Union Square FOR Sale? … Judge rules NYC Parks Department and local BID can Proceed with Renovations that Will Likely Include Privatized Restaurant

Union Square Park Not for SaleUpdated April 2nd, 2009

It had been so quiet on the Union Square Park Pavilion front, and, frankly, it seemed like this had been a victory in the effort to save our public space.

The issue? Whether the historic Union Square Pavilion should be turned into a private restaurant at the behest of Mayor Bloomberg, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, and Union Square BID co-chair and restauranteur Danny Meyer.

What would this mean? This would take away the public space from everyday people and remove an integral part of NYC’s history from public usage.

$12 Pinot Noir anyone?

Although in more recent years no one’s been allowed in it, the Union Square Pavilion has been used throughout history as a site for political speeches and demonstrations, including the first Labor Day Parade in 1882. The hope was that the space could be used for the community, for performances, art, a museum with the history of the area, play space (although with 15,000 square feet of playground in the park – the playground itself was tripled and numerous trees cut down in the process – children have a lot of space as it is), etc. It is an opportunity to be creative.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe never misses an opportunity to link with a private corporation and is continuously seeking ways to turn NYC’s parks and public spaces into playgrounds for Mayor Bloomberg’s friends, manipulating them into homogenized, bland spaces devoid of their unique histories and charm. (See also: Washington Square Park)

NY State Supreme Court Judge Jane Solomon ruled Monday (3/30) on the case of Union Square Community Coalition and others vs. the New York City Parks Department and Union Square Partnership (local Business Improvement District). Her previous ruling was what was keeping a restaurant from going in to the historic Union Square Pavilion.

In a somewhat confusing decision, she dismissed the USCC’s lawsuit against the City and the BID because she said it was “unripe” (not ready to be argued) because it was unclear if the city’s plans – purposefully evasive – even included a restaurant. She ruled that USCC could come back to court once the city declares a restaurant is actually in their plans. However, it is pretty well known that millions of dollars are being spent to prepare for a restaurant. So you can, most likely, expect some more court action soon.

Union Square Not for Sale is asking people to put pressure on NY City Council Member Rosie Mendez (it’s her district) and Danny Meyer.

They write:

“The politicians and fat cats that are pushing to take away our public space and put it into private hands are vulnerable to public pressure, and we need to make them feel it. Councilmember Rosie Mendez needs to answer the question of why she signed off on this destructive, short-sighted plan in the first place. Danny Meyer needs to be called out publicly for hatching the scheme to take away play space for kids and performance space for artists. The Pavilion was designed and built with taxpayer money for public use. Privatizing it so that only paying customers can use it is just plain wrong.”

Contact info:

NY City Council Member Rosie Mendez phone; 212-677-1077
email: Rosie.Mendez-at-council.nyc.gov

Restauranteur and BID co-chair Danny Meyer/Union Square Hospitality Group phone: 212-228-3585
email: info-at-ushgnyc.com; dannymeyer-at-ushgnyc.com ******************************************************************

WSP Blog’s last post on this before the case being argued again in court on December 8th is here.

The Union Square “Holiday Market” and Selling Off and Shutting Down Our Public Space

Union Square "Holiday Market"

Union Square "Holiday Market"

Fascinating reading this Sunday’s (December 21st) New York Times City section Cover Story on the Union Square “Holiday Market” which it proclaims “The Jewel Box of Union Square.” Comparing the Washington Square Park City section cover story “The Battle for Washington Square” and this Union Square piece, one starts to think maybe the City section has a great love for the New York City Parks Department despite so much evidence, if given a close look and taken seriously, that would cause that love affair to go real sour very quickly.

The New York City Parks Department sells off a large section of the public space at Union Square for four weeks, at the time of year when it might be nice, important even, for people to actually come together in that space. The space at Union Square Park is unique (like Washington Square Park) because it has a large plaza, people sit on the steps, they watch (and participate with) musicians, performances and political speak outs. And yet that all gets SHUT DOWN at this time of year for an entire month.

Then there is the issue of the harassment of street artists who have won their right to sell art in the parks based on First Amendment protection. During their legal battles with the city – primarily from 1998-2001 – according to A.R.T.I.S.T. President Robert Lederman, “the city claimed that artists were completely ruining the parks by selling art. They claimed that by, ‘commercializing the city’s parks,’ we were denying the entire public their right to use that same public space.” Funny how that doesn’t apply to “Holiday Market” vendors who – if you study the photo above – take up a huge amount of our public space. Though the street artists have prevailed in court, they are still harassed by the New York City Parks Department, and the NY City Council wants to limit their access – in order to open up access for further privatization of public space. Tricky, eh?

