Washington Square News, NYU’s Daily Newspaper, on Chess Plaza Opening

For readers of this blog who are looking for more “positivity” here, here you go.

Washington Square News, NYU’s daily newspaper, reports on the opening of the SouthWest Quadrant,”Fences Come Down at Washington Square Park,” online today. The writer, Emily Yang, interviewed me — she wrote a well done, comprehensive piece and my viewpoint sounds quite positive. (Tho’, I must admit, my more in-depth comments on the project taking so long or about reduction in size of chess plaza were pretty much left out — another park user fills some of that in.)

I’d never really thought about the difference in dynamic the SW entrance to the park offers until I sat down at a chess table the day the plaza opened at last. The writer asked me what I thought this section opening meant to people who visit the park. Here is an excerpt of the piece:

Our goal was to create a renewed sense of space, with a design that restored and upgraded the significant features that make Washington Square Park an iconic destination for New Yorkers and visitors alike,” [Parks Department spokesperson Phil] Abramson said.

Phase III was expected to be completed by winter 2011. But Abramson said the next phase will begin this spring and last for one year. When completed, it will include a large, renovated dog run and park house with a public restroom and space for the maintenance staff.

Cathryn Swan, creator of the Washington Square Park Blog, said the opening of the new area will bring positive results to the community. But she said this phase is long overdue.

Even though the central plaza where the chess tables are has been reduced a lot in size, this section is an important part of the park,” Swan said.

“The southern end has a different feeling, maybe because people are coming from Bleecker and MacDougal where there is a lot going on,” she added. “So it’ll be nice to have a flow again through the park from there.”

Long-time WSP visitor Vince Marchese, 70, said the fences took away from the beauty of the park for too long.

“I would say it looks like an improvement of about 50 percent,” Marchese said. “It’s a nice place to go to, where things happen all the time.”

He said other aspects of the park, including the cleanliness of the existing public restrooms and how often the fountain is turned on, have room for improvement.

Full story at Washington Square News: Fences Come Down at Washington Square Park

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Chess Plaza Opened Today!

Remaining Fences Down!

Among the first Chess Players at newly open Chess Plaza

Path looking South

Well, it took 29 months, but, at last, the Chess Plaza and SW Quadrant – Phase II-B of construction at the Park – has opened today!

It feels smaller and a bit less cozy than before. Well, it IS smaller. The Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and I had a bit of a back-and-forth back in February of 2009 about a # of issues related to WSP, including the Chess Plaza being reduced, and he stated the following:

While the overall size of the plaza is being reduced somewhat, the most critical area of the chess plaza is the chess tables, not the center which is generally empty. The renovation will include the same number of tables, but they will be new, better designed and more welcoming to more chess players – and they will be accessible to people with disabilities. There will be plenty of space for onlookers to stand and watch the games. As with the rest of the park, the renovation of the chess area will likely result in greater use, not less.

The difference is that before it didn’t feel so much like a space you just ‘passed through’ which is the feeling now. Things happened in the center which the Parks Commissioner felt was “generally empty” — a space which is now occupied by a flower bed. Perhaps that space that the Parks Commissioner thought was basically useless served a purpose after all?

(Note: Will add in a photo to illustrate!)

At least Phase II is now officially complete! (Of course, parts of the original Phase II moved into Phase III.)

Previously at WSP Blog:

* Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II

* After 29 Months, Will the Final ‘Piece’ of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II Construction – Chess Plaza – Open Tomorrow? March 1, 2012

Almost All Fences Come Down and Yet … Chess Plaza/SW Quadrant Not Open

Fence Remains at Entrance SW Corner

Looking South .. Fence Free

Work on Fixing Blacktop Halted?

Chess Plaza Ready for Action ...

Friday (March 2nd), as I anticipated, many of the fences came down on the SouthWest Quadrant (part of WSP Redesign: Phase II-B); work was being done at the park with the opening seeming imminent … but now, everything appears to have halted – again.

Update: Word is this section may open tomorrow!

After 29 Months, Will the Final ‘Piece’ of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II Construction – Chess Plaza – Open Tomorrow?

WSP SW entrance -- will these fences really be coming down at last?

