Volume 76, Number 2 | May 31 - June 6 2006

A special Villager supplement

Karen Shaw, Union Square Partnership executive director

Business district’s busy keeping up with improvements

By Albert Amateau

The Union Square Partnership, the city’s and state’s first business improvement district, is celebrating the success of the past 30 years with new business and residential growth and more visitors to what has become a 24/7 community.

With its center on Union Square Park, the partnership augments sanitation, security and marketing services and runs free events in what has become one of Manhattan’s premier destination districts.

“Of course, our new level of success brings new challenges for our core sanitation services and we are ahead of the curve in our efforts to see that these streets are as clean as possible,” said Karen Shaw, the partnership’s executive director

The success of the BID’s services is responsible in no small measure for the attraction that the neighborhood has for innovative businesses: Whole Foods came to the south side of 14th St. last year, followed by Trader Joe’s move into the ground floor of New York University’s Palladium building this year. Sephora, the luxury retailer of beauty aides, also opened this year on 17th St.

Under construction is a 14-story residential condo with ground-floor retail space on 14th St. and University Pl. Newer yet is the redevelopment of the old Variety Arts movie house on Third Ave. between 14th and 13th Sts. by Toll Brothers, a national developer of luxury homes.

The future will bring even more development, Shaw promised.

“The Amalgamated Bank building [at 11 Union Square W.] is up for sale, and its value is likely to be tremendously enhanced by the improvements to Union Square Park and the neighborhood,” said Shaw.

In retail, Union Square Wine & Spirits is moving out of its space on Union Square W., and the BID is hearing it may be replaced by a new Puma shop.

“We estimate that there are 30 million entrances and exits a year at the Union Square subway hub,” said Shaw. “This month, we’re doing a pedestrian study to get a gross estimate of how many visitors we have and when they come,” she added.

More visitors mean there is a greater need for sanitation services, and the BID responds with more trashcans on the streets of the district between March and October, and an 11 percent increase in the BID’s sanitation budget. From April to October, the BID has extra sanitation employees on duty inside the park from 3 p.m. to midnight. The fine weather also means extended hours — until 10 p.m. — for the BID’s public safety patrols.
The park continues to offer Wi-Fi wireless Internet, sponsored by Wired magazine.

The long-awaited plan for the renovation of the north end of Union Square Park, sponsored by the BID in cooperation with the city Department of Parks and Recreation, was approved by the city Art Commission in May.

“We’re delighted at the approval of the north-end project,” said Shaw. “It’s a wonderful design that was only improved by the input from residents and businesses,” she said.

The plan by the landscape firm of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates was commissioned by the partnership with the oversight of the Parks Department and will triple the size of the playground from 5,000 square feet to nearly 15,000 square feet.

The plan also calls for the restoration of the 1932 pavilion, to be paid for by a private developer. The restored pavilion will be used as a private-sector restaurant from May to October and the general public will have free access the rest of the year.

New bathrooms, one for the exclusive use of children and their caregivers, and new basement space for Parks Department staff and maintenance storage, are included in the project.

“The approval means we can finally begin construction designs,” said Shaw. And while it is too early to set a date for the beginning of construction, there could be a groundbreaking ceremony toward the end of this year.

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