But you see, the issue is actually the right of the city to sell the public space, and, while the GreenMarket and the artist street vendors work within the public space, the “Holiday Market” takes over the space – which is much more offensive to those of us who like to utilize the public space.

More from Robert Lederman here. (more…)

Union Square Park Court Case Back in Court Monday, December 8th – City Trying to Put Restaurant back on the ‘Table’

Union Square Park Not for Sale

Union Square Not for Sale informs us: “In case you didn’t already know, the only thing currently standing in the way of the city turning our beloved Pavilion into a swank (private) restaurant is a court decision made by Judge Jane Solomon in April 2008. This Monday, December 8th, she will hear the city argue for the dismissal of the case.”

The issue here is further takeover of our public space by a private corporation. The pavilion at Union Square Park has a noteworthy history as a venue for protest and free speech including serving as the site of the first Labor Day Parade Rally. In addition, the interior was open to the public for years and included a children’s space and music area. It is not as if the Union Square area is lacking in restaurants but it is lacking in free, public, non-privatized open space.

Union Square Not for Sale is asking people to turn out to the court hearing.

Here are the details:

Union Sq. Park Court Date

Monday December 8, 2008 – 3:00pm
New York State Supreme Court
60 Centre Street, Room 432 (Part 55)
Justice Jane S. Solomon

Additional Background from Union Sq Not for Sale:
“Union Square Park Pavilion Litigation. In April 2008, the Union Square Community Coalition(USCC) filed a lawsuit (USCC v. NYC Parks, Index No. 08/105578) challenging the Parks Department and Union Square Partnership’s plans to install a restaurant in the historic pavilion.

The court issued a preliminary injunction, which prevents the operation of a restaurant, or the installation of fixtures for a restaurant, pending further order of the Court. In so doing, the court found that USCC is likely to prevail on its central claim – that without state legislative approval, the restaurant would be an unlawful alienation of parkland – once that claim is ripe. The City has moved to dismiss the case, claiming it is both unripe (because, allegedly, several steps remain in the process before a restaurant concession could be offered) and non-meritorious.”

Celebrate Union Square, Then and Now: 10 Years as a Designated Historic Landmark; Save our Public Spaces

CELEBRATE UNION SQUARE, THEN AND NOW: 10 YEARS AS A DESIGNATED HISTORIC LANDMARK

SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR PRESERVING THIS PUBLIC SPACE AND PREVENTING THE UNION SQUARE PARTNERSHIP (THE LOCAL BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT) AND THE NYC PARKS DEPARTMENT FROM TAKING OVER THE PAVILION FOR A PRIVATE RESTAURANT

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23RD 4 – 7 p.m.
Formal Program with Speakers and Performances, 6 p.m.

UNION SQUARE PARK, SOUTH END (14th Street) Near George Washington Statue On the Plaza, Manhattan

Some Background:

September 12, 2008 marked the 10th anniversary of the commemoration of Union Square Park as a National Historic Landmark. It is a designation that includes its historical role as the site of the first Labor Day Parade on September 5, 1882, and the subsequent legislation for a national Labor Day holiday. Since Then and Now, Union Square’s Pavilion and North Plaza have been primary sites for large public parades and rallies where the principles of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are alive for us as they were on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti, and the stirring speeches of Norman Thomas, Cesar Chavez, Emma Goldman, Paul Robeson, and many others.

For over 130 years, the park’s pavilions have served as a play space for children, bandstand, a reviewing stand, a speakers’ rostrum, and as a focal point for labor rallies and social protests. It is a place rich with the history of public assembly, free speech, and social activism in New York City. Please help us protect the pavilion and the North end of the park for future uses.

Program: 4-7 p.m.:

Exhibit by the Tamiment Library/Wagner Archives-NYU from the original National Historic Landmark dedication in 1998.

4-6 p.m. PARKS-FOR-PEOPLE DRAW-A-THON

Drawings produced at the temporary Drawing Station in Union Square’s south end from 4-6 pm will be made into hand held signs to be carried at the rally at 6 pm. There will also be drawings evaluated and selected by a jury of artists.

