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

A Salute to Union Square

A Special Villager Supplement

Falk is focused on completing north-end renovation

Jennifer Falk
Falk is focused on completing north-end renovationIn a May 3 interview with the editorial staff of The Villager, Falk said the plans for the reconstruction, sponsored by the BID in cooperation with the city Department of Parks and Recreation, would go to the Art Commission on June 13, with final approval expected in July.

But the project is just a part of the agenda of the Partnership, which operates the city’s oldest business improvement district, which stretches from First to Sixth Aves. along 13th and 14th Sts. and includes the properties around Union Square to 18th St.

In addition to the BID’s core responsibility for augmenting sanitation, safety and business promotion in the district, Falk highlighted the Partnership’s 11-year involvement in providing services to Washington Irving High School and the annual Cus D’Amato event that supports the school.

And on May 21 she proudly announced the BID’s new Web site.

“I hope visitors to www.unionsquarepartnershipnyc.org will find it much improved,” Falk said of the new site.

“We’re also looking forward to our June 4 fundraiser at the W Hotel where we’ll make the first annual Norman Buchbinder Leadership Award to Rob Walsh,” she said. Buchbinder, who died in January, was a founder of the 14th St. Local Development Corporation, which started the 14th St.-Union Square BID, which was renamed the Union Square Partnership in 2003; Walsh, commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services, is a former executive director of the BID.

The BID is also eagerly awaiting the residential redevelopment of the Amalgamated Bank building, with ground-floor retail, on the west side of Union Square at 15th St., Falk noted. The bank moved earlier this year to new quarters at 10 E. 14th St. and remains within the business improvement district.

“The north plaza is the third and latest phase of the Union Square renovation,” said Falk. “We’ve rebuilt the central lawn and the south end of the park and we expect the north-end project to be embraced by the community just as the south end was,” she said.

“Construction drawings are more than 75 percent complete and we expect the package to go out to bid in the fall — we’re looking for groundbreaking by Thanksgiving,” Falk added.

The new playground, three times the size of the current one, will be the first thing on the construction schedule, and the plaza at the north end would begin later, she said.

“The Greenmarket is our biggest partner and Thanksgiving is the busiest time, so we don’t want to be in the plaza at that time,” she said. “During construction, there will never be a time when the Greenmarket is not in operation, and the Parks Department has staged the north plaza construction to be minimally disruptive,” Falk said.

The most disputed aspect of the project is the pavilion and the city’s decision to request proposals from potential private-sector concessionaires to convert the structure to use as a seasonal restaurant — to operate about six months per year from May to October.

Indeed, Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Deborah Glick and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer have been opposed to what they consider privatization of public property. A vocal segment of the neighborhood continues to oppose the project even though the restaurant plan was reduced from year-round to seasonal.

“Given my previous position at City Hall, I wouldn’t have felt at home without a controversy,” Falk quipped. Nevertheless, she said she still hopes to gain the consent of all stakeholders in the Union Square community on the project. Falk noted that City Councilmember Rosie Mendez is on board with the project, as was her predecessor, Margarita Lopez — because of the expansion of the playground. Falk is still talking to Stringer, Glick and Gottfried, hoping to change their opposition to the restaurant concession.

Changes to the plan at this late date would mean an extended delay that would add immensely to the construction cost of the project, she said.

Falk was first press secretary for Mayor Mike Bloomberg and spokesperson for Dan Doctoroff, deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, when the Partnership board tapped her for the BID position, previously held by Karen Shaw. For five years, Falk coordinated communications for the Bloomberg administration’s business agencies, including the Economic Development Corporation and Department of Small Business Services. Before that, she was with the Bloomberg administration’s Administration for Children’s Services where she was press secretary.

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