Volume 79, Number 23 | November 11 - 17, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Progress Report

A special Villager supplement


From left, Andrea York of Andrea York Cosmetiques; area resident Susan Kramer; Jennifer Falk, Union Square Partnership executive director; and Al Durrell, Department of Sanitation deputy chief. Residents and business owners, as well as city-agency partners, are part of the broad coalition working with the Union Square Partnership to ensure the neighborhood’s success and growth.

Union Square: A bright spot in New York’s economy

By Jennifer Falk 

This year has witnessed many milestones in the ongoing renaissance of the Union Square district. While New York City and the nation struggle to break free from this recession, Union Square stands as a rare bright spot and is poised to remain a vibrant neighborhood during these worrisome times.  

The arrival of more than a dozen new businesses plunged the district’s retail vacancy rate below 4 percent, making Union Square among the most viable business locales in the city. Retailers lululemon athletica, Skechers, Muji and 7 for all Mankind, as well as new eateries Pret a Manger, Crumbs, Lillie’s, Cantina Latina and Momofuku Milk Bar, helped to strengthen the broad base of offerings in the area. 

And while the departure of Circuit City and the Virgin Megastore was a temporary cause for concern, we couldn’t be more pleased that Best Buy chose to open its first 24-hour store in the nation in the former Circuit City space this month, and that next spring, the city’s first Nordstrom Rack will open in the lower level of the Virgin location. Our partners at The Related Companies are to be congratulated for moving so quickly to fill our district’s most visible retail space.  

The north-end project in Union Square Park, now more than 90 percent complete, has been eagerly followed by park lovers and community stakeholders. This is why we are very pleased to announce that the community’s new and expanded 15,000-square-foot playground is set to open this month. In addition, pedestrians can now walk the repaved 16th St. transverse complete with new park benches. The western, northern and eastern plazas, which had been resurfaced and reopened earlier this year, have been well received by visitors and Greenmarket vendors alike, with a new row of 25-foot-tall Japanese pagoda trees lining 17th St. and Union Square West. Additional features of the renovation include the rehabilitated pavilion and additional restroom facilities, which should be completed by the end of the year.  

The Partnership's ongoing beautification efforts, combined with the district’s engaging and vibrant lifestyle, continue to attract people from across the city to our area for a variety of reasons. We once again made a series of targeted investments for the upgrading, maintenance and beautification of the park. The high points of this season’s efforts include the expansion of the stone screening area of the center lawn by 2,500 square feet to accommodate additional bistro tables and chairs, as well as the expansion of many of the planting beds throughout the park. The Partnership also funded improvements to the dog run, including a new gravel surface and much-needed repairs to the dog run entrance walkway, which had been flooding after heavy rain. 

Partnership-sponsored programming was a big draw this year, especially our free Summer in the Square series, which once again proved to be a hit with children and adults alike, featuring fitness classes, kids’ programming and multiple musical performances. We expanded our selection of volunteer events from the biannual It’s My Park! Day, to preparing food for those in need with God’s Love We Deliver, to collecting food from Greenmarket vendors at the end of a busy day for City Harvest. One of the most anticipated occasions in the Union Square district every year is the annual Harvest in the Square, the city’s premier food-tasting event. This year more than 50 restaurants and beverage companies served signature dishes and cocktails to over 1,000 foodies. These events are all great ways for active residents and employees to come out and give back to their community while getting to know their neighbors.  

Union Square continues to be among the cleanest districts in the city, which is crucial to its overall success. Our Sanitation Team has worked thousands of hours sweeping sidewalks and removing tons of garbage to ensure the area is inviting. With a 59 percent increase in foot traffic over the last five years in the neighborhood, more trash receptacles were added, including Big Belly Solar compactors, which reduce our carbon footprint by decreasing the number of garbage bags used and lessening the number of vehicular pickups.  

Another important factor to Union Square’s vitality is the Greenmarket. As New York City’s largest and most famous greenmarket, the year-round, open-air market attracts shoppers from around the region looking to support their local farmers. 

Union Square’s rich history is relived every week during the Partnership's Crossroads of New York walking tour, which draws a diverse group each Saturday for a free, 90-minute exploration of the social and political history of the neighborhood through discussions of the people, architecture and forces that have shaped the community. 

While the past year has been eventful for the Union Square district, there is more to look forward to in the upcoming months, especially the annual Holiday Market operated by Urban Space Management, which returns to the south plaza on Nov. 25 and runs through Christmas Eve. Don’t forget to stop by the Holiday Market’s information booth and pick up your restaurant coupon flier good for discounts at 22 local eateries 

The Union Square Partnership team, including our board of directors, Residential Advisory Committee members, business partners and staff, work hard to make sure that Union Square remains a flourishing community. To follow the district’s progress, learn more about our work and sign up for our monthly newsletter, visit us at www.unionsquarenyc.org . 

Falk is executive director, Union Square Partnership 

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