Volume 78 - Number 45 / April 15 -21, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Benamin Cerf of the Lower East Side had a rose at the ready at the April 8 “Rosie, Be a Love” rally.

The ‘war of the Rosie’ centers on pavilion’s use

By Jefferson Siegel and Lincoln Anderson

Back in the days of the singing telegram, a popular phrase was “Say it with flowers.” That’s what the group Union Square Not For Sale did last Wednesday, when it held a rally calling on City Councilmember Rosie Mendez to help keep the Union Square pavilion restaurant-free.

At a gathering called “Rosie, Be a Love,” dozens of people hung roses and other blooms on a fence surrounding the construction area in the square’s north plaza.

“It’s a romantic plea to Rosie Mendez to save the pavilion,” explained John Quilty, of Hell’s Kitchen.

Last month a judge lifted an injunction preventing construction of a white-tablecloth-style restaurant in the pavilion.

Green Party mayoral candidate Reverend Billy led his choir in calling for Mendez’s help.

“She opposed Bloomberg’s third term,” Billy said. “She might be changing.”

Jos Human came from Bensonhurst to hang blooms on the fence.

“There’s just so much public space disappearing in New York City” she said. “We’re losing Coney Island and now we’re losing this.”

The festivities included a breakdancing performance by Anthony Ortiz of Brooklyn, who said he had been breakdancing in the square for nine years.

“I now breakdance for a living because of this park,” he said after busting some admirably acrobatic moves.

The judge in the case, Jane Solomon, ruled that another lawsuit against the construction could be filed as the process of bidding for a lease on the space proceeds.

Almost all the area’s elected officials, except for Mendez — and, of course, Mayor Bloomberg — have spoken out against the use of the pavilion as a restaurant. 

After the recent court ruling, Mendez issued a statement explaining why she still “supports the renovation of Union Square Park.” Mendez’s Council district includes the park.

“I appreciate the concern that many people have over this issue, and I want to make sure everyone fully understands all of the facts and why, ultimately, I supported the renovation of the entire north end of the plaza including the pavilion,” Mendez’s statement said. “I agreed to support the current plan for the comprehensive revitalization of the north end of Union Square when I came into office in 2006. I did this for all of the reasons outlined below and my fear that we were in danger of losing nearly $2 million that was allocated for the children’s playground in 2002 by my predecessor [Margarita Lopez]. My concern was based on my personal experience that the city funding would disappear if not used promptly.

“Specifically, McCarren Park and Pool in Brooklyn lost several million dollars in city funding in the early 1990s,” Mendez said. “The allocation during the late 1980s was seized when disputes regarding the renovation of the park and pool went unresolved for years. As a young woman who grew up in that community more than 20 years ago, I was involved in the struggle to renovate the park and pool, and to this day I lament that the pool has not been renovated. For more than two decades, children living in the surrounding community of Greenpoint haven’t been able to use a much-needed recreational facility because the city funding has only now been replaced.

“In Union Square Park, the renovations needed in the north end were extensive,” Mendez said. “The pavilion, except for the bathrooms, had been closed to the public because the deterioration caused concerns of public safety. The two small children’s playgrounds totaling approximately 5,000 square feet were dilapidated and dangerous. The farmers in the Greenmarket were running their polluting generators all day. Luna Park restaurant occupied 6,507 square feet of park space and was located outside the pavilion for 13 years.

“Within the year, the Union Square north-end project will result in the following:

• The children’s playground will occupy more than 15,000 square feet and will be an accessible state-of-the-art facility with modern and safe play equipment.

• The restaurant will only be allowed to operate in the pavilion for up to six months per year and will occupy only 3,732 square feet.

• The other six months of the year, the pavilion will be available for community events sponsored through the auspices of the Parks Department and for the general public.

• The operator of the restaurant will be selected through a request for proposals [R.F.P.] which has not yet been issued. There is no reason to conclude that the restaurant which operates at the pavilion will be high-priced or exclusive. The restaurant will provide affordable takeout service, and additional seating for this service and the public at large will be provided close by.

• The Greenmarket has recently returned to the northern portion of the park. When all of the work there is complete, the farmers will have watering and electrical system improvements that will greatly reduce the need for environmentally harmful generators. There will be no loss of space to the Greenmarket.

• Approximately 50 new trees will be planted in the park, including several new trees that have already been planted along the northern boundary of the park on 17th St. 

• Free speech will not be curtailed by these renovations. Civil liberties and freedom-of-speech issues are at the heart of my career as an elected official. I have received assurances time and again that this redesign will not lead to any prohibition of public rallies in the north end of Union Square Park. If there are ever any attempts to curb this right, I will fight them strenuously,” Mendez’s statement concluded.

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