Volume 74, Number 27 | November 03 - 09, 2004

Villager photo by Robert Stolarik

At the San Gennaro Festival on Mulberry St. in Little Italy in September

Fewer but larger street fairs proposed as alternative

By Hemmy So

In an effort to continue the “livability offensive” for his district, Councilmember Alan Jay Gerson moderated and co-sponsored a town hall meeting on street fairs on Mon., Oct. 25, at New York University School of Law.

The existence of numerous street fairs in the Greenwich Village area has long been a sore spot for residents, whose neighborhood sees the highest number of street fairs in the city second only to the central Midtown area.

“We know that street fair issues and problems have been an issue of distress for many residents,” Gerson said.

By conducting the town hall meeting, Gerson and other co-sponsors hoped to brainstorm with community members on finding ways to improve the street fair situation. Co-sponsors included Councilmembers Christine Quinn and Margarita Lopez, Community Board 2, the Noho Neighborhood Association and the Greenwich Village Chelsea Chamber of Commerce.

“There’s a lot of balancing that has to be done,” said Quinn, citing the interests of residents, businesspeople and even drivers.

Mildred Duran, assistant commissioner of the Bloomberg administration’s Community Assistance Unit, attended the meeting and elucidated the process, rules and regulations surrounding street fairs. Much to the relief of several residents, Duran — who heads the Street Activity Permit Office — explained that the city had placed a one-year moratorium on new street fairs last year. The city hopes to extend that moratorium through the end of next year, Duran said.

Despite the moratorium, residents still had plenty of complaints to air. As numerous residents took the floor to bring up new points and reiterate old ones, the message became clear: residents want fewer street fairs with better review process and procedure.

“We shouldn’t be having closed streets each weekend. It’s not only the weekend, it’s weekdays because there are other things going on,” said Edy Selman, co-chairperson of the Washington Place Block Association, after the meeting. The inundation of street closings and street fairs ultimately hurts local businesses, Selman said.

Many also expressed dismay at the generic nature of the modern-day street fairs.

“There’s not a panache to it. It’s not quaint; it’s not like a country fair. We used to have that. To come to the Village was something special,” Selman said.

Phil Hartman, the executive director of the Federation of East Village Artists, cited the success of FEVA’s Howl Festival as a model for community street fairs. “You can walk from one end of the festival to another and know about the community,” he said.

Similarly, residents voiced concerns about who received the funds raised by neighborhood street fairs. Many were upset that some street fairs raised money for nonprofits groups outside the local community.

Others wondered why organizations don’t hold the fairs “on their own streets or in their own neighborhoods.”

Susan Goren, a public member of C.B. 2’s Street Fairs Committee, cited, for example, past street fair applications by St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral — which is located in Little Italy at Mulberry and Prince Sts. — for Washington Pl. on the east side of Washington Sq. in Greenwich Village.

In response to that particular issue, State Senator Tom Duane suggested more signage to inform residents and street fairgoers of the sponsors for each street fair. Indeed, many meeting attendees lobbied for more signs clearly naming sponsors and promoters for each street fair.

“[The promoters] should have a booth space, and they should be required to have the information from the permit, and they should be required to have the name of the group they were doing the street fair on behalf of and information on how to contact the promoter,” Goren said after the meeting.

Many residents sought more communication from sponsors, promoters and the city regarding street fairs. In addition to sponsor and promoter information, residents stated that they wanted signs posted to inform drivers to avoid the area and information posted to warn bus riders of detoured routes.

While Greenwich Village residents made clear their grievances about street fairs, they also contemplated possible remedies. Duran offered the most popular option: street fair consolidation. Much like the Village, the Upper West Side previously had many small street fairs and used consolidation to reduce the number of street fairs by half, she said.

Under consolidation, street fairs would cover more streets but occur less frequently. Though several residents supported the idea, street fair sponsors voiced worries that revenues would decrease.

New York University’s Delta Phi fraternity sponsors a street fair on W. Fourth St. each April, raising money for charities around the city and in Greenwich Village. “The consolidation is not a problem if both the groups that consolidate earn the same amount of revenue,” said Andy Minkstein, Delta Phi president, after the town hall.

A representative from the Greenwich Village Center of the Children’s Aid Society also said he would favor consolidation as long as sponsors’ interests are protected and the same amount of money was raised.

Todd Berman, owner of Clearview Festival Productions, the promoter used by both Delta Phi Fraternity and the Children’s Aid Society, told the audience that he openly favors consolidation. As long as consolidation is done correctly without loss of revenue, Clearview supports it he said.

Having his turn to speak towards the end of the meeting, Berman had a chance to address most of the concerns voiced by community residents and nonprofit sponsors. In addition to supporting consolidation for existing street fairs, Berman also suggested that citywide groups and rejected street fair applicants have consolidated street fairs. He also proposed full financial disclosure for street fair applicants in order for community boards and their committees to make more informed decisions on street fair applications.

Based on the suggestions made at the town hall meeting, Gerson plans to prepare a series of very specific proposals addressing these issues for Assistant Commissioner Duran and Commissioner Jonathan Greenspun of the Community Assistance Unit. The proposals will address five main areas of concern: street fair consolidation, noise and smoke abatement, improved sponsor identification, enhanced neighborhood involvement and financial stability for sponsors, Gerson said.

“[The C.A.U.] is committed to working with us,” he said. “We will certainly hold them to that.”

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