Manhattan Community Board 8 Asserts Itself: Expresses “Outrage” Over Parks Department Installation of Mobile Food Carts at Tavern on the Green space; Behind-the-Scenes Deal

From the list serve , “1000+ Friends,” that keeps many of us informed on Parks/Parks Department issues, news that Manhattan Community Board 8 — blindsided by NYC Parks Department actions which kept them in the dark, and, in fact, misinformed them on what would be coming to the former Tavern on The Green space — issued a resolution expressing their “outrage” over the decision to place mobile food trucks in the Central Park space, contrary to what was previously presented as their plans.

Just a note that Community Board 2’s Parks Committee often hides behind the oft quoted statement “community boards are just advisory,” but, of course, the body can always issue resolutions which are submitted to the City Council and the media to raise awareness of issues like this one.

And certainly more than a few issues were raised at the last Parks Committee meeting earlier this month in relation to Washington Square Park – but more on that another day.

From 1000+ Friends:

WHERE’S my CRYSTAL CHANDELIER?

Fans of the old time gaudy excess at the Tavern On the Green are definitely not happy with what’s been happening at there lately. In fact, they’ve resolved to oppose it — or at least look for some more facts amid the lack of fancy.

Witness the following resolution was passed by Manhattan Community Board 8 at its last full Board meeting:

RESOLUTION: WHEREAS the Parks Dept. failed to inform Community Board 8 about the renovations to the Tavern on the Green site, which is a landmarked structure in a landmarked park; and

WHEREAS the Parks Dept., without any consultation to the Community Board 8, awarded contracts to food vendors who will sell cooked food from unattractive and potentially polluting trucks at the Tavern on the Green site, in contrast to plans presented to Community Board 8 for vending via specialty carts; and

WHEREAS the Parks Dept. ignored Community Board 8’s July 2010 resolution asking the Department to (more…)

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NYU Students Will Never Graduate in WSP Again; New Design Cuts Available Seating from 19,000 to 14,000

It seems all those arguments by the New York City Parks Department that there’d be no loss of public space with the redesign of Washington Square Park, were, um, as we knew, a bit false.

The proposed reduction in public space at the Park was revealed by community activist Jonathan Greenberg and his lawsuit, which aimed to stop the city’s plans from moving forward. Court documents revealed that the reduction in public space around the fountain would be 23%. Although the information was never provided to the Community Board or City Council Members Alan Gerson or Christine Quinn by the Parks Department, they also didn’t seem to look into it too deeply. But now, we have additional proof, by, of all places, New York University!

NYU Local reported Friday that NYU will never hold their graduation in Washington Square Park again (something many – who are not NYU students – will most likely be happy about). 2008 was the first time in 32 years that the graduation was not held in WSP. The ceremony was moved to Yankee Stadium. The park’s redesign causes the Fountain Plaza to accommodate only 14,000 people; it previously could hold 19,000 or more.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe told me in person when I asked him in 2008, as Phase I was getting under way, “there is no reduction of public space.” If 5,000 less students can be accommodated on the Fountain Plaza and surrounding area, that’s a reduction of 26%.

This once again brings up the question: Shouldn’t we expect our City officials to provide us with accurate information and to tell the truth?

Many thought one of the major goals of the elaborate redesign plan was to level the Fountain Plaza and make it more “picture perfect” with endless lawn space and pretty flowers for NYU’s Graduation Ceremony; this signals otherwise.

New York University, which hasn’t won over many fans in the Village or much of the city with their overarching real estate domination, contributed $1 million towards the park’s reconstruction. This $1 million was part of the original budget of $16 million for Phases I, II and III of the construction. The expected cost of the plan has now doubled to at least $32 million.

Community Board 2 ultimately rescinded its approval of the park redesign plan, tho’ in a somewhat oblique manner.

Photo: J. Bary via Flickr

See also; video: The Truth About Washington Square Park

Privatization, Concessions and New York City Parks

Last year there were numerous creative actions by Save Union Square/Union Square Not For Sale aiming to stop the placement of a private restaurant within Union Square Park‘s north end pavilion. The pavilion had long been closed. It was the focal point of the first Labor Day parade and other historic events, and later used extensively for musical, children and community activities.

The model for all things successful about a city park concession often leads people to point to Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. But is that such a good model to follow?

WNYC.com set out to find out with the piece, “Shake Shack $$$: Bad for City Parks?. It reveals what the “executive directors” of conservancies at some of the tonier parks get paid (Friends of the High Line head Robert Hammond takes home $280,000 a year) and how the popular Shake Shack, as a concessionaire in Madison Square Park, has paid a smaller amount of its $4.9 million a year revenues to the city than most.

City park concessions typically return up to 20% of their revenues back to the city. Meyer’s deal allows him to pay only 12%. In addition, Meyer caters private events at the park from which his company makes up to $15,000 an hour, according to the WNYC piece by Arun Venogopal which references Patrick Arden’s well-researched article “The High Cost of Free Parks.”

