Volume 80, Number 51 | May 19 - 25, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

City gives cafe contract for Union Square pavilion

By Albert Amateau

The Parks Department this week awarded a 15-year concession for a seasonal restaurant in the Union Square pavilion to O-V Hospitality Group.

The restaurant, to be known as City Farm Café, is scheduled to open in 2012 with casual and affordable food service, featuring products from the Union Square Greenmarket, said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe in a Tues., May 17, announcement.

Chef Don Pinatoba, an O-V Hospitality managing partner, spearheaded the campaign that fed 600,000 hot meals to relief workers after the 2001 World Trade Center attack.

“It’s a dream come true for a chef to operate a restaurant steps away from the Union Square Greenmarket,” Pinatoba said.

City Farm Café will replace Luna Café, which operated outdoors in front of the pavilion from 1994 to 2007 when the reconstruction of the north end of Union Square Park and Union Square’s north plaza began.

O-V Hospitality will make a minimum investment of about $1.1 million to build the restaurant in the recently renovated pavilion at the north end of Union Square Park. The concessionaire will pay the city a minimum of $400,000 a year, or 18 percent of gross revenue, whichever is greater, for the first year, and escalate by 5 percent in each successive year of the 15-year term.

Pending approvals from the city’s Public Design Commission and Franchise and Concession Review Committee, City Farm Café expects to open in spring 2012 and operate from May to October. From November through April, the Greenmarket will use the pavilion as a community space for public education programs, including cooking classes, school tours and book readings, and for meet-and-greet sessions between farmers and visitors.

The Parks Department will also sponsor children’s programs, films and fitness events in the pavilion during the off-season.

The design of the cafe in the newly restored pavilion will integrate historic elements of Union Square with sustainable kitchen and food service technologies. The interior décor will include a large communal table and a full-service wine bar. A new outdoor dining area on the north plaza will include scrim awnings and lighting designed to cast a warm glow during evening hours.

A new stand-alone food kiosk to the west of the pavilion will replace a former newsstand and will offer food and beverages for sale to park visitors year-round.

However, the Union Square Community Coalition, the neighborhood group that has opposed any commercial use of the pavilion, plans to renew a 2008 lawsuit that challenged the city and the Union Square Partnership business improvement district to install a restaurant in the pavilion.

“It’s very sad that the city is continuing to use our park as a cash cow at the expense of children and the community,” said Geoffrey Croft, a spokesperson for U.S.C.C. and the founder of NYC Park Advocates, a parks civic group.

“We’re going back to court to prevent the city and the BID from taking away potential play space,” Croft said. “It used to be the Children’s Pavilion, used for years as a children’s play space, a band stand, a speakers’ rostrum and a focal point for labor rallies and social protests. We want the pavilion restored to its former use as a sheltered, indoor recreation center that serves a variety of year-round recreation and free public use,” Croft said.

He dismissed the proposal to give cooking classes to children during the off-season as “ridiculous.” Even with the increased the size of the Union Square Park playground from 5,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet, Croft noted that the Community Board 5 district — bounded by 14th and 59th Sts., and Lexington and Eighth Aves. — has the least playground space of any district in the city.

In March 2009, State Supreme Court Justice Jane S. Solomon dismissed the U.S.C.C. lawsuit against installing a privately owned restaurant in the pavilion as being “not ripe” for judicial review because the renovation could proceed without reference to the restaurant. Croft noted that Justice Solomon did not decide on whether the proposed restaurant had to pass the test of the state law regarding alienation of public parks for commercial use.

“In dismissing the lawsuit, Justice Solomon reaffirmed our position that not all restaurants in all parks are universally acceptable,” Croft said. “We believe the restaurant in the pavilion is not acceptable, and we’re going to court again to make the claim now that the issue is ‘ripe,’ ” he said.

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