Volume 74, Number 9 | June 30 - July 6, 2004

Union Sq. Partnership bids adieu, for now, to expansion

By Albert Amateau

The Union Sq. Partnership last week celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Union Sq. Business Improvement District, the city’s first, and according to many, the most successful of the city’s 46 BIDs.

Nevertheless, Jim Gabbe, president of the partnership, and Karen Shaw, executive director, assured the June 23 annual meeting that plans to expand the boundaries of the BID — which was recently renamed the Union Sq. Partnership — have been dropped for the foreseeable future.

Shaw noted that the expansion, which would have doubled the extent of the BID, raised concerns from residents and businesses in the expansion area north of the present district. “We’ve decided to put it on the backburner,” she said, adding, “We don’t have any further plans to expand the BID.”

The celebration at the BID’s annual meeting with about 200 business and institutional leaders in attendance at New York University’s Palladium Residence Hall on E. 14th St. included Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation, as keynote speaker, and Rob Walsh, commissioner of Small Business Services and former Union Sq. BID executive director, as special honoree.

Kyle Merker, outgoing chairperson of Community Board 5, was also honored with a special award.

Recalling the 2002 renovation and expansion of the west side of Union Sq. Park as “the equivalent of root canal,” Benepe called Union Sq. a “cooler and hipper” rival to Times Sq. and Herald Sq.

Benepe paid tribute to elected officials who supported the revitalization of the square and cited City Councilmember Margarita Lopez for allocating capital dollars to the renovation of the park. “Union Sq. is two-thirds of the way there,” Benepe declared, noting that the final phase of the restoration — the expansion of the playground and the renovation of the north end of the park and the north plaza — are in the planning stage.

The combination of private and public money in park revitalization makes Union Sq., along with Central Park, unusual, said Benepe. “No city in the world has the level of private involvement in public parks that New York City does,” said Benepe. “As good as things are in Union Sq., the best is yet to come,” he promised.

The new, permanent wrought-iron fence around the park lawn was the gift of an anonymous donor, and the Union Sq. Partnership contributed $25,000 to the park for plantings, Benepe noted. “The park is in good shape, clean and safe,” he said.

Danny Meyer, whose Union Sq. Café was a pioneer in the revitalization of the square, recalled the days when drug pushers dominated the area and violence originating in The Underground, a club on 17th St. and Broadway, became a threat to the Greenmarket’s farmers. Meyer contrasted the bad old days when commercial rents were near rock bottom to the prosperity of the past few years.

Gabbe also credited the Zeckendorf Towers residential complex on the east side of Union Sq. — where S. Klein, the legendary cut-rate department store, previously stood — with providing the impetus for the reclamation of Union Sq.

Today, an average of half a million people per day traverse the neighborhood and the Partnership’s sanitation contractor, Atlantic Maintenance Corp., annually picks up 1.7 million pounds of trash, working 13 hours per day every day of the year. The BID has also added a security officer, bringing its public safety staff to nine.

The BID’s annual assessment of property owners will remain at $1,189,500 and its budget of $1,242,200 includes interest, miscellaneous income and grants. The expense for sanitation will be $363,060 and for security $432,677. The BID plans to spend $54,200 for programs, $29,500 for economic development, $56,000 for marketing and promotion and $356,720 on administration.


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