Volume 74, Number 8 | June 23 - 29, 2004

Board 2 throws the book; votes no to fest in square

By David H. Ellis

New York may be book country, but Community Board 2 members said they don’t want Washington Sq. Park to be its capital during last Thursday’s heated meeting as members voted against allowing a book festival to occupy the park this fall.

Despite the approval of the board’s Parks Committee, Board 2 members expressed concerns about the potential of commercial activity in the park during the New York Is Book Country festival, as well as the size of the event and the problematic precedent it might set.

“We have a tradition of keeping the park open to the public, but to take over half the park or more and the surrounding streets is inappropriate,” said C.B. 2 District Manager Art Strickler regarding the proposal. Strickler pointed to various events such as N.Y.U.’s graduation, photo shoots and a last week’s food-tasting benefit by the Village Alliance — the Eighth St. business improvement district — as indicators that the park is no longer simply serving the public. “We think that the festival is great, but if we allowed it, we could have every worthy group at the park on every weekend.” The Alliance event was a fundraiser for the park.

The 25-year-old festival, which is scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 2-3, typically takes place on Fifth Ave. in Midtown, where retailers offer books for sale and festival organizers sponsor various children’s events and guest speakers. The festival, which is expected to attract approximately 40,000 or more visitors, would occupy both the park and several New York University buildings.

“To not support a book fest for two days, frankly it’s a position against books,” said Aubrey Lees, Board 2’s Parks Committee chairperson, about the rejection of the proposal. “None of these people care about Washington Sq. Park. They don’t care about fixing it up or getting it renovated. They’re not concerned about it and they don’t want to make it better.”

The two-day event would occupy the central corridor of the park from the Washington Sq. Arch, around the fountain and to Washington Sq. South. Despite the board’s recommendation to deny the festival from moving to the Village, the decision is ultimately at the Parks’ Department’s discretion.

Bill Castro, Manhattan Borough commissioner for the Parks Department, said he believes this is a positive event and hopes that members of Board 2 will reconsider their decision.

“We’re going to still work with them to see if they will still reconsider,” he said in a telephone interview. “It will do a lot of great things for the community and it will help us restore the park.”

The festival would undoubtedly pay the Parks Department for use of the park.

The city agency is hoping to decide on the issue within the next several weeks.

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