Completion date on sign: "Summer 2011" (Formerly Fall 2010)

The Lonely Chess Plaza




Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase IIB — the Chess Plaza and Southwestern Quadrant — under construction for 29 months (that’s 2 years and 5 months) is more than 17 months behind schedule (that’s one year and five months) from the original scheduled completion date and 9 months behind Phase IIA’s opening (June 2011) at which point it seemed likely it would be finished shortly thereafter.

It is now scheduled to be opened to the public at any moment – perhaps even tomorrow, Friday, March 2nd. At this point, we’ll believe it when we see it!

Depending on whom you ask, it was either the Parks Department’s stalling the project, a lack of any oversight by any governing body, or a problem between the contractor and the Parks Department which led to the monumental delay. Or some combination of all three.

This is what I wrote on June 2nd 2011 when Phase IIA – the eastern side of the Park – opened:

Phase II was scheduled for completion by Fall 2010; then we heard the end of the year (tho’ doubted it), then “Spring 2011,” then “by Memorial Day,” but park goers looked happy to be finally able to stream through the eastern end of the park.

Of course, this isn’t all of Phase II, since, for one, part of it (The Mounds and the Large Dog Run) was moved into Phase III. And Chess Plaza, technically still in Phase II, now Phase II-B, won’t be finished til the end of the month. At least, at last, it’s something!

WSP Blog chronicled the problems back in September 2010 outlining how the city’s parks department caused numerous delays in getting the job done, how the project was over-budget, and the fact that no governmental agencies were providing oversight.

Washington Square Park’s entire redesign – Phases I, II, and III – was budgeted and approved for $16 Million at the onset. Phase I alone — which moved the fountain to align with the Arch, reduced the public space around the fountain, and re-landscaped the NorthWest Quadrant, opened in May of 2009 — cost $13 Million.

Phase II was budgeted at $9 Million but will likely be $8 Million and that’s without the Large Dog Run and Mounds (included in the original figure).

Phase III (rest rooms and administrative building – the new “pergola”) had been budgeted at $9 Million (note – that’s before the cost of the Mounds and Dog Run are added in). Got all that?

Since the Parks Department’s projects continue to be seriously over-budget with no apparent oversight by any governing body, the project by the end will have more than doubled from its approved budget and is now projected for $30-$35 Million in cost.

A review of the finances:

Phase I cost: $13 Million (budgeted at $6 Million)
Phase II cost: $9.1 Million (budgeted at $9 Million but that figure was including the Dog Run and Mounds — both of which have been moved into Phase III)
Phase III: bid came in at “approximately 5.4 Million” according to the Parks Department
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Total projected thus far: $27.5 Million but there is no way Phase III will come in at $5.4 Million so we are at least $30 Million for a project which was approved at $16 Million at the onset.

It should be noted that Phase III contains the piece that the surrounding community and park users wanted completed first – the much neglected and deteriorating rest rooms. The Parks Department refused to accommodate this request; the city agency practically went out of its way to make sure this was completed last in the 3 phases of the project.

Work is presently scheduled to begin on Phase III — which now includes the Large Dog Run, the Mounds, Administrative Building, Rest Rooms and possibly perimeter sidewalks (much in need of repair!) — in April of this year.

At least, at last, the Chess Plaza will finally be opening! Will it be tomorrow? We’ll see…

Chess Plaza – SW Quadrant – So Close & Yet Will It Be Completed This Year?

Off Limits for Oh So Long

So Close... And Yet?

Part of Phase III Now Fenced Off

Even I get a bit tired writing about the status of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II… When I wrote my last post on what-seemed-like-its-imminent-completion on November 10th, I really thought this section of the park – Phase II-B – long-under-construction (amidst prolonged stops and starts) would be open by the end of that month. Now it’s mid-December and it appears just some landscaping and fencing is left to be completed. Work that should not take very long. Certainly the whole job should have been completed soon after Phase II-A opened on June 2nd. And yet, something is very wrong with this taking so long, and, again, no elected official or governing body pays it any attention.

I wonder when Phase III (which also now includes parts of Phase II) will begin. The budget for all three phases is at least $35 Million at this point (initially budgeted and approved by the City Council for $16 Million).

To catch up on Phase II A and B, see this WSP Blog post: Washington Square Park Redesign Phase II-B/Chess Plaza Finally Sees Some Action * Completion by Month’s End? November 10, 2011

An overview of Phase II, the cost and delays here.

Washington Square Park Redesign Phase II-B/Chess Plaza Finally Sees Some Action * Completion by Month’s End?

