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

now

2009

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.

“Bidding adieu to BIDS” — on the Business Improvement Districts in New York City

The Brooklyn Paper takes a look this week in an editorial, “Bidding Adieu to BIDS,” at the formation in the ’70’s of the Business Improvement District, an entity which has become increasingly popular in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York. According to the weekly, there are 60 “quasi public” BIDS, as they are called, throughout the five boroughs.

As I’ve written here before, these organizations play a complex role in neighborhoods, taking over services the City itself should be providing, while spreading their tentacles outward in ways that are never quite as harmless as they may seem.

One newly formed BID — which is experiencing a mini-revolt amidst local business owners — is along Fulton Street in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. The businesses are being asked to pay a second “new city tax that would fund enhanced sanitation, policing and other basic services.” From the Brooklyn Paper editorial:

Taxes on business owners within the so-called “BIDs” raise $80 million — on top of the taxes already taking a bite out of Mom and Pop.

We’re not naive as to why BIDs were created two decades ago. The city was not — and, indeed, is still not — doing a good enough job providing sanitation and security along some of our busiest commercial strips. With the city abrogating these most basic of services, business owners jumped into the breach, taxing themselves to make up for the failure of our elected leaders to ensure clean and safe streets.

In the case of Fulton Street, another issue is arising in the debate. The anti-BID merchants argue that a BID’s cleaner and safer streets actually speed the gentrification process. … In a sense, the business owners forming a BID would actually be paying to speed their own demise.

… We agree with the BID renegades on the issue of who should pay to keep our neighborhoods clean, safe and vibrant. To us, this is solely a city responsibility.

Although the Brooklyn Paper almost comes out in favor of gentrification in their Editorial, claiming it’s all about “change,” the rest of the information is on point.

For more on the Business Improvement Districts and their negative consequences, see previous WSP blog post: Parks for Sale and the Privatization of our Public Spaces by Robert Lederman which looks at the Business Improvement District, the (purposefully) mildly named Union Square Partnership, which oversees – and has total control over – Union Square Park.

For more on the Business Improvement District around Washington Square, the also benignly named Village Alliance (formerly the 8th Street BID), see recent WSP Blog post here.

What we need are COMMUNITY Improvement Districts!

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.

SAVE THE PAVILION

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
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.

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.”

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

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.

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.

Today – July 2nd! “Push Back Picnic” Union Square Park


PUSH BACK PICNIC ! Union Square Park, Northern end, 6 p.m.

Meet by Abe Lincoln Statue

Event to Push back the Business Improvement District which is exhibiting its influence further and further into the Park. The result? Increased privatization and reduction of our public space. All with the ‘approval’ of the New York City Parks Department.

From Union Square Not for Sale/Union Square Community Improvement District:

As the nation prepares to celebrate it’s 232nd Birthday, and the Union Square BID (Business Improvement District) prepares to privatize the LANDMARKED Pavilion, come join the Community Improvement District (CID), along with your favorite radical heroes of Union Square for a radical auction action and more. Make a bid on your favorite national chain store franchise * Dance circles around stodgy, stogie-smoking, sell-out politicians * Marvel as the park pushes back against the greedy takeover artists *

Let’s push back the privatizers and keep Union Square a place for public gatherings, public rallies, and public play.