Volume 74, Number 32 | December 15 - 21, 2004

Union Sq. pavilion bistro keeps getting poor reviews

By Albert Amateau

An earlier redesign proposal for the north end of Union Sq., showing a restaurant concession “terrace” separated by a space from the pavilion.
Union Sq. Community Coalition members met on Dec. 7 to look at the latest version of the redesign of the north end of Union Sq. Park and took the opportunity to reaffirm their fervent opposition to a permanent year-round restaurant in the pavilion.

Many also were adamantly opposed to the Department of Parks and Recreation’s plan for a row of trees in planters separating the square’s north plaza from 17th St. — fearing it would reduce the space traditionally used for public protest and make it difficult for Greenmarket farmers to park their trucks.

The Coalition also announced the preliminary results of a mail survey of members showing a cool reception to the restaurant proposal.

“Since 1882, the north plaza has been a place of public assembly,” said Jack Taylor, a U.S.C.C. board member and advocate for historic preservation. “Putting a row of trees there would hinder its use for public protest,” he added.

Carol Greitzer, a former City Councilmember who represented the neighborhood, said she wondered whether the trees would affect the Greenmarket.

The strongest statements were in responses to the restaurant issue. The north end redesign, sponsored by the Parks Department and the Union Square Partnership — the city’s oldest business improvement district — includes calling for proposals to reconstruct the pavilion built in 1930 for use as a private restaurant, with Parks Department offices and service space in the basement. Parks officials say the restaurant would pay for the pavilion reconstruction — estimated between $800,000 and $1 million — and would help pay for park maintenance.

But an informal poll at the Dec. 7 meeting showed unanimous opposition to the restaurant.

“There are some places in the world where you should be allowed without money in your pocket or a credit card,” said George Altamare, who recalled political rallies he has attended at Union Sq. over the years.

The latest design, showing the concession terrace next to the pavilion building, creating more playground space.
“I stood on that pavilion with Mike Quill, Albert Shanker, Cesar Chavez. Their ghosts will come down to haunt us if we allow it to become a restaurant,” Altamare said, referring to the late union leaders — Quill representing transit employees, Shanker of the United Federation of Teachers and Chavez of the United Farm Workers.

“Why should we be held hostage to a restaurant?” Greitzer asked, adding, “It’s ridiculous.” She suggested instead that food carts in Union Sq. — as are seen in other parks — could help raise revenue for the park’s maintenance.

Marjorie Burke, a resident of the neighborhood for 36 years, said the need to reconstruct the deteriorated pavilion is driving the restaurant proposal. “Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to the pavilion,” she said. Burke suggested the pavilion be demolished and replaced with more space for the children’s playground, which under the current design is arranged as two lobes on the east and west sides of the pavilion with a relatively narrow connection between them. The connection between the playground lobes would be under a bridge from the park to the pavilion.

The latest version of the redesign made public by the BID and the Parks Department showed a smaller concession “terrace” located closer to the south side of the pavilion than earlier versions. The newest design provides a 28 percent increase in playground space, according to an analysis by the landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh.

However, playground advocates at the Dec. 7 meeting disputed the notion that children’s play space has been increased. But not all U.S.C.C. members at the meeting were opposed to the latest design.

Aubrey Lees, for one, was favorable. “While the plan is not perfect, I support it,” she said, although she expressed uneasiness about the use of public property for private commercial use. Susan Kramer, co-chairperson of the Coalition, said she would rather work with the BID and Parks to influence the design rather than oppose it altogether.

The Village Independent Democrats voted on the restaurant issue two days later and unanimously resolved that no private or permanent restaurant should be built at Union Sq. Park, according to Keen Berger, Democratic district co-leader, who attended the Dec. 7 Coalition meeting.

Regarding the opinion survey sent to about 500 people on U.S.C.C.’s mailing list, about 85 were received by Dec. 2 and tabulated by Markus Buri, a Coalition member who conducted the survey. Comments that were added as modifications to some of the main propositions in the survey have yet to be tabulated, Buri said.

The first proposition, “I support the new plan as is, with the use of the pavilion by a year-round restaurant,” received 31 check marks with 54 left blank, giving an approval rating of about 37 percent. The proposition, “I don’t support turning the pavilion over to use by a private concession,” received 36 checks with 49 left blank, meaning 40 percent opposed the pavilion plan.

The proposition concerning the present seasonal cafe, “I like having the current outdoor cafe, Luna Park, and would like it to continue,” received only 24 check marks with 61 left blank. The proposition, “I would like Luna Park to continue but don’t want a concession in the pavilion building,” received even less support, only 15 checks with 70 left blank.

Anti-restaurant sentiment was also reflected in responses to two of the survey’s propositions. “I would like all food service, including the present Luna Park, to be eliminated inside the park,” received 25 checks with 60 left blank. And 21 of the returned questionnaires had checks at the statement, “I will fight against a concession in the pavilion,” with 64 left blank.

A question on park use, “Do you currently use the playgrounds?” received 12 yes responses, 64 no responses and eight left blank. The question “Have you eaten at Luna Park this summer?” received 18 yeses, 58 nos and eight blanks. The question “Have you eaten in restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the park in the last six months?” received 68 yeses, nine nos and seven blanks.

A proposition on how U.S.C.C. reflects neighborhood sentiment received a mostly positive response. “In the past year, I believe U.S.C.C. has represented my views — fairly” received 28 checks, “mostly fairly” received 12 checks and “not fairly” had 6 checks. The proposition was left blank on 38 questionnaires.

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