Updated — Work began again on Phase II-B / Chess Plaza last week! We’ll see if it keeps going and will get to completion by month’s end (previous completion dates for this section have been: Fall 2010/December 2010/Spring 2011/ Memorial Day/end of Summer/end of September – last official date given).

Looking South...

Lawn Installed

West Side

Grass Awaiting Installation Weekend

Chess Plaza Almost Complete

See an overview, dissatisfaction with oversight on the project, and last WSP Blog post on Phase II delays here.

Note: I don’t know what to make of these strange little plants/shrubs in the middle of the Chess Plaza (photo is dark – hard to see). You might recall the Chess Plaza area used to be an open unobstructed space. They made this area smaller (stating it was “un-utilized” I believe was the term from the Parks Commissioner) and broke up the flow of the area with these “flower” beds in the center. Since so much of the redesign is about “symmetry,” of course, Chess Plaza had to have a flower bed in its center but I think it would have been better served without one.

Among Other Things, Phase II Contractor Confirms WSP Fountain is Not Aligned with the Arch After All (Part II)

Oh Dear...

Updated 3:45 p.m. — I’ve written here about the problems and certainly the delays on Washington Square Park’s redesign over the last few years. Now it has been confirmed that the stalled work on Phase II, halted for six weeks now, is due to a dispute between the city’s Parks Department and the contractor, Tucci Equipment Rental Corporation. Anthony Martucci, the head of Tucci, says that the Parks Department has not paid him a large sum he is owed and is cutting payment amounts for work for which costs were approved in advance by the city agency.

In an email to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Community Board representatives, City Council members, and select press this week, Martucci says that he agreed to a “gag order” after speaking out last fall about problems at the park (see this post from September 2010 for some details of the problems at that time). He says he came to an agreement at that time with the Parks Department and the relationship was relatively harmonious for awhile. That harmony ended at some point earlier this year.

In his email, Martucci outlines some significant pieces of information. Perhaps the one of most interest relates to the aligning of the fountain with the Arch.

A little history of WSP Blog coverage on this topic — I wrote about this possible misalignment in August 2008 and also after a reader, Steve, commented in August 2009, as follows:

Is anyone ever going to admit that the fountain is now aligned to nothing — not the center of the park as it was before, not the arch and not 5th Avenue? What was the point of moving it?!?!?! It is NOT aligned to either the arch or the avenue.

The Bloomberg Administration’s grand “vision” for Washington Square Park included moving the Fountain from its historic location to a new placement 22 feet east so it would align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. Pretty much no one agreed with this change in location but the administration would not be deterred.

The fountain had been in its previous location – which was the actual CENTER OF THE PARK – since 1871; over 137 years, until Mayor Michael Bloomberg became in charge.

The Parks Department claimed that it would not cost any additional money to construct the fountain in a new location — a new location which involved rerouting water lines — but that is up for much debate and likely untrue – an obfuscation of the truth. Moving water lines would have to add additional costs.

In 2007, community activist Jonathan Greenberg hired a company to assess the costs of moving the Fountain and presented the findings to Council Member Alan Gerson. The company’s assessment was that it would cost at least $500,000 to move the Fountain. Gerson queried the Parks Department about this and the agency insisted there was no additional cost involved and the former Council Member took them at their word. It was one last try, after ongoing attempts to persevere by the community, to get the fountain location move stopped, as even the Landmarks Preservation Commission caved to Bloomberg’s wishes (and tactics).

From Martucci’s email:

So Tucci did some investigating, found out the center of the fountain was actually 4 ft out from the center. This threw all the designers dimensions off, and Parks knew it but didn’t tell Tucci because they didn’t want to let the public know.

When Tucci exposed this, Parks to protect them self was going to default Tucci from the project.

I have fought very hard to finish this job, Tucci hasn’t gotten paid now for 3 months, and just recently parks has cut payment 13 from $650,000 to $276,000 without explanation.

That is one reason the chess plaza was stalled last year — remember when a tree was in the way of the planned curb? It seemed at the time like a small error which the Parks Department and contractor could not come to an agreement on how to resolve. Actually it was due to a BIGGER ERROR – the mis-aligning of the Fountain. (And, as we know, other errors have caused casualties such as the repeatedly dying trees around the fountain — young trees which replaced perfectly healthy 40 year old trees in the original location.)

