Volume 74, Number 15 | August 11 - 17 , 2004

Book fest, chapter IV: Using square is still opposed

By David H. Ellis

A map showing the part of Washington Sq. Park that will be used by the book fest for two days for a children’s pavilion.

An Aug. 4 meeting between critics and champions of the New York is Book Country festival attempted to address specific concerns of residents and offer alternatives to organizers, but the biggest question — whether the event is coming to Washington Sq. Park the first week of October — remained unanswered.

The meeting last Wednesday gathered together the main players involved in the contentious issue, including William Castro, Manhattan borough Parks Department commissioner, several Village block associations and book festival organizer Ann Binkely, as well as representatives from New York University and Councilmember Alan Gerson, who moderated the discussion between the nearly three-dozen attendees. A representative from Councilmember Christine Quinn’s office also attended.

“It was a very productive meeting,” said Dirk McCall, Gerson’s chief of staff. “They [residents] have a lot of serious concerns that haven’t been addressed yet. They got some answers, but they still have concerns.”

Groups such as the Bleecker Area Merchants and Residents Association, as well as the Washington Place Block Association, focused their queries on the side effects of closing LaGuardia Pl. and Thompson and Sullivan Sts. between the park and W. Third St. during at least part of the festival, as well as the type of activity that is planned within the park during the event’s dates of Oct. 2-3.

“It didn’t change our position at all,” said Susan Goren, a member of the Washington Place Block Association who attended the meeting. “We heard the specifics and it confirmed that we are against it.”

Concerned about the event’s impact on the park, which would potentially attract upwards of 40,000 book lovers, Gerson made several recommendations, including limiting the event to one day, reopening streets at the end of the day — earlier than recommended by festival organizers — or even shifting the event to Bryant Park at 42nd St. between Fifth and Sixth Aves.

N.Y.I.B.C, which will include readings and book signings by authors and a children’s area within the park, was held on Fifth Ave. between 48th and 57th Sts. for the past 25 years.

Most meeting attendees voiced opposition to bringing the festival to the park. However, their opinion was not representative of all Village residents, contended Aubrey Lees, Community Board 2’s Parks Committee chairperson and a big supporter of using the Washington Sq. site for the festival.

“Most people want the fest here and it’s a great use of Washington Sq. Park,” said Lees. “The problem with the meeting was Alan’s office invited people who were against it. Their response just doesn’t make any sense.”

According to Lees, a portion of the money raised from the event from permit fees would go towards the planned renovation of the park, although no exact figures were available. As of Monday, N.Y.I.B.C.’s permits for the event from the Parks Department and the Mayor’s Community Assistance Unit, which is responsible for issuing street permits, were pending. As of press time, Councilmember Gerson was still involved in negotiations over the details and location of the festival.

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