5-6 pm: WALKING TOURS OF UNION SQUARE

6-7 pm: SPEAKERS & PERFORMERS
Introductions – Simeon Bankoff – Historic Districts Council, Joshua J. Freeman, Historian, CUNY Grad Center, Ed Ott, Executive Director, NYC Central Labor Council AFL-CIO, Denis Hughes, President, NY State AFL-CIO, Deborah Glick, NYS Assembly Member, Richard N. Gottfried, NYS Assembly Member, Donna Schaper, Senior Pastor, Judson Memorial Church, Geoffrey Croft, President, NYC Park Advocates, Rev. Billy & The Church of Stop Shopping • The Approaching Storm Stepper Club & Marching Band • Others TBA

Endorsements:

NYC Central Labor Council AFL-CIO; NY State AFL-CIO; DC-37; United Federation of Teachers/AFL-CIO; NY Labor History Association; Historic Districts Council; Tamiment Library/Wagner Archives-NYU; Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, Assembly Member Deborah Glick; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, NYC Park Advocates; Union Square Community Coalition; Workers Defense League; Rev. Billy & The Church of Stop Shopping; Chelsea Midtown Democrats; A.R.T.I.S.T.; Billionaires for Bush; Citizens for Union Square; Judson Memorial Church; LaborArts.org; Not an Alternative; The “Our” Labyrinth Project; Pond: art, activism, and ideas; Radical Homosexual Agenda; Restaurant Opportunity Center, Time’s UP; 250+ Friends of New York City Parks; Union Square Not For Sale; National Lawyers Guild – New York City Chapter. and more.

Union Square Partnership’s Harvest Gala v. Citizen Chefs – Union Square Park 9/18

The people come marchin' to defend their Park

The people come marchin'

Thursday night. Union Square. The setting of Union Square Partnership’s Harvest in the Square, an annual gala held by the ubiquitous BID (Business Improvement District). Although their promotional materials stated the gala would inhabit the “west plaza” of Union Square Park, in reality, they took over half of the south plaza as well, including the area surrounding the George Washington Statue. Billed as the “premiere food and wine tasting event,” tickets ranged from $125 to $400 for VIP early bird event.

The BID — the ones who want to put a private exclusive restaurant in the historic Union Square Pavilion, thereby shutting off more public space — is led by Jennifer Falk. Falk previously worked for Mayor Bloomberg. (Funny how it’s just a game of musical chairs at times.) Co-chair of the BID is restauranteur Danny Meyer.

I don’t think they were prepared for the festive arrival of Reverend Billy and assorted citizen chef/passionate public space advocates who came out to chant their message and bang some pots and pans saying ‘no giveaway of our public space’ – as we watched our public space taken over by the BID for their harvest gala.

Police And Onlookers

Police And Onlookers

Reverend Billy was arrested as was another activist – I believe both charges were “disorderly conduct.” Reverend Billy was addressing the attendees of the gala through a megaphone about the takeover of our public space when he was escorted away. The other activist had the audacity? to crumple up a flyer and throw it over the fence. A random act of (at the most) littering somehow becomes “disorderly conduct.”

People sitting around Union Square all curiously watched and eagerly took flyers which stated “Parks for People – Not for Profit.” We’ve all gotten so buttoned-down in New York. How often do you see such a creative action? All too infrequently.

Oh, and yes, our NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, was there and addressed the crowd at the gala event. I think his speech may have been, um, overshadowed by the sound of the citizen chefs (and their pots, pans, and chants) however. All too fitting.

The BIDs in more recent years have gotten more sophisticated and yet wish to appear ‘just like us.’ A part of the community. The Union Square BID is a 501(c)3 non-profit — something we link with advocacy groups, not organizations trying to promote more shopping. Around Washington Square Park, the BID – previously known as The 8th Street BID – changed its name to the Village Alliance. Doesn’t that sound neighborly?

Rev Billy addresses Gala

Rev Billy addresses Gala

Photos: #1 and 2: Quilty; #3 and 4: Cathryn

Tonite Thursday, September 18th, 6 p.m. At Union Square Park: “Citizen Chefs Cookin’ Up Change” and Harvest Gala : 2 divergent messages

CITIZEN CHEFS COOKING UP CHANGE!
to Keep Parks for People NOT for Profit

Thurs Sept 18, 6 pm * Union Square Park, NYC
Meet near George Washington Statue On Plaza, South end of the park (14th Street)

Union Square Not for Sale will provide chefs hats –
Bring your own pots & pans and something to bang with!
Come in costume if you like – black pants, white shirts, bow ties…
Bring a bike if you’d like to join the ChefBlock Bike Brigade

* KEEP UNION SQUARE PARK PUBLIC *
Info below from Union Square Not for Sale:

