Volume 78, Number 52 | June 3 - 9, 2009

West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Privatized pavilion’s opponents make another pitch to Board 5

By Albert Amateau

More verbal fireworks broke out on Monday in the battle over private use of public space regarding the pavilion at the north end of Union Square Park.

Members of the Union Square Community Coalition who are still trying to prevent the Department of Parks from seeking a seasonal restaurant concession for the pavilion renewed their demand at the June 1 Community Board 5 Parks Committee meeting.

Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates and a U.S.C.C. board member, told the committee on June 1 that the coalition wants the pavilion to be used strictly for community recreation on the model of a similar pavilion recently renovated in Columbus Park in Chinatown.

Supporters of the project, however, insisted that a seasonal restaurant in the pavilion would contribute to the liveliness of the park at night. Parks officials have noted that revenues from concessions are significant. However, opponents at the Monday meeting said they feared that a luxury restaurant would keep people of modest means out of the pavilion.
The battle is being renewed three years after the city and Community Board 5 approved the redesign of the park, pavilion and plaza and at the north end of Union Square. Construction on the project began a year ago and is expected to be completed in the autumn.

Moreover, State Supreme Court Justice Jane S. Solomon last month dismissed most of the issues in the coalition’s lawsuit to block the reconstruction of the 1932 pavilion and prevent its proposed use as a restaurant concession. The judge declined to rule on the legality of a concession only because Parks has not yet granted a concession.

The department is about to draft a request for proposals, or R.F.P., for a concessionaire for the pavilion.

Joe Hagelmann, chairperson of the C.B.5 Parks Committee who conducted the Monday meeting, recalled that Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and Bill Castro, the Manhattan borough Parks commissioner, three years ago agreed that C.B. 5 would be involved in the R.F.P.

Charles Kloth, Parks Department director of concessions, replied that he was there to get input from the committee on what the community would like to see in the R.F.P. But Kloth added that, according to bidding procedure, the R.F.P. would not be made public and copies would be issued only to responding bidders.

Lisa Kaplan, chief of staff for Councilmember Rosie Mendez, said that Mendez had called for the concession to include moderately priced takeout food. Mendez supported the reconstruction plan three and a half years ago because the playground at the park’s north end was expanded about three times to nearly 15,000 square feet.

Luna Park, a private outdoor restaurant concession, was operating for several summers on the south side of the pavilion in an open space that became part of the expanded playground.

Former City Councilmember Carol Greitzer, a longtime opponent of a private restaurant in the pavilion, noted that Greenmarket farmers back their trucks into the north plaza in view of the pavilion.

“I don’t think diners paying high prices would want to look at the back of farm trucks,” she said. Teen skateboard enthusiasts use the north plaza at night and restaurant patrons would have to endure their noise, Greitzer added.

Nevertheless, Parks officials have long noted that concessions are nothing new in parks, and revenues from those concessions are significant. Those revenues, however, go into the city’s general fund and are not automatically designated to the park where they are generated or to the Parks Department.

Joyce Matz, a C.B. 5 member for many years, recalled that hers was the lone vote in 2006 against the board’s approval.

“I voted that way because the pavilion is public property and should be used by the public and not for a private restaurant,” she said.

Hagelmann indicated that the committee would not draft a resolution on the pavilion until at least one more public meeting on the issue.

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