“The Vanishing City” event a success !

The Vanishing City event Saturday night 1/24 at The New Dixon Place (a pre-opening event) was a sold-out success! The film “Twilight Becomes Night” movingly emphasized why our local “mom and pop” stores are so important to communities (and our sense of community) vs. endless blocks of Duane Reade, Chase banks, Staples, and Starbucks. The preview trailer of the film “Vanishing New York” looks great. I met the filmmakers Jen Senko and Fiore DeRosa and look forward to seeing the finished result coming this spring.

Kirby from Colonnade Row organized the event. (You can read his report back on it here.) New York State Assembly Member Deborah Glick was particularly hard hitting and didn’t spare any words as to her feelings about Mayor Bloomberg! (Hint: Not so positive.) All the panelists, the moderation, the vibe, etc. were excellent and the turnout reflected the interest – and concern over – our Vanishing City.

The topics discussed – the non-stop giveaways to developers and corporations under the Bloomberg Administration; the lack of emphasis on preserving and valuing community; people and their neighborhoods being sold out for the benefit of real estate interests and “luxury” housing; community members being denied a voice in the “process” – are all relevant in relation to what’s transpired at Washington Square Park thus far.

When asked, Andrew Berman from Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) didn’t have a clear answer as to why his organization supported – or purposefully abstained from taking a real position on– Mayor Bloomberg’s radical revisioning of Washington Square Park.

I have a lot of respect for the work GVSHP does. But that decision truly is a puzzling one. The old ‘line’ that the park needed a “renovation” just isn’t an appropriate one anymore. We all agree on that. The work being done is not a renovation. (In discussing Washington Square Park, Deborah Glick spared no words for the New York City Parks Department declaring it “arrogant” and stated that the tone is set from the top – meaning Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. Correction: I’ve been informed that she meant Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Unfortunately, they’re both arrogant!) Berman asserted that landscape designer George Vellonakis, who is in charge of the park’s redesign and inexplicably also on the board of GVSHP, recused himself from any votes in the matter. But the fact that he’s on the board is telling enough.

(Original details about the event here.)


Isn’t there anyone who can outbid or outmaneuver NYU? 58 Washington Sq South Goes to the Dark Side

I’ve wondered if NYU owns every building around Washington Square Park but it turns out there was at least one they did not own – but now they do!

As the Real Deal reported December 30th, NYU is in the process of buying 58 Washington Square South, currently Holy Trinity Chapel, a Catholic Church, which is being sold by the Archdiocese of New York as it claims hard times. The sale had to be approved by a judge since it involves a religious institution (I wonder what would have negated the deal?). NYU says it plans to use the building for academic and “multifaith” uses.

The City section in the New York Times weighed in yesterday and Colonnade Row wrote a piece about it over the weekend.

NYU claims they will only build 6-7 stories high (it’s currently two) as opposed to the much unloved 10 storied-Kimmel Center next door (doesn’t that seem taller?). When the church sale was still in the discussion stage in August 2007, the Villager covered the potential sale. John Sexton, NYU President, was interviewed sounding all pleased with how community minded he was being, since zoning code allowed him to build taller (12-14 stories) – but he didn’t plan to.

Sexon asserted at that time that the archdiocese had “an alternate buyer.” Yet a spokesperson for the archdiocese, Joseph Zwiller, denied that there was any buyer they were considering other than N.Y.U.

You might be wondering… Why not?Please let this land-grabbing institution release its stronghold on Washington Square Park!

Well, here is your answer:

The archdiocese has worked with N.Y.U., rather than with outside developers, as part of our commitment to be good neighbors to the community,” [Zwilling] said. “We are discussing this with N.Y.U. and not with any other developers. Others expressed interest, but we are only dealing with N.Y.U. at this stage.”

Good neighbors to the community…? NYU is a good neighbor to NYU and that’s it. The archdiocese powers-that-be clearly do not live in or talk to anyone in the community or Zwilling would not be spouting such incorrect information (bordering on insanity).

Some more history: Apparently, when first approached two years ago, Sexton told the archdiocese “no thanks.” (My words, not his.) Sexton told the Villager, “My reaction to them at that time was that we just weren’t interested … that N.Y.U. would not participate in building that size building — that would have the effect of, when coming down Fifth Ave., if [one is looking south] at 11th St., of blocking the blue sky behind the arch.”

As the New York Times wrote Sunday (1/18), when the Kimmel Center was built a few years ago, there was (massive) “opposition from residents. … In demonstrations at that time, protesters held umbrellas over their heads to represent the shade they said the building would cast upon their beloved park.”

I gather the NYU Prez is worried about “the blue sky” and being a “good neighbor” when it suits him.

And while no one was that attached to the Holy Trinity Chapel’s architecture it seems … it’s an odd little building, and the magnificence of its Stanford White-designed neighbor across Thompson Street, Judson Church, probably hurt its chances of getting much love and attention … the idea that NYU now owns it is a bit of an “ouch” factor.