Volume 81, Number 15 | September 8 - 14, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Wait for a table at park pavilion could get longer

By Albert Amateau

The Department of Parks’ deal with a restaurant group to operate a seasonal restaurant in the renovated Union Square Park pavilion has fallen through.

But the city said on Tuesday that it would seek another operator.

The 15-year concession awarded last May to O-V Hospitality Group was for a restaurant, City Farm Café, to open in 2012 and operate from May to October, with casual and affordable food service, featuring products from the Union Square Greenmarket.

The deal called for O-V Hospitality, managed by celebrity chef Don Pintabono, to invest $1.1 million to install the restaurant in the recently renovated pavilion and pay the city at least $400,000 per year.

However, O-V-Hospitality withdrew from negotiations without signing a concession agreement. No reason was given, but the finances of the deal may have been a snag in negotiations. Moreover, there is the prospect of a renewed lawsuit by the Union Square Community Coalition and NYC Parks Advocates, civic groups long opposed to a restaurant in what they insist must be reserved for park and playground uses.

Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the Department of Parks said the agency is “reviewing other highly qualified proposals and will select a new operator in the very near future.”

“The new public cafe benefits all New Yorkers and brings positive life to the park, especially after dark, as it continues the 150-year-old tradition — going back to the first restaurant in Central Park — of dining al fresco or stopping for a beverage in a natural setting nestled in the midst of this boisterous and fast-paced city. Income from this public seasonal cafe goes to the general fund to pay for city services. It not a private venture,” the spokesperson said.

But Geoffrey Croft, a founder of NYC Parks Advocates, said on Tuesday that he was saddened that the city is going to continue to pursue another concessionaire “and take away desperately need year-round community and playground space.”

U.S.C.C. went to court in 2008 to block the proposal for a concession in the pavilion but the suit was dismissed in 2009 as not being “ripe” for judicial review.

Croft said on Tuesday that the awarding of a concession in May made a renewal of the lawsuit “ripe.” The suit asserts that the restaurant concession must obtain New York State approval for “alienation” of public park property. Such approval was obtained for the restaurant in Bryant Park on 42nd St., Croft said.

At the city’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee in June, elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and state Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, had reservations about the Union Square pavilion concession.

Stringer on Tuesday said, “Now that the city’s ill-conceived deal to turn over the Union Square pavilion to a private concessionaire has fallen through, I urge the administration to reconsider their plans and return the pavilion to full-time public and community uses. The city’s precious public park space should be used for recreational purposes that benefit all New Yorkers, not for private enterprise that benefits only a few.”

Croft contended that the area around Union Square Park has the lowest concentration of playground space but the highest concentration of restaurants in the entire city.

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