Volume 73, Number 37 | January 14 - 20, 2004

Board 2 creates new Task Force for Washington Sq.

By Lincoln Anderson

As the effort to renovate Washington Sq. Park continues to pick up steam, Community Board 2 has formed a Washington Sq. Park Task Force to keep the project on track and to consider, in the future, possibly setting up a conservancy to provide for the park’s maintenance.

The Task Force will be a “consistent and ongoing advocate for a complete renovation of the park,” said Jim Smith, Board 2’s chairperson. The Task Force will serve as the community board’s liaison to the Parks Department and elected officials; will assist in fundraising efforts for the park; and will attempt to create publicity for the park and keep media attention on the renovation efforts.

Smith named Aubrey Lees, C.B. 2 Parks Committee chairperson, and Michael Haberman, New York University’s director of government and community relations, as the Task Force’s co-chairpersons. Smith also named as members of the Task Force Honi Klein, a C.B. 2 member and executive director of the Village Alliance business improvement district; and Anne-Marie Sumner, president of The Washington Sq. Association. Elizabeth Butson, publisher emeritus of The Villager and a member of The Washington Sq. Association, will alternate with Sumner from time to time on the Task Force.

“As the long-awaited renovations of the Washington Sq. Arch conclude, there is tremendous momentum for a complete renovation of the park,” Lees said. “We do not want to let that momentum die. We’ve waited too long to see our park refurbished, and now is the time to make it happen.”

Haberman said the Task Force provides an opportunity for N.Y.U. to build on its ongoing commitment to the park; N.Y.U. already provides funding for the maintenance of the park and will provide funding for the maintenance of the arch once its restoration is completed.

Haberman said: “Washington Sq. Park is clearly an integral piece of Greenwich Village. N.Y.U. is excited to work hand-in-hand with the community board, the Parks Department and the entire Greenwich Village community to ensure that it is restored to its former glory.”

Lees said that as its first act, the Task Force sent a letter to Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields requesting that she contribute $1 million for a new, historically authentic fence for the park’s perimeter. Klein took photos of dilapidated conditions in the park, to be included with the letter, mailed on Monday.

So far, $1.1 million — including $600,00 from Councilmember Alan Gerson and $500,000 from Councilmember Margarita Lopez — has been raised towards the park’s estimated $6 million to $10 million renovation cost.

Lees also said the Task Force is encouraging people to send contributions for the park’s renovation to an account set up in the name of The Washington Sq. Park Fund, a 501-C3 tax-exempt organization created by the Washington Sq. Park Association two years ago that was, at the time, intended to be the primary fundraising vehicle for the park.

As for public participation in the Task Force, Smith said the public can attend but only participate at the invitation of the Task Force. Lees said much of the work on Washington Sq. will continue at the board’s Parks Committee meetings, at which Bill Castro, the Manhattan borough Parks commissioner, has been giving regular updates on the project and fundraising. The evolution of the design for the renovation will also continue to be vetted by C.B. 2’s Parks Committee.

Smith noted that the Task Force will likely at some point explore setting up some sort of organization to fundraise for the park and help maintain it over the long term. He was hesitant, though, to use the word “conservancy.”

“It’s something that cries out for doing and there’s only so much that the city the can do, given one budget crisis after another,” Smith said. “The community needs to lend a hand. Something like a conservancy — exactly how it will be named, I don’t know — where the community helps the park — that’s what we’re after. Some kind of group that will more or less be in charge of running and managing the park along with the Parks Department; to have a dominant influence in managing and developing the park; to provide some extra money — a lot of extra money — in addition to what the Parks Department can contribute.”

Smith said he doesn’t want to add more members to the Task Force for fear it will become “unwieldy.”

However, Haberman said he thought a conservancy was farther off.

“In my mind, it was more of a long-term goal,” he said. “I wouldn’t even say it was a conservancy. I was thinking of some kind of mechanism to provide ongoing fundraising for the park and to maintain the park.

“I think the Parks Department has some ideas about raising funds for the park,” Haberman added. “The Parks Department, I think, has said that relatively soon they’re going to identify some way to raise funds for the park. And the Task Force will help in any way they can.”

As for N.Y.U. as the major institution on the square making the first financial contribution to the renovation, Haberman said, “I think it’s a little early. I think there’s no mechanism in place. I think we need to wait a little while.”

He noted that there are other institutions either on the square or nearby that should also be considered as sources for contributions to the renovation, including New School University, Cooper Union, Judson Church and the Catholic Center.

Lees said, “It’s important to have a partnership with N.Y.U., because they’re the only institution on the park. I think really N.Y.U. is the main institution I know about. — Other institutions we can approach also.”

While raising money is currently a major challenge, it wasn’t always the case. In a recent interview, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe noted that two decades ago funds were allocated for a renovation of the square, but C.B. 2 had difficulty agreeing on how to proceed.

“The reason why the park didn’t get fixed up 20 years ago was because the community board didn’t agree,” Benepe said. “Under [former Mayor] Ed Koch, there was millions of dollars available, but the community couldn’t reach an agreement. But now we’re moving forward and the restoration of the arch is symbolic of the notion that the best is yet to come for Washington Sq.”

On April 30, the 215th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration, a gala ribbon-cutting event is planned for the Washington Sq. Arch to mark the completion of its $3 million renovation.


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