Due to the Bloomberg Administration’s over-reliance on private funding in city parks and the administration’s overarching belief that this can take the place of proper funding allocated from the city budget, the Parks Department is in sad shape. This is greatly affecting parks in poorer areas, which don’t have the good fortune of being in high value destinations for real estate and commerce.

Some alarming information follows:

In 1960 parks maintenance and operations claimed 1.4 percent of city funds. Mayor Bloomberg’s new $63.6 billion budget would send parks’ percentage to a record low of 0.37 percent, or $239 million. (Chicago spent almost $150 million more last year on 21,000 fewer acres.)

WSP Blog Note: Really…? Do we want Chicago outpacing us?

The mayor’s cut would drop the full-time workforce below 3,000, less than half the number employed by the Parks Department in 1970. “No other city agency has lost a greater percentage of its workforce over the last 40 years,” says [Geoffrey Croft, president of the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates]. “Private money will never make that up.”

[Patrick] Arden and parks advocates say the “Golden Age for Parks” that Adrian Benepe claims is more like a Gilded Age, “with wide — and growing — disparities between lavish, showplace parks for the haves and cast-off parcels for the have-nots. For every Madison Square, Bryant Park or High Line, there are hundreds of parks that depend solely on the city, and many suffer from scandalous neglect.”

(more…)

Will 1/3 of Washington Sq Park’s Already Delayed Phase II Construction – including Dog Runs, Mounds, Chess Area – Be Moving into Phase III? Word on the Street Says Yes.

You might recall, in my September 7th post flagging some of the problems being currently encountered in the construction of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II, that I questioned whether the relocation of the Dog Runs might be moving into Phase III.

The small & large dog runs’ new and pretty much unwelcome locations will be at Washington Square South bordering the park’s administrative offices and bathrooms (scheduled for Phase III, tho’ the community long requested this work be completed first).

Well, now, it appears not just the dog run is being moved into Phase III. Sources tell me that much of the southwestern side – which includes the Mounds & Adjacent Play Area, the Large Dog Run and the Chess area – will be moving into the final (as of now) phase of the historic park’s controversial redesign.

It hasn’t officially been announced yet but it’s pretty much a fait accompli.

It’s even more interesting because I wrote to NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe in September 2009 suggesting this very thing. It seemed fairly obvious to many, not just me. If it had been approached this way at the onset, it would have saved time, money, and a large section that went under wraps could have remained, well, unwrapped while the eastern section was being reconstructed.

My letter of September 25th, 2009:

Dear Commissioner Benepe:

I have been wondering why Washington Square Park Phase II plans call for closing off such large sections of the park – NorthEast, SouthEast and SouthWest Quadrants – all at once and why this work could not be completed in at least two stages so that the public would not be so limited in access to the park while under construction.  This is a large amount of space to place off limits all at once.

Has there been any consideration to breaking it up into two parts? (Perhaps chess area and mounds being completed at a later date, for example.)

Parks Commissioner Benepe wrote back to me on October 29th, 2009:

Dear Ms. Swan:

Thank you for your email regarding Phase II of the renovation of Washington Square Park.

We realize it is an inconvenience for park users to have such a large part of the park closed temporarily. However, dividing the project into additional phases and extending the timeline would raise the cost of completing the project considerably. The current plan allows us to finish the project as quickly as possible while still keeping some portion of the park open to the public at all times.

Hmmm… Guess that didn’t quite work out as planned.

Phase II was supposed to be completed now. It will not be completed until late this year/early 2011. The cost is already at $9 million incomplete (expanded greatly past the original budgeted amount of $6 million) and counting.

The entire project at the onset was approved by the NY City Council at a cost of $16 million for all three phases. Phase I alone cost that. Expect that $16 million figure to – at least – double by the construction’s completion.

Phase III is scheduled to begin at some point in 2011.

Community Board 2 Will At last Address Longstanding Questions around Washington Sq Park Redesign Phase II – Ten Months Late

Update 11/6: Well, I was perhaps overly hopeful. Community Board addressed WSP but only in relation to the benches in the seating alcoves. Attempts to get them to draw a bit more scrutiny onto Phase II’s progress were met with apathy and stutters of “there’s nothing we can do… that’s not our role” from CB2 Parks Committee chair Tobi Bergman.

——————————————————-

Ten months after the topic was scheduled to be discussed, Community Board 2‘s Parks Committee will at last address long-standing questions around Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II this coming Wednesday, October 6th.

Many questions have been asked and concerns have been raised in the last month about the status of Phase II, currently ongoing. We would surmise that CB2 Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman and Community Board 2 Chair Jo Hamilton will be responsive and prepared to discuss at length the issues and that some of our elected officials will have representation at the meeting.

This really should be a meeting of the Washington Square Park Task Force and not the Community Board but at least it’s something! Discussion on design for benches in the four seating alcoves; update and further information on project construction to date and changes to the design.

Many other area parks to be discussed at this one meeting: Christopher Park, Bleecker Playground/Sitting Area, Minetta, Seravalli, and Bleecker Street Comfort Station.

Time & Location: Wednesday, October 6th, 6:30 p.m. – Little Red School House, 196 Bleecker St. (enter on Sixth Avenue)