City Announces Plans for Restaurant At Union Square Park; Further Privatization of Public Space?



Updated 1:04 p.m. – Gothamist reports that Union Square North Restaurant Finally Gets a Restauranteur. The restaurant, if all goes according to the city’s plans, jumps on the trend of “local,” “seasonal,” “sustainable,” so currently in favor. (I’m not opposed to any of that, except when they seem to be used as marketing buzz words.)

Commenters at the Gothamist site were overall not in favor. Laura Newman wrote, “In a neighborhood filled to the max with restaurants, this is a such a terrible use of the park.  It’s a park!!  Plus, the pavilion is a monument to free speech and should be respected as suchEmma Goldman is going to weep.”

Activism efforts put forth in 2009 by groups such as Union Square Not For Sale drew attention to the city’s attempt to take over the historic pavilion for a restaurant space. Luna Park, the restaurant previously in Union Square, utilized the space adjacent to the Pavilion, not within.

From Gothamist:

The new restaurant will be open from May through October offering “casual and affordable food service in the newly restored historic Pavilion in Union Square Park.” In the off season the space will be used for educational and recreational activities open to the public: childrens’ programs, fitness programs, and films from the Parks Department, and public education programs to encourage healthy eating habits from the Greenmarket.

The latter sounds like a great year-round purpose for the space, no?

A Walk in the Park Blog reports that the legal case will again move forward with this announcement based on the premise that this usage requires state legislative approval and is an “alienation of parkland.”

Although part of the New York City public park system, Union Square Park is run by a private entity, the Union Square Partnership, a local Business Improvement District (BID).


** Previous WSP Blog Post with history from 2009: Union Square For Sale?

** Also, this post on Union Square Tree Destruction – See Before & After!

NY Post reports City soliciting of bids for “seasonal restaurant” in Union Square Park to Begin Shortly

All throughout the court case that Union Square community activists brought against the New York City Parks Department and Union Square Partnership, the local BID (Business Improvement District), in 2008 over plans to place a restaurant in Union Square Park’s historic Pavilion — claiming loss of a public space — the City and USP claimed that there were no such plans (despite it being in the official documents and on all the Parks Department’s signs surrounding Union Square North’s construction).  Because of this, the judge ruled the case was “unripe.”

Well, today’s New York Post reports that in the next two months the City will begin taking bids for just such a restaurant.  From the article:

The city plans to issue a request for proposals to operate a seasonal café in the [Union Square] park’s refurbished pavilion — despite objections that the 80-year-old gathering spot should be set aside as public space.

The city concession was outlined in an Aug. 24 letter to Borough President Scott Stringer informing him of the upcoming request for proposals.

The winning bidder would score a 15-year contract to run the private café six months out of the year and also have the option to operate a satellite cart or kiosk.

The restaurant has been a bone of contention during the $20 million overhaul of the Park.

In April 2008, park advocates sued the city and the Union Square Partnership, a business improvement district that which manages the park. The lawsuit halted the restaurant’s construction for nearly a year.

The restaurant would have table service and an outdoor seating area on a deck.

Critics argue that the pavilion, a historic landmark, should not become a privately run space.

Previous WSP Blog coverage on judge’s ruling on Union Square here.

Save The Pavilion – Come to Union Square Wednesday, April 8th 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Union Square Not for Sale is reaching out to NY City Council Member Rosie Mendez — whose district includes Union Square Park — to help save the historic Pavilion from being privatized into an exclusive restaurant. They are asking people to bring “Roses for Rosie” — or just yourselves — to Union Square this Wednesday, April 8th from 5:30-6:30 p.m., north end at 16th Street.

As you likely know, nearby Washington Square Park is under the jurisdiction of City Council Member Alan Gerson and Council Speaker Christine Quinn. They, like Council Member Mendez, are two Council Members who didn’t push back when the City’s Parks Department announced its dramatic re-visioning of WSP, thereby allowing Mayor Bloomberg to trample over our precious public space. Yet again. But there’s still time. Gerson took a stand recently against the Parks Department’s plans (better late than never) at the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing for Washington Sq Park – and he can do more! And Rosie Mendez certainly can as well. It is time for our elected officials to stand up to the Mayor.

Come out on Wednesday to protect Union Square.


Wed, April 8, 2009
5:30-6:30 p.m.
Union Sq. Park (North side)

The details from Union Square Not for Sale:

“The injunction preventing construction on the Union Square Pavilion was lifted by Judge Jane Solomon on March 31, 2009. Construction of Union Square Partnership’s tablecloth restaurant will now proceed as planned. This is very disappointing news but hardly the last word: the judge made it clear that another lawsuit can be brought further on in the process as the bidding for the lease unfolds.

The fight for the historic pavilion is far from over. It is as important as ever to resist the introduction of a private, for-profit enterprise in the pavilion. Once the privatizing begins it will be impossible to reverse. Union Square has the highest concentration of restaurants and the lowest amount of public space in the entire city. There is no need for a restaurant that will remove thousands of square feet of potential play space and threaten one of the city’s most important public assembly areas.

Council Member Rosie Mendez can put an end to this! Join us ­— let’s ask her to return the Pavilion for recreation and community use! Parks for the people, not for profit.

