Volume 75, Number 8 | July 13- 20, 2005

Villager photos by Elisabeth Robert

Vivid pink banners promoting nightlife are ruffling some feathers in the Meat Market, while porcelain-coated signs touting the area as a historic district have mostly gone missing.

Signs of the times, as history gets lost in club land

By Lauren Dzura

Bright pink signs hyping the city’s nightlife recently made an appearance on light poles high above the streets of the Gansevoort Market.

Hung up late last month by NYC & Company, a private nonprofit organization that markets the city for tourism, the signs are leaving local business owners and preservationists perplexed and even aggravated at their presence who feel the banners give a one-sided impression — and not necessarily the one they favor — of the Meat Market.

“The purpose of the signs is twofold,” said Cristyne Nicholas, president and C.E.O. of NYC & Co. “One is to beautify the city and to create a festive environment.”

The other purpose is for the signs to be a revenue enhancer. According to Nicholas, the city’s nightlife is a $24 billion industry. But the city also has one of the smallest budgets in the country for promoting tourism since it doesn’t benefit from a hotel-occupancy tax.

The Gansevoort Market, where meat companies have operated for years, was designated as a historic district a year and a half ago. But the exodus of meat companies has gone on for decades now, and the neighborhood that was once rough and desolate at night is now strewn with velvet ropes and masses of young clubbers.

However, some business owners feel the nighttime entertainment has not only pushed out the meatpackers but is overtaking the businesses that established themselves there long before the posh see-and-be-seen haunts ever broke ground.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with the Meatpacking District; it’s all about nightlife,” said Ivy Brown of the Go Fish Gallery on Hudson St., specifically referring to the banners. “Everyone is in an uproar about it.” Brown also lives in the Market.

The signs feature a pseudo Statue of Liberty figure, striking a pose as John Travolta would in “Saturday Night Fever,” in front of a disco ball and hot pink background with the words “clubplanet.com” in thick black letters at the foot of the poster. The festive signs are too one-sided for the liking of the daytime businesses, whose owners believe they are too ostentatious.

“They should be something everyone relates to, or something much more innocuous,” Brown said. “There is nightlife here, but daytime business should be acknowledged as well.”

NYC & Co. is trying to smooth out the grievances of the business owners without loosing money.

“We are concerned with how to be sensitive to the community, but we desperately need funding to market tourism. The banner program is a revenue source to do that,” Nicholas said.

Complaints are also directed at signs’ colors. Fuchsia does not go along with the Meatpacking District’s traditional muted colors, Brown said.

Identical nightlife signs are also located in other neighborhoods such as Chelsea, the East Village and around Penn Station and have not caused any complaints, Nicholas said.

While the hot-pink signs are plentiful, the more subdued, porcelain-coated brown metal signs designating the Gansevoort Market as an official historic district are few and far between. After a year and a half, the street signs and markers with a map and history of the area finally had an unveiling ceremony recently. However, many of these signs have gone missing, and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is unsure why.

G.V.S.H.P. fought for nearly three years to preserve the Meat Market as a historic area. While this recognition protects the outside appearances of the buildings, it does not regulate the types of uses inside, which has allowed the nightlife explosion.

G.V.S.H.P. worked through the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to get the historic district signs from the Department of Transportation.

“We have had a terrible time with the Department of Transportation,” said Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P.’s director. “They claim they were put in but immediately stolen.”

One of the missing signs was supposed to be located across Gansevoort St. from the restaurant Pastis. According to Berman, Pastis employees claim they never saw the historic district signs getting put up in the first place or removed. Jo Hamilton, of Save Gansevoort Market, who played a leading role in landmarking the area, paid $500 for her own sign as a keepsake but hasn’t received it yet.

D.O.T. has decided to replace the missing signs but the replacements will be made of aluminum instead of the porcelain-coated originals.

“There is considerable irritation and it’s clearly a problem,” Berman said. “But the signs that are there, the couple of dozen, are great and wonderful.”

In respect to the newly designated historic district, NYC & Co. has identified 15 of its nightlife signs in the Meat Market that will be taken down and replaced with cultural signs, said Nicholas.

At a time when the Gansevoort Market is in danger of being turned into a monolithic tourist trap through its nightlife, the brown signs are essential for preserving the area’s history, the preservationists and Market activists say.

“It’s important to preserve the really unique, historic character of the area’s architecture,” Berman said. “The brown signs give information about its history so people know it’s someplace special and people fought to preserve it.”

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