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Volume 77, Number 4 | June 27 - July 3, 2007


New start, new hopes for Washington Square

Two months ago, frustrated that the Parks Department had refused to re-present to the community its renovation plans for Washington Square Park, Community Board 2 voted to rescind its approval of the $16 million project.

The board felt it was critical to see the plans again after it became clear that the plan approved by C.B. 2, the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Art Commission was not the one Parks had presented publicly.

The phase-one plan Parks issued in an aborted bid for contractors in April 2006 included a reduction of the square’s central plaza greater than what the community had been led to believe; also, any change in use of the fountain had been minimized by Parks at community meetings, when, in fact, it later was discovered that the renovated fountain would contain nine forceful water sprays that obviously would alter its use as a spontaneous performance space.

Heightening the doubt and mistrust, the city admitted in court that the designs didn’t match all the specifications of the Gerson-Quinn agreement — the written pact between Councilmembers Christine Quinn and Alan Gerson and Parks on the project. Indeed, city attorneys repeatedly vowed in court that the Gerson-Quinn agreement was unsigned and thus invalid — and that Parks would not be bound by it.

Understandably, the community board’s desire for another look at the plans rose to the level of urgency. Yet, Parks — claiming to be acting on the city Law Department’s counsel — claimed that because of ongoing community lawsuits against the project, it could not re-present the plans.

After all this, now, in a surprising reversal announced last week by Gerson and Quinn, Parks has agreed to re-present the plans.

The designs are to be shown at a meeting of the Washington Square Park Task Force — open to the public, at a yet-to-be-determined date — to be led personally by Quinn and Gerson. Finally, the community will get a fresh look at the designs and be able to question Parks and offer input.

It’s worrisome, however, that Parks intends to issue the phase-one work bid one week after the re-presentation. According to Quinn’s staff, though, there will be opportunity for continued input even after the bid is issued, and it’s common for a project to be modified after it’s put out to bid.

In another Parks reversal, Gerson and Quinn say they “expect to receive a public letter from Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe affirming the intent of the Parks Department to comport with the terms of the Gerson-Quinn agreement.” We hope that this letter is forthcoming.

By now, it’s clear not everyone is going to like this renovation or every element of it. But we all can agree this historic park deserves a renovation.

Now that Parks has agreed to return to the community and answer questions and accept input, and is expected to commit in writing to the Gerson-Quinn agreement, perhaps, at last, we can start this project and do it on schedule. It’s about time.

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