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



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.

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.

Week in Review: Union Square Court Decision, Danny Meyer, Washington Sq Park Photo Ops, more.

* NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe previously stated that the 14 trees the City plans to chop down at Union Square Park were “dying” and would have to be cut down no matter what. Yet, in court, the City submitted papers stating that just two of those 14 were “likely” to need to come down. Not definitely. Why can’t these trees be spared the City’s ax?

*Artist and activist Robert Lederman exposes how powerful the local BIDS – business improvement districts – are in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York. He details how, privatization, despite cheerleading from the media and CEO Bloomberg himself, has a dark side. At Union Square Park, when artists recently began being harassed by Parks Department police, it turns out this was under direction of the Union Square Partnership, the local BID, which has been given tremendous influence over Union Square Park (by the Parks Department).

*Speaking of BIDs, Manhattan Community Board 2 members, who act in an advisory role over Washington Square Park, posed with BID members and Parks Commissioner Benepe in this week’s Villager. They may have forgotten about that vote of April 19th, 2007 in which they rescinded their previous approval of the Parks Department’s “renovation” plans of the Park. The local BID members are giving $250,000 towards the renovation (I gather they approve). Given the overwhelming disapproval of the Community towards the redesign plan of this historic park, and the City’s flawed and non-transparent “process,” I’d hope the Community Board members would realize that they ought to skip photo ops like this. Also in the picture is City Council Member Alan Gerson, which answers my question as to where he is.

*Judge Jane Solomon of New York State Supreme Court signed an order on May 7th in favor of the Union Square Community Coalition and granted a preliminary injunction preventing construction of a restaurant in the historic Union Square Pavilion (site of the first Labor Day March in the 1800’s).

There’s also the small detail that the New York City Parks Department stated to the court they were never quite sure they were putting in a restaurant anyway.

Despite NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe talking up his pet project (the restaurant) all over town, and applying for Building Permits, that all suddenly became “not yet final” and “subject to further administrative review” when they were forced to backpedal under oath in Court.

Danny Meyer (restauranteur and Union Square Partnership co-chair) signed an affidavit submitted to the court saying he did not intend to bid on the restaurant. This confused other blogs and news sites, such as Curbed, Eater and Lost City, who all linked to my report on this, and thought it was a done deal. Eater checked with Meyer and a spokesperson said “Trust the affidavit.” Okay…

*Thursday night May 8th was the Brooklyn BlogFest!

*Artist William Glackens painted 20 pictures of Washington Square Park between 1909 and 1914. His scenes record the mixing of social classes that occurred in NYC.

— Happy Birthday to my amazing sister, Susan! —

Union Square Preliminary Injunction Granted: Stops Construction of Restaurant; Parks Department Says Restaurant Idea Never Locked in Stone

New York State Supreme Court Judge Jane Solomon signed an Order yesterday (May 7) in favor of the Union Square Community Coalition and granted a preliminary injunction preventing construction of a restaurant in the historic Union Square Park Pavilion.

While amending the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) obtained a few weeks ago, Judge Solomon explicitly noted that the Court was keeping in place a provision “prohibiting work on the restaurant and comfort station, and the removal of trees.”

This is an important victory for those fighting to save NYC’s trees and keep our public parks from being privatized.

(Update: That was incorrectly interpreted. Unfortunately, the trees are scheduled to be removed by the Parks Department.)

But wait. There’s also the small detail that the Parks Department stated to the court they were never quite sure they were putting in a restaurant anyway.

Despite NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe talking up his pet project (the restaurant) all over town, listing it as part of the plan on the Parks Department’s Union Square Park signs, applying for Building Permits for it, and contracting with the Union Square Partnership, which has spent $4 million on planning and design costs, that all suddenly became “not yet final” and “subject to further administrative review” when they were forced to backpedal under oath in Court.

