Volume 73, Number 8 | June 23 - 29, 2004


Strip show and tell — N.Y.U. exposed

It took a little digging and talking to a few people who know the score and the history, but, in the end, it turns out the answer to why two 50-ft.-wide strips of undeveloped property on LaGuardia Pl. and Mercer St. have never been transferred to the Parks Department is quite simple.

New York University doesn’t want it to happen.

These strips, which run between W. Third and Houston Sts. on the edge of two N.Y.U.-owned superblocks, were left over from Robert Moses’ superhighway schemes defeated in the late 1950s and early ’60s by a united Village. Technically these strips are still mapped as roadbed. However, today they are home to a variety of uses, from a primeval forest, to children’s playgrounds (only one is usable, the other closed), a dog run and two gardens, one including a fine statue of former Mayor and Village native son Fiorello LaGuardia.

The people that live nearby and those who use these facilities want to insure they remain open spaces. By transferring them to Parks, they would be far more protected than were they left under D.O.T. — Lest we forget, N.Y.U. acquired part of the LaGuardia strip over 30 years ago, allowing it to build its monolithic Bobst Library even larger.

As N.Y.U. spokesperson John Beckman told The Villager, the university doesn’t want to relinquish its rights as adjoining property owners. Beckman did not elaborate on what these rights entail. However, there are a few likely scenarios: 1. N.Y.U. could try to acquire the LaGuardia Corner Gardens from D.O.T. to increase the footprint of any development at the Morton Williams site. 2. N.Y.U. could try to acquire any air rights this strip may have to add height to its planned building. 3. The garden could be converted to an entranceway or plaza for a new N.Y.U. building. And so on.

Of course, from N.Y.U.’s perspective, the stymieing of the transfer makes perfect sense.

Both Councilmember Alan Gerson, who lives on the same block as the supermarket site, in 505 LaGuardia Pl., and former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern indicated to The Villager, in varying degrees, that N.Y.U. is behind the 30 years of inertia. Gerson openly hinted that unnamed “institutions” or “people” may be foiling the transfer. After being told by The Villager that a Parks spokesperson had said Parks likes the current “arrangement,” Stern checked it out and reported back that he believes N.Y.U. is blocking the transfer.

So then, who’s really to blame for the dilapidated, weed-strewn children’s playground — currently padlocked — and the Mercer St. dog run’s badly uneven surface? N.Y.U. says D.O.T. should fix the subsurface. That hasn’t happened. If these properties were under Parks control, though, they surely would be fixed up.

In short, N.Y.U. should no longer stand in the way of these strips’ transfer — passionately advocated for nine years ago by the late Tony Dapolito, “The Mayor of Greenwich Village.” At the very least, since it’s blocking the transfer, N.Y.U. should assume responsibility and repair the sunken Mercer St. pavement. This would get the kids back into the playground while N.Y.U. hedges its development strategies. Last time we looked, Coles gym wasn’t sinking — why should the community’s spaces be allowed to?

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