Volume 73, Number 34 | December 24 - 30, 2003

Lopez gives $500,000 for Wash. Sq.

By Lincoln Anderson

Saying she’s doing it because she treasures the historic symbol of the Washington Sq. Arch and because she also wants to help out her “brother,” Councilmember Alan Gerson, whose district includes Washington Sq. Park, Councilmember Margarita Lopez recently allocated $500,000 for the renovation of Greenwich Village’s landmark greensward.

The Parks Department is pegging Washington Sq. Park’s renovation cost at $6 million to $10 million, but most of the money still needs to be raised. Lopez’s is the first significant contribution from a government source since Gerson allocated $600,000 for the project about a year and a half ago. In addition, the Village Alliance business improvement district raised $53,000 for the park renovation earlier this year.

Lopez said that during recent discussions on local park issues with Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Bill Castro, he persuaded her to allocate the funding for the important project. Lopez said the $500,000 in capital funds for Washington Sq. came out of several million dollars she had obtained to renovate East River Park. While the latter is in her East Side district, Washington Sq. isn’t.

“I did that because I feel the monument in Washington Sq. Park needs to be protected,” Lopez said, adding it was her understanding the arch restoration project had run out of funds. “Washington was our first president and he stood firm for our freedom and our Constitution,” she said. “We live in a time when the current administration is destroying our civil liberties and the 14th Amendment with the Patriot Act.”

The arch sports two statues of Washington, one at war, one at peace.

Lopez said she believed while most of the money she contributed would be for the park renovation, part would be for the arch’s renovation.

In addition, Lopez said, in this case it didn’t make sense to be constrained by City Council district boundaries, since a refurbished Washington Sq. will benefit all Lower Manhattan and the entire city.

“Though it is the district of Alan Gerson, I believe I can be a good sister to him,” Lopez said. “It’s very important for the economy of that area to have that park stabilized.”

“Manhattan belongs to all of us,” the councilmember went on. “Even though we are divided by districts, my thinking is we should fulfill these responsibilities collectively sometimes.”

Castro, however, said Lopez’s funds won’t go towards the arch’s repair but entirely for design and construction for the park renovation’s phase one.

“We have enough money for the arch, thank God,” he said, adding the scaffolding on the arch will come down soon.

Lopez has been “very, very good to parks,” Castro said. “Her contribution gives us $1.1 million, which is very, very good.”

Castro added that the department will spotlight Washington Sq. Park with concerts and parties in the park, most of them free, as well as exhibits on the park’s history, to generate interest and excitement and raise private sector funds for the renovation. A gala ribbon-cutting in the spring for the arch will be a “top-notch event,” Castro promised.

He and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe are already reaching out to potential contributors.

“This is going to be one of the most important park improvement projects in Lower Manhattan in a long while,” Castro said, adding Madison Sq., Union Sq. and Bryant Park all had makeovers in recent years — with the renovation of Union Sq.’s north plaza currently in the planning stages.

Work in Washington Sq. would be two phased, with either the park’s eastern or western half closed first, allowing half the park to be open during the work. Assuming the money is raised, work could start in late 2004 or early ’05, with each phase taking about a year and a half.

Although two weeks ago he seemed warm to the idea of a conservancy, Castro now says Parks has no intention to help form one. From the sound of it, Parks will be the lead fundraiser for the renovation; earlier on, the Washington Sq. Association had been designated as the fundraising vehicle.

“They’ve indicated that they do not want to do the prime fundraising,” Castro said of the association.

Last week, Community Board 2 approved “in concept” George Vellonakis’ renovation plan for the square. Castro had said having C.B. 2’s approval and even just a preliminary design to show would help fundraising.

“That is not the plan. But I appreciate what Aubrey did and what the board did,” he said, referring to Aubrey Lees, C.B. 2’s Parks Committee chairperson, who pushed the board to approve the Vellonakis plan so the process could move forward.

In other news, the park’s new small-dog run recently opened and is a success, Castro said.


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