And, as Judge Solomon noted, “Parks Department’s application to the Buildings Department states that a restaurant is part of the submitted plan, [yet] it claims that the design is open-ended to accommodate a restaurant or other use.”

Thus, Judge Solomon concluded: “petitioners’ motion for a preliminary injunction is granted in part to the extent that respondents are enjoined from installing fixtures for or operating a restaurant in the Pavilion, or allowing someone else to operate a restaurant, or offering a concession to operate a restaurant in the Pavilion, until further court order…”

Commissioner Benepe wanted a private restaurant in the pavilion. In the April 30th New York Daily News, a Union Square Partnership spokesperson confirmed to Juan Gonzalez that “a $7 million private donation to the project from an anonymous source is based in part on construction of the concession” and that the large, private donation would not be made without it. But Judge Solomon rebuked that claim, writing that the Parks Department now claims “that the anonymous pledge is not contingent on approval of the restaurant proposal.”

So much (for now) for Benepe’s selection of Danny Meyer (Union Square Partnership co-chair) to run the restaurant. In Court they had to change their tune. Danny Meyer submitted an affidavit “flatly denying that he is the anonymous donor, or that he will bid on the restaurant concession.” Chalk up an important victory against privatization.

Where is Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s Credibility? Has anyone seen it, lately?

Benepe stated two weeks ago that the 14 trees that the Parks Department planned to chop down at Union Square for the restaurant/playground were “dying” and “had to come down anyway.” But in Court, the Parks Department admitted that just two of the trees were “likely” to come down for “public safety reasons,” implying that the rest were perfectly healthy and would not need to be cut down except for the Parks Department’s construction in Union Square Park.

photo: Paul Robeson, outside the Union Square Pavilion

In the News… Daily News’ Juan Gonzalez: “Mayor Bloomberg’s Union Square Park Restaurant Deal Tasteless”

Juan Gonzalez has an excellent piece in today’s New York Daily News: “Mayor Bloomberg’s Union Square Park Restaurant Deal Tasteless.”

Gonzalez writes:

A $7 million private donation to the project from an anonymous source is based in part on construction of the [restaurant] concession, a [Union Square] partnership spokesman confirmed yesterday.

So why can a private donor give money only on condition that a portion of a public park become a private concession?

The fire sale of public space for private business deals has become all too common in the Bloomberg era. Mullaly Park in the Bronx was sacrificed for the new Yankee Stadium.

Randalls Island was turned over first for a water park concession, but the deal later collapsed. Then there was a deal to give rich private schools preference on using the island’s ballfields. A Supreme Court justice voided that deal and the city has appealed.

The article also revealed something I did not know. Restauranteur Danny Meyer who is presently co-chair of the Union Square Partnership (the local business improvement district/BID) which controls much of Union Square Park already — was “a founder and director of the Madison Square Park Conservancy” at the time he was given concession space within that park. That concession is the “popular” Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.

Gonzalez continues:

Meyer, who owns Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern, also heads the Union Square Partnership and is a major promoter of the $20 million renovation.

Meyer has sworn under oath he would not bid to run a restaurant in Union Square Park.

That’s not the question. The question is when will Mayor Bloomberg stop giving his rich friends city parkland?

And let’s not forget the plans for the naming of the Fountain in Washington Square Park “Tisch Fountain” which occurred after the Tisch Family made a $2.5 million “donation” to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.

NY1.com: “Judge ends injunction on Union Sq Park Construction”; Temporary Restraining Order Continues on Restaurant/Pavilion

Update: NY1 headline is misleading. Overview: Judge ruled NO work to be done by City on the Pavilion/Restaurant and NO cutting down of trees while Judge makes her decision. Temporary Restraining Order is still in effect on those aspects. No injunction on construction of the playground — the playground is the area the community would like to see built.

Right now, NY1.com reporting: “Judge ends injunction on Union Square Park Construction.” The site states: “While a judge decided today not to extend an injunction blocking the Parks Department from continuing some construction at Union Square Park, she left a decision on building of a restaurant at the location up in the air.”