Context:
The Union Square Partnership is selling out one of our most important public spaces, the pavilion on the north side of Union Square, site of seminal speeches from Emma Goldman, Paul Robeson, Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day and many many more AND one of the last remaining public assembly areas in the city. Tonight, they hold their yearly Harvest In the Square private gala in the park. Gather to say:

NO the Union Square Pavilion can not be an upscale restaurant
NO our precious public resources cannot be auctioned off to the highest bidder
NO to conditional anonymous donations and for-profit enterprise in our public parks
NO to Danny Meyer, Jennifer Falk and the Union Square Partnership takeover of this park

YES to transparency and full disclosure
YES to public spaces in public spaces
YES to community use in public parks

YES to public space, community, and democracy.

Without community space, there can be no democracy.

******************************************************
My previous post 9/15 here elaborated on this event.

Danny Meyer chairing gala event in Union Square Park Thursday 9/18 – and Citizen Chefs Cooking Up Change will be there too.

The USP BID chair, Danny Meyer

The USP BID chair, Danny Meyer

Updated 9/16!

Union Square Not for Sale moves into the fall season with a bang! (literally) when Citizen Chefs Cooking Up Change meets up Thursday night, September 18th, as restauranteur Danny Meyer co-chairs Harvest in the Square in Union Square Park.

Billed as “a festive celebration of community and cuisine,” Harvest in the Square is presented by the Union Square Partnership — the local BID, business improvement district (which Meyer also co-chairs). Described as “Manhattan’s premier food and wine tasting event,” tickets are $115; $125 at the door. VIP pre-event starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $400.

The BID states: “Great Food. Great Fun. Great Fundraiser. Everyone leaves feeling Great.

Well, isn’t that … um, GREAT?

Except… they are taking over our public space (already threatened) for a private event.

Except… Our public parks should be funded by our City budget and not a private organization which then retains incredible control over the public space. The New York City budget allocate less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the entire budget to Parks and public spaces. Yet these areas comprise 14% of City land.

Except… Union Square Partnership is interested in “beautification efforts” to help improve businessaround Union Square. We are interested in public space, interactions, people, community, art, conversation, politics in Union Square.

Except… Union Square Partnership wants to place a private restaurant in the historic Union Square Pavilion thereby closing off the public space and catering to an “exclusive” clientele, off-limits to many New Yorkers. (At the moment, a judge has ordered a “no-restaurant” decree on the space.)

Except… Union Square is a PUBLIC SPACE, and like Washington Square Park, it is important that it be regarded AS an important public space. It’s not just about beautification as these architects and realtors and business people would have us believe. Once you gloss everything over, you lose the gritty, you lose the bohemianism, you lose the unique indescribable interactions that can occur in these places when you gear the space for one type of person (which is happening at both these parks).

Except… Everyone becomes a bit more Stepford. No offense to Mayor Bloomberg (although regular readers know I am not a fan) but our CEO Mayor needs to stay out of our public spaces. Our Boston-raised Mayor is not the model for how to keep New York New York. How to keep Wall Street Wall Street and keep us believing that the Financial District is the most important thing for our city? That he does quite well.

So, come on out ! ******************************

EVERYONE IS INVITED to one of our premier public spaces, UNION SQUARE! (it’s free!)

CITIZEN CHEFS COOKING UP CHANGE * Keep Parks for People NOT for Profit

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18TH, 6 P.M.

UNION SQUARE SOUTH – GEORGE WASHINGTON STATUE (SOUTH END, AT 14TH STREET, ON PLAZA)

Bring some pots and pans (and something to bang on them with) and your spirit (or just bring yourself).

Attire: Festive — &/or Come in costume – black pants, white shirts, bow ties… Union Square Not for Sale will provide chef’s hats.

Context:
The Union Square Partnership is selling out one of our most important public spaces, the pavilion on the north side of Union Square, site of seminal speeches from Emma Goldman, Paul Robeson, Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day and many many more, rally site of the first Labor Day Parade, AND one of the last remaining public assembly areas in the city.

More Info: Union Square Not for Sale.

Union Square * Late September 2001

Union Sq Park, Sept. 2001

Union Sq Park, Sept. 2001

The evening of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, as well as every evening that week, and then subsequent Fridays, Union Square’s Plaza became the place people gathered to come together, to speak out, to mourn, to call for peace.

The George Washington Statue at Union Square Park was filled with anti-war chalking and at the bottom of the statue were flowers and candles and photos of – and messages to – the people who had died on September 11th. It was solemn and gentle and yet quite beautiful.