Let’s get in the park! Bring roses for Rosie and SPREAD THE WORD!”

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

Restauranteur and BID co-chair Danny Meyer/Union Square Hospitality Group phone: 212-228-3585
email:; ******************************************************************

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

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.”

Reverend Billy & Friends give Union Square Partnership and Mayor Bloomberg a message

Union Square Park Not for SaleReverend Billy & Friends give notice to the Union Square Partnership and Mayor Bloomberg that the historic Union Square Pavilion is NOT For Sale.

A scene from last night, Wednesday, June 4th, atop the fenced-in Pavilion on the North side of Union Square amidst the construction.

The Union Square Pavilion is at the moment the site of a battle between those pushing a privatization agenda (specifically, the local BID: Union Square Partnership, led by restauranteur Danny Meyer, and Mayor Bloomberg who would like to insert a private restaurant there) and those who call for free speech, and demand that our history and our common public spaces be honored and preserved.


We must inform the Tisch Family, the Danny Meyer’s, the NYU’s… that our Parks are Not for Sale. While also passing the word along to NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe, the New York City Council, and Mayor Bloomberg – the ones who are selling them off.

These are our treasured public spaces – our commons – and they need to remain that way.

Come to Union Square NorthWest corner (17th Street & Union Square West) TODAY, Thursday, June 5th, at 5 p.m. and join in on the fun as the Union Square Partnership celebrates itself (their annual self-congratulatory dinner is being held this evening at the W Hotel), we will celebrate and revel in our public space at Union Square Park.

* Expect marching bands, a “Heroes of Union Square Walking Tour,” community visioning sessions, and soapbox preaching.

* Expect surprises and spectacles and a glimpse of what the city CAN be.

* Come out and meet your neighbors in the square and defend the public’s right to public space.


Some history of the Pavilion: George Washington and the Continental Army gathered at this spot in 1776. The Union Square Pavilion site was built as a stage for public assembly and democratic gathering. The first Labor Day Parade was held there in 1882. This is where our American conscience erupted in the songs of Paul Robeson, the shouts of Emma Goldman and the prayers of Dorothy Day. The 8-hour workday was born at Union Square and crowds surged before that reviewing stand in the tens of thousands. After September 11th, we gathered there instinctively in our grief and calls for peace.

What you can do NOW: Sign the petition.

Union Square as Public Commons – Creative Assembly Today 5 p.m. Union Square North

Union Sq Pavilion 2007 and 1960\'s Protest

Union Square Pavilion in 2007 and during a 1960’s Protest Against Synagogue Vandalism

Wikipedia defines a public space as:

a place where anyone has a right to come without being excluded because of economic or social conditions, although this may not always be the case in practice. One of the earliest examples of public spaces are commons. For example, no fees or paid tickets are required for entry, nor are the entrants discriminated based on background.

Public space has become something of a touchstone for critical theory. Its relevance has become more pressing as capital encloses more and more of what were thought of as ‘commons.’

Most streets, including the pavement are considered public space, as are town squares or parks.


Today, Wednesday, May 21st, a group of creative activists has called for a 5 p.m. gathering to protect our public commons – specifically Union Square where plans to place a private restaurant in the historic Pavilion have been held off – for now. The plans however call for a reduction of the public space. There is also the issue of the cutting down of trees to put in (potentially) that restaurant and expand the playground.

Much of the control and privatization of Union Square Park has been handed over to the local Business Improvement District(BID), Union Square Partnership. The co-chair of this BID is influential restauranteur Danny Meyer.

The announcement for today’s event states:

Our critique, without community space or public space, there can be no democracy.

So we are meeting to attempt to find space to assemble with images of icons of Union Square’s past – Emma Goldman, Paul Robeson – to claim a space to speak, meet, build community, share space, and recite the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Is there still a space in NYC where we can assemble to read the First Amendment?

Come help us find out Wednesday at 5 P.M. at Union Square North (16th Street).

To NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe: This tree at Union Square Park is not “dying”

Magnificent Tree at Union Sq Park City wants to cut downThis magnificent tree on the North side at Union Square Park is a Siberian Elm and one of the trees that NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe wants to chop down to put forth his and Mayor Bloomberg’s redesign of that Park.

Last week, ONE DAY after Commissioner Benepe asserted to me that 14 trees at Union Square would have to come down no matter what because they are dying,” the City presented in Court legal documents which state of the five “mature” Siberian Elms: “it is likely that two of those five would be removed in the near future for public safety reasons.” Likely. Not definitively. Two trees. Not all.

These documents reflect the City’s opposition to stopping work on the Pavilion at the North end and were entered into the court record as part of the lawsuit brought forth by community groups.

Mayor Bloomberg’s administration wishes to privatize the historic Pavilion and place a restaurant there.

To clarify, there was a restaurant at Union Square previously but it was located in the “sunken terrace” next to, not in the Pavilion. The Pavilion has always been allocated for Community use and historically as a location for activism and protest marches in the City. Presently, there is a temporary restraining order in effect and preliminary injunction on the cutting down of trees and a stop work order on the Pavilion site.

Will Parks Commissioner Benepe and Mayor Bloomberg ever reverse course and work with the truth and with communities?


Photo: Geoffrey Croft, NYC Park Advocates