NYC Parks Department Presentation on Next Phases of WSP Redesign — Reportback from December 3rd Meeting (Part I of II)

Last Washington Square Park Task Force Meeting that occurred (in July), I reported back with an 8 part series. I’m going to stick to the most important and pressing points in reporting back on this meeting which occurred Wednesday, December 3rd.

This meeting of the Washington Square Park Task Force and Community Board 2 Parks Committee was chaired by Community Board 2 Chair (and WSP Task Force co-chair) Brad Hoylman.

Featuring a Parks Department presentation by George Vellonakis (the landscape designer responsible for the “plan” for WSP being put forward), it also included a few words interspersed from Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Bill Castro, WSP Administrator Rebecca Ferguson, and Chris Crowley (whose title I am not certain of) who is overseeing the playground renovation.

The most important aspects revealed were:

* Cost of Project

The projected cost of the Washington Square Park Redesign project is now nowhere near its initial budgeted $16 Million but is looming large at $27 Million.

Phase I (currently being completed) is costing $14 Million (originally projected at $6 Million); Phase II is now projected at $8 Million, and Phase III (sometimes referred as Phase IIB which contains the bathrooms and Parks offices) is now projected at $5 Million. Of course, the future phases II and II are most likely under-estimated at this point so it’s likely we can expect the total project to be at least $35 Million.

* “Gerson-Quinn” Agreement … Not really An Agreement

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Council Member Alan Gerson (WSP falls in his district) like to talk about an “agreement” (the so-called “Gerson-Quinn Agreement) they have with NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe which allegedly resolves “the outstanding major issues” the community had with the Washington Square Park redesign plan. (Note: it never really did but it’s nice to have some illusion of someone working to resolve the issues and it seemingly made a few gains.)

But, that bubble was burst when the Parks Department admitted at the meeting that it thinks no such agreement exists.

Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro informed me when I asked why the new fencing contains “decorative spears” in direct violation of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” (which stipulated that there BE no decorative spears), that “there is no agreement.”

News to anyone who has listened to Gerson and Quinn’s rhetoric about this in the context of all the gains they “won” for the community. Representatives for Council Members Gerson and Quinn – present at the meeting – were silent.

* Artificial Turf Appears Anywhere Commissioner Benepe can find a spot for it

Parks Commissioner Benepe continues to sadly advocate for artificial turf (more on that tomorrow).

* Grand Reduction in Public Space No Myth

The public space is being dramatically reduced and not just around the fountain which gets a 25% reduction but around the chess tables… around the north east corner and, on the edges of the park, with the removal (currently planned but which hopefully will be reversed) of the wonderful seating alcoves currently on the north east, eastern, and southeast sides. (Note: I am advocating for all of the above to be reversed.)

* When Will Phase I (NorthWest Quadrant) Open?

The redesigned northwest quadrant — which includes the Fountain area — will open “sometime in the new year” – fairly vague.

More on this tomorrow when Part II appears.

Talk on Stanford White, designer of Washington Square Arch, Tues. Dec. 9th, Manhattan

Stanford White-designed Washington Sq Arch

Stanford White-designed Washington Sq Arch

Stanford White was the noted designer of the Washington Square Park Arch. A renowned architect, part of the illustrious firm McMead, Kim & White, he originally designed the first version of the Arch which was built in wood, half a block away from its current location, for the Centennial of George Washington’s inauguration in 1889.

The Arch was then commissioned in marble and completed in its current location (Fifth Avenue and Washington Square North) in the early 1890’s. The public itself raised the money for the Arch and it was considered a big success.

I learned a lot about the Arch preparing for my Walking TourWashington Square Park: Past, Present and Future: A Guide to New York City’s Redesign of a Perfect Public Space.” One of my favorite points of note is that there are thirteen wreath-encircled stars near the top of the Arch – one for each original state – alternating with “W” for Washington. Also the two sculptures on each side of the Arch (“Washington At War” and “Washington at Peace“) are of interest. To read more about them and the Washington Family coat of Arms (“exitus acta probat“), see this previous entry.

Stanford White died tragically at the age of 53.

The Armory is conducting a discussion on Stanford White tomorrow evening, Tuesday, December 9th. Here is their description:

Stanford White, Architect

By the time of his death at fifty-three, Stanford White had transformed himself into the most celebrated architects in America. He was also one of its most prolific designers, a tastemaker of such stature that Harper’s Weekly declared he should be appointed Commissioner of Public Beauty. White’s passion for beauty was accompanied by an evolving taste. Early designs, such as his collaboration on the Armory’s Veterans’ Room, embraced the generous and inventive attributes of the Aesthetic Movement, while the work of his maturity reveals the same powerful imagination applied to a more traditional classical idiom.

Samuel White Lecturer

Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Reception 6:00pm
Program 6:30pm–8:00pm

643 Park Avenue, New York, NY – Phone: (212) 616-3930

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Washington Square Park Task Force Meeting Report back coming later this afternoon!