The Union Square Partnership’s leadership, from left, Jim Gabbe, board president; Danny Meyer, co-chairperson; Jennifer Falk, executive director; and Eric Seiler, co-chairperson.
BID is building momentum and is delivering results
By Jennifer Falk
Union Square is New York’s ultimate neighborhood destination, home to the city’s oldest Greenmarket, the best restaurants and shops and a historic park that serves as an oasis in the midst of a bustling metropolis.
As we know all too well, this was not always the case. The late 1970s was an unfortunate low point in the our city’s history, when residential and business leaders who were frustrated with the area’s deteriorating quality of life, created an organization dedicated to improving their community. The Union Square Partnership was founded during that period of fiscal unease 30 years ago, which is much like the one we are experiencing at present. The striking difference between now and then is that the Partnership’s foundation is stronger than ever, and working together with our broad coalition of supporters, we know that we can weather this economic storm and that the neighborhood will remain as vibrant and livable as always.
Last year, we reported in this column that the best was yet to come for Union Square, and despite the current uncertainty, we are delivering on that promise. This year marked the groundbreaking of the north-end project, the third and final phase of Union Square Park’s renovation. This important initiative is nearly 50 percent completed, with the plazas expected to be reopened by Memorial Day weekend for Greenmarket use. And work on the expanded, 15,000-square-foot playground, the pavilion and new restrooms should be completed in late summer.
To build on this progress, the Partner-ship installed a new, state-of-the-art, public Wi-Fi network and local community portal, which allows up to 250 simultaneous users, or thousands of users over the course of a day, to use this free service while relaxing in the park. People in surrounding storefronts or along side streets close to the park can also connect to this Wi-Fi hot spot, as well. And in an effort to draw more shoppers and visitors to the district, 100,000 copies of the new Union Square Visitor Map & Guide were distributed at hotels and tourist destinations, to students and at various Partnership events. The colorful foldout brochure is a perfect companion for visitors, area office workers and residents seeking unique shopping, dining and entertainment options in and around Union Square.
In our ongoing effort to collect feedback on existing programs and services, we conducted three separate surveys this year. In the first survey, local residents, businesses and office workers gave us their opinions on neighborhood issues, ranging from core sanitation services to transportation issues and retail options; ninety-one percent of respondents stated they were satisfied with our overall performance. We are gratified by this show of approval and will continue to work hard in the coming year to maintain this high level of customer satisfaction. Pedestrian safety and crowded sidewalks topped the community’s list of most important issues facing the neighborhood, evidenced by our second survey, which showed that pedestrian volume has increased by an incredible 59 percent since 2003.
Finally, while Union Square consistently receives top scores on the city’s Sanitation Scorecard, we know there is always room for improvement. So we contracted with the Fund for the City of New York for a Computerized Neighborhood Environment Tracking (ComNET); this program focuses on refuse, graffiti, posted bills and stickers and street furniture conditions in our district. Handheld computers were used to survey the district for street-level conditions. With the reports generated from this survey, we worked with the appropriate city agencies, property owners or contractors to resolve more than 75 percent of issues found.
In addition, we partnered with Keep America Beautiful to bring its Cigarette Litter Prevention Program to our neighborhood. The program, designed to reduce the amount of cigarette butts and litter on the sidewalks, provided the Partnership with a grant to install outdoor ashtrays in prime locations and to distribute pocket ashtrays at our information kiosk. A follow-up count, completed a short time after the installation of our new “Landmark Smokers’ Outposts,” saw a successful 39 percent reduction of butts.
The arrival of a number of major retailers over the past few months, including lululemon athletica, True Religion Jeans, Steve Madden, Modell’s Sporting Goods and Idlewild Books, is a vote of confidence about the district’s ability to weather this storm. Several office tenants have expanded their operations, including clothing designer Eileen Fisher, online information provider AlleyCorp and Worth Global Style Network, an online research and news firm. New office tenants include designer Narciso Rodriguez and online media company iCrossing.
We know the coming year will not be easy, but we encourage everyone to get involved with the work of the Partnership. Some ways to do so include volunteering at one of our park planting days or with our education program at Washington Irving High School; signing up for our monthly e-newsletter, which includes important district information, news and offers from local retailers and much more; attending one of our networking events; or sponsoring a neighborhood program, like Summer in the Square, a free, multiweek performance series this summer.
The Partnership has proudly served the Union Square neighborhood for 30 years, and is committed to working together with our partners to ensure that Union Square remains the best place to live, work and visit.
Falk is executive director, Union Square Partnership