Partnership hails achievements it has cultivated
By Albert Amateau
The Union Square Partnership held its 24th annual meeting at the W Hotel on Thursday last week celebrating the progress of the city’s first business improvement district and the beginning of the long-awaited reconstruction of Union Square Park’s north end and the square’s northern plaza.
Danny Meyer, Partnership co-chairperson, presented the annual Community Service Award to Debbie Hulse, the Department of Parks and Recreation’s head gardener for Union Square Park for the past four years.
Jennifer Falk, the Partnership’s executive director, celebrated the BID’s accomplishments over the past year in sanitation (removing 1,749 tons of trash last year) and business promotion, including a new Web site, a new free walking tour and the new Visitor Map & Guide, 50,000 copies of which will be distributed in the area.
“Every year, the Partnership makes a series of targeted investments in the beautification of Union Square Park and our partners like Debbie Hulse help us achieve our goals,” Falk said. “Debbie has poured her heart into making Union Square Park one of the most beautiful destinations in New York City.”
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer spoke at the June 5 meeting and called Falk “a powerhouse” for her energy in looking after the city’s number-one BID and her concern for residents in the district.
George Kroenert, Parks Department team leader for the Union Square north-end reconstruction, outlined the scope of the project that began at the end of April and that will triple the current playground’s size, renovate the north-end pavilion and add water and electrical connections for Greenmarket farmers’ trucks.
The Greenmarket, now occupying the square’s west side while the north end is under construction, will return to the north end in phases as sections of the plaza are completed, Kroenert said.
The project’s hoped-for completion date is October 2009, Kroenert said.
“But we’re going to take our time and do the right thing,” he said. “We’re at 6 percent complete and we’ve used up 8 percent of our time, and the contractor has committed to keeping the playground closed for only one summer.”
Meanwhile, outside of the W Hotel around the north-end plaza, exuberant demonstrators, some in costume, were protesting against the proposal to install a seasonal, private restaurant in the pavilion once it’s restored. The evening before, Reverend Billy of the Church of No Shopping, real name Bill Talen, managed to get into the construction area to hang a banner that said, “Not for Sale” from the pavilion’s roof.
A court order last month allowed construction on the plaza and the pavilion to proceed, but restrained any work that pertains to any restaurant in the pavilion pending the outcome of a lawsuit that seeks to keep private restaurant concessionaires out of the pavilion.
One of the protesters last Thursday, Kurt Opprecht, a member of Billionaires for Bush, the satiric protest group, came into the annual meeting at the W Hotel and during the open question period referred to “the rabble-rousers outside who don’t realize that money doesn’t grow on trees.” Opprecht said later that his remark at the meeting was meant satirically, but the satire was missed.
Carol Greitzer, a former city councilmember who has opposed the project because of the proposed restaurant concession, was inside at the W Hotel meeting.
“This is going to be strange coming from me, but Robert Moses built 800 playgrounds in the city and he did it without the help of commercial restaurants,” Greitzer said.
Also on June 5, City Councilmember Rosie Mendez issued a public letter about why she supports the project after have opposed it in the past. Instead of doubling the current playground area as originally proposed, the current plan triples the playground size to nearly 15,000 square feet, Mendez noted. And instead of a year-round restaurant in the pavilion, the plan was changed to a six-month, seasonal concession. Mendez also noted that Luna Park, the previous outdoor restaurant around the outside of the pavilion, occupied 6,507 square feet. The seasonal concession planned for the pavilion is 3,732 square feet, she noted.
“At first, I only heard from those opposed to the plan,” Mendez said. “But as the plan evolved, the feedback my office received was very mixed. Some residents expressed their support for the plan, eager to quickly build the playground and refurbish the pavilion regardless of its use.”
Moreover, while many people said they feared that 17th St. on the north side of the plaza would be expanded and take away plaza space, the row of trees planned for the north end of the plaza will be planted a few feet into the 17th St. roadbed, increasing the size of the plaza, Mendez noted.