NYC Parks Dept.-2/3 cuts in workers and endless privatization schemes

According to New York Jobs With Justice: “Years ago, NYC’s public parks were administered by over 7,500 municipal employees of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Today, it’s only 2,500 municipal employees taking care of NYC’s public parks. This number continues to shrink as the years go by. Much of the labor has been privatized through city partnerships with non-profit administrators resulting in a two-tier work force of public servants in the City’s public parks.”

That is a 66% reduction in Parks Department workers. Since so much has been willingly privatized (by the City), it’s hard to know what the actual number of workers is now.

Another result of the reduction in the Parks Department budget and the City government’s focus on privatization of our public spaces is that private entities manage the space and also deem how that space is used.

In addition, the City sells off naming rights to, for example, the fountain at Washington Square Park under the ruse that they can’t afford to repair it otherwise, and they agree to re-name it Tisch Fountain for $2.5 million (and it ends up being moved, unnecessarily “aligned,” along with the deal) …

The Parks Department accepts a $7 million “anonymous” donation with STIPULATIONS – strings attached – that this donation ensures that there is a private restaurant in the historic Pavilion at Union Square. Although it hasn’t been revealed who the donor is, somehow restauranteur Danny Meyer, who is also co-chair of the Union Square Partnership (the local BID-business improvement district), is the only name bandied about as the choice to helm the restaurant.

You can see how much of a slippery slope this whole privatization game is.

In the news: Indypendent article — “Union Square Boondoggle”

The excellent Indypendent newspaper, in their issue out today, has a comprehensive article by Alex Kane (who also covered Washington Square Park for the paper) on the “Union Square Boondoggle.” Read it here.

Artists Being Evicted from Union Square Park

Artists make up a vital part of the fabric of Union Square Park. On Friday, April 4th, they were given word that they are being evicted out of their longstanding space due to Mayor Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s plans to further privatize the Park. These plans, as outlined previously, include expanding the restaurant space in the historic Pavilion for Union Square Partnership member and restauranteur Danny Meyer, thereby reducing the amount of space for artists, the famous GreenMarket(founded by Parks Commissioner Benepe’s father, Barry) and free speech protesters in the Park for TWO years during construction. The expansion for this restaurant, largely unwelcome by the community, will also mean the destruction of 14 stately trees by our city’s Parks Commissioner.

Here is an excerpt from a notice from Robert Lederman who organizes A.R.T.I.S.T., an organization representing, and comprised of, street artists in our city:

On Friday, April 4th 2008. the Parks Department told artists working in Union Square Park that for the next two years they would no longer be allowed to set up in or around the park on Wednesdays and Saturdays due to a construction project at the North end of the park. A restaurant is being built there on behalf of a board member of the Union Sq Partnership. As a result of the construction, the entire Greenmarket will be relocated from the North and West sides of the park to the South and West sides, the exact location artists have set up in for years.

I explained (to the Parks Department) that artists have no problem with the Greenmarket and are willing to reasonably cooperate in making space for the construction project but that we also have NO intention of giving up our First Amendment rights in the park.

Some background: The Mayor deliberately under budgets the Parks Department each year. As a result, the Parks Department must somehow earn hundreds of millions of dollars each year in order to pay the bills for running the vast NYC parks system. They make up for the lack of funds by selling concessions, letting corporations rent public parks for special events and by privatizing public spaces, as is being done in USP with the new restaurant.

They also deal with this deliberate under budgeting by allowing private corporations like the Union Square Partnership, The Central Park Conservancy, the Battery Park Conservancy and the Bryant Park Conservancy to take over most, or in some cases all, of the operations in a particular park. In exchange for the funding, they are allowed to gradually transform NYC’s public parks into corporate run privatized parks, not much different than Disneyland or a private mall.

For more information or to be updated consistently, please contact Robert Lederman at artistpres -at- gmail.com.