Messages: “Stop the Cycle of Violence,” “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” and more…

Union Square on the southern end at 14th Street became the public space where people gathered. It was a very special place at that time right after September 11th, 2001.

Photo: Flatbush Gardener

George Washington Statue at Union Square Park and more

George Washington Statue at Union Square Park

George Washington Statue at Union Square Park

For some history on what’s been going on at Union Square Park and New York City’s redesign plans there on the Northern end, refer to this entryUnion Square Park Pre-and-Post-Tree Destruction.”

New York Press: The father-son dynamics of (GreenMarket founder) Barry and (Parks Commissioner) Adrian Benepe face off over Union Square

Union Square GreenMarket

Union Square GreenMarket

New York Press’ cover story this week provides a revealing look into what’s going on behind-the-scenes at Union Square with an article by Kimberly Thorpe entitled, “Does Father Know Best? New York City’s parks commissioner squares off against his father over the future of Union Square.” It’s a very much revealing piece about Parks Commissioner Benepe and his father Barry, a well known figure in the city who is an “80-year-old urban planner and founder of the Union Square Greenmarket.”

The plans at Union Square, among other controversial items (i.e., installation of a restaurant in public space and destruction of 14 mature trees), call for a lined row of trees in front of the Pavilion on the northern end of the Park. The senior Benepe is quite concerned about this ruining the potential for this area as a public gathering space. He writes in an email (one of several printed in the article) to his son: “Why did you not put the trees on the outer perimeter of the square? You would have gotten far more trees and left the square itself unencumbered for public gatherings as all great squares in the world are. You would have tree shaded sidewalks for cafes where they should be, surrounding the park, not in the park.”

Some background from the article:

The task of executing the Bloomberg initiative by improving the multitude of parks and public spaces has fallen to Adrian Benepe, who had been appointed commissioner by the mayor in January 2002—and who has since been criticized by park activists for his willingness to let private enterprise dictate the direction of his plans. Most recently, under fire from neighborhood leaders who took him to court and lost, Benepe pushed through a $16 million renovation of Washington Square Park. In that somewhat dubious project, the main goal was to move the historic fountain there over by roughly 20 feet, just so the famous landmark would better align with the Washington Square arch.

Still, Adrian Benepe has moved forward in the face of criticism and even lawsuits, often belittling those who stand in the city’s path.

“People have the luxury to care about, worry about and get vociferous about parks these days,” he told Governing 21 magazine in March. “There’s time to worry about small things, so it can be a matter of great debate whether you plant petunias or tulips.”

Adrian Benepe refused requests to be interviewed for the NY Press article. But, talk about being snarky and dismissive while ignoring the very heart of what the issues are. “Parks activists” would wish that the arguments were about planting petunias vs. tulips. The issues are – across the city, including Union Square Park and Washington Square Park – of privatization, reduction in public space, abuse of history, mass destruction of mature trees, abuse of public trust, lies from public officials, etc.

Then there is also the issue of that pesky restaurant that the Union Square Partnership (the local BID, business improvement district, led by restauranteur Danny Meyer) wishes to place in the historic Pavilion. Senior Benepe believes that — despite the court ruling to stop work on any restaurant (which after talking it up all over town, Parks Commissioner Benepe told the court that the restaurant was never a done deal) — work on the restaurant has been continuing. Barry Benepe states, “Everything is really restaurant driven, even though they want to pretend it’s not.”

Barry Benepe’s belief is that “the success of the park depended less on his son’s vision (WSPB note: vision?) and more on making each part of it work together—and restoring it to its once-regular role as a central meeting place for rallies, as it had been in the 19th century.” He states that “the current design for the plaza is arbitrary and comical.”

The article goes into the Benepe family history – Adrian Benepe was one of five children from two wives and his father was not very involved in his life in his childhood years – and Adrian Benepe’s rise to Parks Commissioner under Mayor Bloomberg.

Barry Benepe’s wish is to influence his son’s view on Union Square Park and its potential to be one of the great public spaces. He writes in an email dated June 17th: “Generally, the entire square must be conceived as a room into which pedestrians and cyclists enter with joy and anticipation and through which vehicles pass slowly and carefully, a handsome and beautiful room open to the sky inspiring delight and wonder. …It is important that the park be the major landscape statement in the heart of this public place and that its design not be muddied by attempting to extend the park into the square.”

It does not surprise me, that, despite a solid back-and-forth up to this point, it was at this juncture that his son, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, stopped responding.