What else has this thrown off?

Does this just confirm that, after all, the famous Washington Square Park Fountain could have been left in its well-liked and historic original location as the “mid-point” of the park?

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Previously on WSP Blog:

* Wouldn’t it be ironic if – after everything – the Washington Square Park Fountain was still off-center to the Arch? August 7, 2008

* So … *is* the Washington Square Park Fountain aligned to the Arch? August 10, 2009

* Actually, Mr. Vellonakis, the Washington Square Fountain is already aligned. As is, Fountain is Park’s midpoint. June 2, 2008

* What’s happening with Phase II-B / Chess Plaza & SW End? August 31, 2011

* Part I: Washington Square Park Phase II: An Eerie Silence — What’s Going On? September 1, 2010

* Part II: Washington Square Park Phase II: Lack of Transparency and Oversight Continue September 7, 2010

* Part I: Community Board 2 and NY City Council Disavow Oversight of WSP Redesign Project as Phase II Construction Stalled for Five Weeks October 18, 2011

Photo: J. Bary

Part I: Community Board 2 and NY City Council Disavow Oversight of Washington Square Park Redesign Project As Phase II Construction Stalled for Five Weeks

Amended sign- Completion Date: "Or whenever... zzz"

On September 29th, I wrote about how construction on the SouthWest Quadrant/Chess Plaza at Washington Square Park had been stopped for about 3 weeks. 5 weeks passed with no movement or signs of life on this last piece of long overdue Redesign: Phase II work. At this point, delays in the project do not surprise me. Why this is happening is due to a dispute between the Parks Department and the contractor (more on that later).

What does surprise me is the lack of oversight by just about everyone you’d expect to be monitoring this project.

Let’s review the players —

Washington Square Park Task Force

There IS a Washington Square Park Task Force – although you’d never know it – this body seemed to dissolve once City Council Member Alan Gerson left office – replacement Margaret Chin has been totally MIA on the project. Community Board 2 has pretended that the Task Force doesn’t exist and Council Speaker Christine Quinn has not prompted it to keep going. The body was part of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement,” created for the express purpose of giving the community an opportunity to provide oversight on the project and monitor work on the park’s redesign. In March of 2010, I wrote a piece about how the only way the Task Force would function properly is if it was separated from Community Board 2. Clearly, that remains accurate.

Community Board 2

Trees are dying, work is stopped, project is months behind schedule, budget continues ballooning, something is wrong with the Fountain … and yet Community Board 2 has only chimed in – with regards to WSP in the last year – when they sent out Bob Gormley to talk to the media about the bathroom hours being cut.

Brad Hoylman is back after a 2 year hiatus as Chair of the Board (CB2 chairs only serve 2 year terms). Some may have mixed feelings on his role in the negotiations for the park’s redesign years prior, and he does, after all, work for pro-Bloomberg entity, Partnership for New York City. My experience was that he was pretty decent at moving things along and bringing up and addressing issues during the period I first became involved (2008).

However, since Hoylman returned in June of this year, there’s been no progress or spotlight on the park by the board. He’s left Parks Committee chair Tobi Bergman in charge. As I’ve mentioned, Bergman is a former Parks Department employee who doesn’t take a very hard look at anything related to the Parks Department (in fact, his current job is somewhat dependent on the city agency).

NY City Council

No involvement at all. Council Member Margaret Chin’s office completely unresponsive. Council Speaker Christine Quinn – who was a huge part of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” – is hands off at this point but, then, she’s not being pushed to be involved by the bodies that ought to be doing so – the Community Board and Task Force.

We know that the Parks Department is a dysfunctional agency, and so, at this point, this is a project run amok.

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An Overview:

Phase II Original completion date: Fall 2010. Work was split into two parts earlier this year — Phase II-A (eastern end) opened June 2nd. Budget for all three phases of the park’s elaborate redesign was $16 Million – that figure has now doubled.

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Previously on WSP Blog: Has Phase II just stopped? September 29, 2011

Washington Square Park Redesign — Phase II’s Final Piece, The Popular Chess Plaza & SouthWest Quadrant: Has Work Just … Stopped?

Updated 12:26 p.m. — What is going on with Phase II-B, the Chess Plaza and Southwestern section, at Washington Square Park? Work has been stopped for about 3 weeks now. The chess players long ago relocated to Phase I’s NorthWest Quadrant yet it remains a mind boggling state of affairs.

