Volume 79, Number 49 | May 12 - 18, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

A Salute to Union Square

Villager file photo by Jefferson Siegel

The new, expanded Union Square Park playground opened in January.

End of north-end redesign project is finally here

By Albert Amateau

The $20 million redesign of the north end of Union Square Park, which began two years ago, is more than 98 percent complete this week and right on schedule for a formal opening in the next few weeks.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, the business improvement district, or BID, that sponsored the reconstruction in partnership with the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Three and a half years ago, when Falk became head of the partnership, there were questions about whether the project was on track and on budget.

The progress is obvious now with the completion of the expanded 15,000-square-foot playground, which has been drawing crowds of kids, along with their parents and caregivers, since the end of December.

“We’re suffering a little from success, but it’s nothing we can’t handle,” Falk said, noting that word of mouth and media reports have attracted families from the Upper East Side and Brooklyn to the Union Square playground. “We’re going to have a formal opening after we turn on the spray shower,” she added.

The reconstruction of the pavilion at the park’s north end is in the final stages. The pavilion’s columns and ceiling beams have been restored, and the plywood barriers are gone from the front of the building. The elevator cab has been delivered to the site and is awaiting installation and testing. The basement level will be for Parks Department offices and storage.

“We’re going through a punch list and when it’s completed, the Parks Department will apply to the Department of Buildings for a certificate of occupancy,” said Falk. Parks will issue a request for proposals, or R.F.P., soon for an operator of a seasonal restaurant in the pavilion beginning next year. During the off-season there will be opportunities for community programming in the building.

Visitors will soon be able to use the bathrooms, which are nearing completion and were awaiting installation last week of the final plumbing. The men’s and women’s restrooms at the northeast corner of the playground are accessible from the plaza, while a family restroom will have a dedicated access from the playground.

At the end of last year, the square’s north-end plaza was completed with new water and electric connections for the Greenmarket. The 50 new Japanese pagoda trees on the north and west sides of the plaza are flourishing.

Mayflowers are blooming; 200 annuals and 900 perennials are being planted at the south end of the park at the Washington statue and at the 15th St. and 16th St. transverses. Flower-filled planters on the lampposts will complete the picture. In a short time, there will be new street furniture, including tables with umbrellas at the “Mother and Child” fountain on the west side of the park.

“Of course the whole park has WiFi for people to access the Internet,” Falk said.

Friends and neighbors of Union Square Park are getting ready to roll up their sleeves for planting, raking and general spring cleaning beginning at 10 a.m. on “It’s My Park! Day,” Sat., May 15.

The BID’s 2010 “Summer in the Square” Thursday programs begin June 17 and continue through Aug. 12. The “Fitness in the Square” hour-long classes begin at 7 a.m. with “Basics of Running 101,” continuing with yoga at 8 a.m., followed by “Cardio Boot Camp” at 9 a.m. to round out the morning. The “Kids in the Square” Thursday programs begin at 10 a.m. in the playground with yoga for mothers and children.

Then there will be “Music in the Square.” People are invited to come at 6 p.m. for tango, Broadway casts and great bands. Every other Thursday there will additionally be tango or show music at 4 p.m.

Throughout the BID district, partnership employees have been painting lampposts, bus stop poles and hydrants.

“The M.T.A. has responded by putting new coats of paint on the subway entrances,” Falk said.

The city Department of Transportation is planning to make the streets on the north and west sides of Union Square greener and more pedestrian friendly. Many of the proposed changes were suggested by the partnership.

The traffic plan, outlined last month at a Community Board 5 hearing, calls for making 17th St. between Union Square East and Union Square West one-way westbound and retiming the traffic signal at 17th St. and Broadway to give pedestrians more time to cross.

D.O.T. is also thinking of pedestrianizing Union Square West between 17th and 16th Sts. and between 15th and 14th Sts., probably for a part of each day. That would allow more plazas on Broadway and on 17th St.

Also on the D.O.T. agenda is a clearly marked bicycle lane along the west side of the park. The D.O.T. proposals, however, would permit delivery and taxi access, allowing vehicles to make a loop around 15th and 16th Sts. to Fifth Ave.

The traffic changes could become the rule by the end of the summer.

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