Volume 74, Number 49 | April 13 - 19 , 2005

Villager photos by Susan Goren

Protesting the Washington Sq. renovation plan at the C.B. 2 Parks Committee meeting, demonstrators wore duct take over their mouths, then came back with the tape off and shouted “Save Our Park!”

Duct tape, Tic and Tac can’t untrack vote on park plan

By Lincoln Anderson

Despite opposition and angry protests — both silent and noisy — by an audience of several dozen people against the refurbishment project for Washington Sq. Park, Community Board 2’s Parks Committee approved the contentious plan last Wednesday night.

Aubrey Lees, the Parks Committee’s chairperson and co-chairperson of the Washington Sq. Task Force, allowed a brief half hour of statements from the audience before she had the committee vote.

Jonathan Greenberg, a leader of the Open Washington Square Park Coalition, led a contingent of about 15 protesters, many of
them New York University students in demonstrating against the plan. Initially, they stood for the most part silently, their mouths covered with “X” ’s of duct tape to signify their view that the community has not been allowed to have its say on the plan.

“N.Y.U. Students Support the Rejuvenate Don’t Excavate Plan” and “Don’t Fiddle With the Fountain” their signs said.

The Parks Department’s plan would raise the park’s fountain plaza to ground level and move it about 20 ft. to the east to align it with Fifth Ave. so it could be seen through the Arch. The coalition opposes the fountain plan.

Lees was unfazed by the protesters and determined to have the committee vote on the $16 million, two-year project, which Parks hopes to start this summer. As one member of the coalition, Maxine Waters, removed her tape to interject a comment at one point, Lees told her, “Please put that tape on your mouth firmer.”

Also showing up against the proposal were Tic and Tac, 29-year-old twins who have performed their tumbling routine in the park’s fountain for years.

“New York is known as the entertainment capital of the world and we’re entertainers,” said Tic. “Washington Sq. Park made Whoopi Goldberg, Dave Chapelle — and we’re on our way to making it. I believe there’s too much history in this park [to change it],” he said.

Greenberg and his fellow protesters then exited the room.

“Leave Washington Sq. Park open and public!” he mumble-shouted through his duct tape in his parting words.

The committee’s resolution, written by Tobi Bergman, said that if there is to be a wrought-iron fence added around the park it should not be 4 ft. 8 in. tall, but only 4 ft. tall. Speaking at the meeting, Bergman noted that while some cite the park’s history as a reason not to change things, the fountain plaza actually used to be at ground level but was then depressed when the park was last renovated in 1969.

“I haven’t been won over that this park is being destroyed [by the refurbishment],” he said. “The park is degraded. It’s in bad shape.”

In the end, the only committee member to vote against the committee’s resolution in favor of the plan was veteran member Rosemary McGrath. She said she couldn’t vote for the project because of the fence, since she felt it wouldn’t be safe: she noted she had been jogging around the park at 1 a.m. once and a man lunged at her but she was able to escape by jumping away into the park.

The resolution was for only phase one of the project, which covers the park’s northwest corner and the fountain. The rest of the park would be left open during the phase one work, while during the phase two work on the park’s southern and eastern aeras, the part of the park in phase one would be reopened.

Some of the committee’s public members singled out aspects of the plan they disliked.

Lois Rakoff objected to three display gardens that will radiate out from the park’s central plaza in the middle of the major pathways.

“Why are we having it there — why is it in our face?” she asked.

Suzanne Dickerson said that since many people seem to object to the idea of a fence around Washington Sq. Park, that this part of the plan should be put off until phase two of the project.

Lees demurred on this point a bit, but in the end the committee’s resolution was changed to request that construction of the fence be put off until the project’s second year. A Parks’ spokesperson did not respond on Tuesday by press time as to whether the department would consider putting the fence into phase two.

The Open Washington Square Park Coalition members suddenly returned, this time with the tape off their mouths, and began loudly shouting “Save Our Park!”

A tall N.Y.U. security guard who looked big enough to be an N.F.L. tight end came in to try to quiet them down.

Michael Haberman, N.Y.U. director of government and community relations, warned them they had to stop it.

“This is a classroom building that you’re borrowing from us,” Haberman said, warning them, “If you can’t behave….” The meeting washeld in N.Y.U.’s Silver Building on Waverly Pl. Haberman is co-chairperson of the Washington Sq. Task Force.

In the end, the committee — including public members — voted 11 for and 5 against the plan.

Afterwards, Tic and Tac said it seemed the fix was in.

“What I got from this meeting is they mind is set already,” said Tac.

Added Tic, “Most of the ones who vote don’t ever come to the park.”

Lees said, “I’m so happy,” noting that the process has taken four years to get to this point. “Most of the community is in support of the resolution,” she said.

The full board of Community Board 2 will vote on the plan at its April 21 meeting at the N.Y.U. Kaufman Management Center, 44 W. Fourth St., Room 2-60. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

Tic and Tac reportedly are posting the meeting on their Web site and a large turnout is expected.

In addition, the Open Washington Square Park Coalition has obtained a permit for a protest in the park later this month.

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