Volume 77 / Number 50 - May 14 - 20, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Union Sq. work restart O.K.’d, but pavilion is on back burner

By Albert Amateau

The State Supreme Court last week modified its earlier decision and permitted the city to proceed with its plan to rehabilitate the Union Square pavilion, build the new comfort stations and begin work on the enlarged playground and the redesign of the Union Square north-end plaza.

But the May 7 ruling by State Supreme Court Justice Jane Solomon still bars the city from installing fixtures or actually operating the proposed seasonal restaurant in the pavilion, or allowing someone else to run the restaurant or offering a private concession to operate the restaurant.

The ruling will remain in effect until the lawsuit by NYC Park Advocates and the Union Square Community Coalition to block the city’s north plaza and pavilion project is settled. Both the city and the plaintiffs said Justice Solomon’s ruling favored their cause.

Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Parks Advocates, noted that Judge Solomon said the plaintiffs’ argument that approval by the New York State Legislature will be required for a private restaurant in a public park “is persuasive and it may well succeed when ripe.”

An earlier order restrained the Department of Parks and Recreation from seeking proposals to restore the pavilion, building the adjacent restrooms or removing 15 mature trees and planting 53 new trees in the north plaza.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said that by removing those parts of the original restraining order, “the court is allowing construction to move forward, which will result in a dramatically enlarged playground, a restored plaza and pavilion and many more trees.” Benepe called the decision in the best interests of the community.

Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, the business improvement district that sponsored the redesign of the north plaza and pavilion, said the decision “is a victory for our community and the many proponents of the project who have been working tirelessly for the past six years to complete the renovation of Union Square Park.” She added that the renovation that can now go forward would triple the size of the existing children’s playground.

The 3.6-acre park opened in 1839 and was later redesigned by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, designers of Central Park and Prospect Park. The first Labor Day march began in Union Square in 1882, and the park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A “Women’s and Children’s Pavilion” was built at the north end of the park at the end of the 19th century. The pavilion, which is not listed on the National Register, was reconstructed in the 1920s and 1930s.

The redesign, sponsored by the BID, calls for rehabilitating the pavilion, replacing the deteriorated restroom on the pavilion’s east side and building a new pavilion basement.

Parks proposes to offer the renovated pavilion’s west end to a private concession to operate a restaurant six months of the year, with a kitchen in the basement. The other six months the pavilion would be used for community programs.

NYC Parks Advocates’ and U.S.C.C.’s main objection is to the pavilion’s proposed use as a private restaurant. They also contend that the redesign has not had a proper environmental review. The plaintiffs also contend that the north plaza’s redesign would compromise its traditional function as a place of public protest.

The next phase of the lawsuit begins May 24 by which time the city must respond to the plaintiffs’ arguments.

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