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BY TEQUILA MINSKY | Saturday was blustery and drizzly, but that didn’t stop very concerned neighbors of Little Italy and Soho who came out fired up, protesting — again — what had happened to their tiny square, which is really a triangle, in what they stressed is a “park-starved” neighborhood.
Petrosino Square, bounded by Spring, Lafayette and Kenmare Sts. and Cleveland Place, became parkland in 1912. In 1987, it was renamed for Joseph Petrosino (1860-1909), a New York police lieutenant who famously battled the mafia.
A few weeks ago, as soon as the Citi Bike docking station for bike-share appeared on the square’s northern tip, neighborhood activists began voicing their outrage. The area where the dock intrudes had been designated for public art. So far, there has been no response to public outcries.
Georgette Fleischer, founder of Friends of Petrosino Square, came to Saturday’s protest wearing a carnival mask. Founded in 2005, the group today has more than 200 members, according to Fleischer. It took them more than six years to get the formerly uninviting, run-down triangle fixed up.
“We worked so hard,” she said. “We paid for this park to be expanded and renovated and it was just finished in November 2011. We had It’s My Park! Day, planting with the Parks Department and Partnership for Parks. We did the fundraising. Ultimately, our city councilman, Alan Gerson, allocated discretionary funds for the park’s improvement. Then they come and take it away from us.
“Did you know that in 1984, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council sponsored its first Art in the Park here?” she added. “Here, on the eastern edge of Soho, we have nearly three decades of history.”
Toni Spinelli, a third-generation Little Italy resident and member of the Sons of Italy in America, Lodge 285, named for Petrosino, said bike-share isn’t the problem.
“I’m not against the concept,” she said, adding, “I don’t like the location.”
Marna Lawrence, a longtime member of the Little Italy Neighbors Association, LINA, pointed to the northeast corner Spring and Lafayette Sts., saying that’s where she’d like the station to be located. She noted that the dock’s initial planned location, along Cleveland Place south of Spring St., was nixed because of blocking a fire hydrant and handicap access.
“Our representatives at the community board meetings made it clear that they didn’t want it in the square. And then it appeared, here,” Lawrence said. “The Parks Department encouraged and approved this space for art installations. We’re taxpaying citizens and our public interests are dismissed. This is public land that is allocated for art installations.”
Some Community Board 2 members and representatives from local political clubs made a showing, too.
After a lot of maneuvering around to get every letter in place, neighborhood activists, standing behind the newly parked Citi Bikes, held up cards that spelled, “ART IN PETROSINO PARK.”
Raising a clenched fist, artist Minerva Durham indicated this struggle would be continuing.
Mayoral candidate John Liu appeared just as the gathering was about to finish.
“This was supposed to be an open space and is antithetical to the goals of bike-share,” he said. “We’ll talk to D.O.T. of what’s happening here.”