When will Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II construction actually be completed?

Phase II is the middle phase of Washington Square Park’s controversial redesign, originally budgeted at $16 Million, now doubled at $32 Million and counting. Construction work on Phase II began in Fall 2009 — it was scheduled for completion initially in Fall of 2010. Earlier this year, parts of Phase II were moved into Phase III, including the Mounds, Large Dog Run, and Perimeter Sidewalks.

For Phase II-B, the landscaping hasn’t been done, no new trees or flowers have been planted, the trash cans and water fountains are still under wraps, the fence installation has stalled. It’s as if this Quadrant remains frozen in time — with no construction activity — for about 3 weeks now (after months of slow going).

Chess... Anyone?

East Side Fencing Begun... then Stopped

Fence Yet to Be Installed

Unfinished Chess Plaza

Where did everyone go??

Pathway heading South

Trash Cans Remain Under Wraps

Water fountain awaits unveiling

Long delayed Phase II-A (Eastern end of the Park) opened June 2nd.

The last completion date for Phase II-B from the city Parks Department’s press office was end of September (after a long list of roving dates) — which is, um, tomorrow (they also classified this time period as “end of summer”).

With one day left in September, can late September completion date possibly hold true? Of course, no. The dearth of work activity on this section of the park brings up many questions. Ideally, the Community Board and City Council would weigh in here — but since they have not at any point up to this, it is unlikely.

What is going on…? The Parks Department is having a difficult time getting things right lately.

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Previously on WSP Blog:

What’s happening with Phase II-B / Chess Plaza & SW End? August 31, 2011

Part I: Washington Square Park Phase II: An Eerie Silence — What’s Going On? September 1, 2010

Part II: Washington Square Park Phase II: Lack of Transparency and Oversight Continue September 7, 2010

What’s happening with Phase II-B / Chess Plaza & Southwestern End Construction? Will it Reach Completion This Year?

Checking in on Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II

September is around the corner and while Phase II-A – the entire Eastern end – finally opened a few months ago in early June; the remainder, Phase II-B, the Southwestern Quadrant which includes the Chess Plaza, is still lagging far behind.

Lately, it looks like the work has stalled. Are the same issues that I first reported one year ago still occurring now? One thing is certain, the absence of oversight by any city governing agency continues.

While neglecting to provide a reason for the prolonged delay, Parks Department spokesperson Phil Abramson pointedly commented that the construction will be finished “by end of summer” which he clarified “is mid/late September.” The Parks Department web site says Fall 2011.

WSP’s Phase II construction: A story of moving parts and roving completion dates

Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II originally included the entire Northeast and Southeast side as well as the Southwest Quadrant of the Park including the Chess Plaza, Mounds, Large Dog Run and Perimeter Sidewalks.

These last three areas have been removed from Phase II entirely (moved into Phase III) although, all of Phase II, with these sections included, was initially scheduled to be completed by Fall 2010. That date then moved to December (tho’ I doubted it); next came word of Spring 2011. After this, Phase II was split into two parts with the city’s Parks Department reporting that the Eastern end was scheduled to open “around Memorial Day.” That date was pretty close to being realized — Phase IIA opened June 2nd of this year.

Phase II B was supposed to follow a similar trajectory. In April, it was announced that its completion was scheduled “in June,” to follow close on the heels of the Eastern side. However, as the SW section dragged behind, the date changed to “August 8th,” and now, as you see, the official word is end of September.

As a relatively small section of the park, what could be the hold up? Some days there’s barely any work done and yet two Fridays ago, there was much action with numerous workers and multiple trucks (that was the day the trees were removed). At that time, it seemed like the work could be completed momentarily. Since then, not so much.

Will people be able to actively use Chess Plaza again this year? Will the London Plane tree in the Plaza survive?

As you see, questions remain with no concrete answers.

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Coverage Close to One Year Ago at WSP Blog:

Part I – Washington Square Park Phase II: An Eerie Silence – What’s Going On? September 1, 2010
Part II – Washington Square Park Phase II: Lack of Transparency & Oversight Continues September 7, 2010

Phase II Parks Department WSP construction signs — “Working to Improve Your Park” —

Completion Fall 2010

Completion Spring 2011

Summer 2011