Volume 76, Number 52 | May 23 -29, 2007


Union Square BID has been a boon

Just two decades ago, Union Square was in awful shape. Drug dealers and criminals roamed the park at night, making it unsafe to walk through. Storefronts on the square were still vacant, a symbol of the city’s economic woes.

Today, Union Square resembles nothing like those dark days. It’s one of the city’s most thriving, dynamic districts. The turnaround is attributable to a number of factors.

First, there was the advent of the Greenmarket. Starting with a small band of farmers, it attracted a loyal core of shoppers. Today, the farmers’ market is a treasured institution and quintessential New York City shopping experience for many residents and restaurateurs alike. The Greenmarket is universally acknowledged to have been the spark that started Union Square’s renewal, a light in the darkness, as it were.

Insuring that spark was kept alive, however, has been the Union Square Partnership. In 1984, the 14th St.-Union Square Local Development Corporation lobbied City Hall to create New York City’s first business improvement district. For 20 years, the BID has provided additional security and sanitation to the area and worked to attract new businesses. The BID has spearheaded myriad improvements, most importantly, the renovation of Union Square Park and expansion of its surrounding plaza areas. In 2003, the L.D.C. and BID combined under a new name, the Union Square Partnership.

This summer, the Partnership is continuing its park beautification efforts. The Partnership will reseed the park’s central, eastern and southern lawns and install a new irrigation system, at a total cost of $250,000. The Partnership has planted hundreds and thousands of shrubs, perennials and annuals in the park — and will plant 1,500 more this summer.

The BID contributed nearly $500,000 in 2005 for the installation of new internal fences to highlight the park’s landscape.

Setting the Partnership apart from other BIDs is the tremendous work it has done with Washington Irving High School, offering the students access to top role models in the worlds of business and fashion, among others, and internships at local businesses. In helping this school improve, the Partnership has helped make it a positive presence in the neighborhood.

The Partnership is proving how the public-private relationship has real benefits for a neighborhood. Its new executive director, Jennifer Falk, faces a major challenge in trying to push through the renovation of the square’s north end, including a hotly debated plan for a seasonal restaurant in the pavilion. We encourage Falk to work with the community to reach consensus. The expanded playground offered in the renovation is something neighbors want. But there may need to be some concessions for this plan to go through.

We wish Falk well in the job and in continuing the Partnership’s good work. Given her sensitivity and the Partnership’s track record of doing the right thing, we’re optimistic she’ll make the right decisions.

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