Volume 74, Number 41 | February 16 - 22, 2005

Board 5 gives qualified approval to Union Sq. plan

By Albert Amateau
Community Board 5 last week overwhelmingly approved the redesign of the north side of Union Sq. Park, but urged the Parks Department to consider proposals from cultural institutions, community groups and others, in addition to restaurateurs, for the permanent year-round concession in a restored pavilion.
The vote — 23 in favor, none opposed and three abstentions — came after more than two dozen people testified for and against the redesign at the Feb. 10 meeting of the full board.
The plan to seek a request for proposals for a permanent year-round restaurant from developers who would reconstruct the 1930 pavilion has been the center of controversy on the redesign. Opponents are against private use of public space but the Parks Department has said that revenue from the concession is needed to fund continued maintenance of the park.
“Many in the community have expressed concern regarding a year-round food concession with high prices and limited access,” the board resolution noted. However, the resolution acknowledged,
“The Parks Department has agreed to require any concessionaire to offer low-cost items such as takeout food service.”
While Parks has agreed to allow the community board to comment on the draft request for proposals before it is issued, the department has not made any commitment on the board’s recommendation to open the R.F.P.to others in addition to restaurant developers
Another bone of contention in the design is over a row of eight trees to be planted at the north edge of the plaza at 17th St. Opponent say the trees limit the plaza’s traditional role as a place of political rallies and protests. However, the trees, to be planted at least 20 ft. apart in tree pits flush with the ground, remain in the plan.
Responding to a Department of Transportation requirement for a barrier to discourage pedestrians crossing 17th St. midblock between Broadway and Fourth Ave., the plan also calls for removable metal stanchions along the north end of the square.
The city’s largest Greenmarket, which operates four days a week year-round, is one of the most popular uses of the plaza at the north end of the park — a private use that opponents of private use of public space have long championed. The community board resolution noted: “The design has been developed in consultation with the managers of the Greenmarket without objection.”
Two existing playgrounds with a total of 5,000 sq. ft. would be enlarged, and connected with a 17-ft.-wide passage, creating a total of more than 10,000 sq. ft. with age-specific play areas.
In addition to the concession, the restored pavilion will include smaller additions on the east and west sides for park office space, restrooms for concession patrons and park users and a unisex restroom with changing tables and access from the playground for children and their parents. A new basement in the pavilion will provide about 1,000 sq. ft. for Parks locker rooms, showers and office space.
Shaded public seating and trees will be placed on the north side of the pavilion, the main entrance of which will be on the south side. Additional public seating will be installed on the south side of the pavilion near the Lincoln statue.
Sponsored by the Union Sq. Partnership business improvement district, the redesign is by Michael Van Valkenburgh Landscape Architects, and the result of two years of meetings with community groups.
The pavilion restoration cost has been estimated between $800,000 and $1 million, and the full reconstruction of the north end has been estimated at $14 million. Funding includes $5 million in private money contributed by the BID, $1.9 million from Councilmember Margarita Lopez’s discretionary funds and $8 million from the Bloomberg administration.

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