE ART, DRESS UP.

THE BACKGROUND:

Mayor Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s intention is to privatize Union Square Park, thereby reducing the famous GreenMarket, as well as artist and free speech zones, cutting down 13 MATURE TREES, in order to create restaurant space in the historic Pavilion
on the north end for restauranteur Danny Meyer (co-chair of the local BID, business improvement district, Union Square Partnership). Street Artists and Free speech protesters are at risk as the space becomes further privatized and constricted during construction and afterwards.

THE DESTRUCTION OF TREES THAT HAS OCCURRED IN NEW YORK CITY UNDER THE BLOOMBERG ADMINISTRATION INCLUDES:

*Washington Square Park11 mature trees have been destroyed in order to “align” the famous fountain with the historic Arch (no matter that they’d been unaligned for over a century). Naming rights to the Fountain sold by the City to the TISCH Family. More are headed for the chopping block.

*Randall’s Island Thousands of trees have been slaughtered to privatize sports fields on Randall’s Island. Parks Commissioner Benepe and Mayor Bloomberg were hoping to privatize entirely this 273 acre park and give the majority of access to 20 private schools within New York City. (A lawsuit stopped this aspect of their privatization scheme.)

*Yankee Stadium400 trees were chopped down from TWO Parks in the Bronx (which desperately needs parks) which were destroyed to make way for the new Yankee Stadium.

*East River ParkOver 105 trees axed to “reconstruct” the East River Park.

*Highland Park/Ridgewood ReservoirThousands of trees are on the chopping block with Parks Commissioner Benepe’s plans to destroy the natural landscape and habitat here to install dangerous artificial turf in this spot on the Brooklyn/Queens border.

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Let’s stop the Bloomberg Administration’s continuous privatizing of our public space while destroying our City’s mature trees.