Volume 74, Number 33 | December 22 - 28, 2004

Washington Sq. renovation could take almost 3 years

By Albert Amateau

An optimistic timetable for the long-awaited reconstruction of Washington Sq. Park estimates construction could begin in the middle of summer 2005 and completion of the three-phase park renovation could be achieved as early as the spring of 2008.
Knowing full well the uncertainty of making tentative construction schedules even before designs are completed, Paola Zanzo, director of the Campaign for Washington Sq. Park, boldly made the prediction at a Dec. 12 meeting of the Washington Sq. Coalition.

The Coalition, spearheaded by New York University, was organized 15 years ago to bring together the entire Washington Sq. constituency to advocate for Washington Sq. Park.

Zanzo, who was appointed on Oct. 11 to lead the Campaign — a Department of Parks initiative to raise $16 million to reconstruct the park and $4 million for an endowment to maintain it in the future — gave the Coalition a “best case” scenario of the project.

The park restoration and management plan and a historical conservation study could be completed by the end of January, with design approvals by Community Board 2, the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Art Commission to follow in February, Zanzo said.

Construction bids could be put out in May, with groundbreaking for Phase 1 — the central section (including the fountain) and the western side of the park — tentatively set for July or August. Phase 2 — the reconstruction of the eastern side of the park — would begin in January 2007 and Phase 3 — rebuilding the playgrounds and the park house — could start in September 2007.

Because the project is divided into phases, park programs like the summer music and youth activities could be shifted rather than interrupted during construction. However, New York University’s commencement might have to be moved elsewhere one year, according to Michael Haberman, N.Y.U. director of government and community affairs, who conducted the Dec. 12 meeting.

“This is a very special park and I’m proud to be part of the project,” said Zanzo, who has a personal relationship with Washington Sq. She is married to K.C. Sahl, former manger of Washington Sq. Park and currently the manager of Riverside Park. “We met in Washington Sq.,” Zanzo told The Villager. Before being named director of the campaign, she was on the staff of the Central Park Conservancy, the private-public partnership that raises private money for Central Park.

The conservancy experience is especially appropriate for the Campaign for Washington Sq. Park. “There are several successful partnerships citywide and we’re striving for a similar structure in Washington Sq. Park,” Zanzo said, citing the Madison Sq. Park Conservancy, the Battery Park Conservancy and the Riverside Park Fund as potential models for a Village-based partnership.

Current public funding commitments for Washington Sq. include $1 million in the mayoral budget, $1,035,000 from Councilmember Alan J. Gerson and $500,000 each from Councilmember Margarita Lopez and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. Private funding for the project so far includes $1 million from N.Y.U., $100,000 from the Village Alliance business improvement district. $20,000 from the Washington Sq. Association and $250,000 from the Washington Sq. Park Council, an advocacy group, which made the contribution from a successful benefit event in the early autumn.

“We’re compiling a list of donor prospects for the fundraising effort that will get into high gear in January,” Zanzo said. “Raising money for capital projects is relatively easy,” she continued, “But a maintenance endowment is very necessary and very difficult to raise. It’s not glamorous. After the park is rebuilt it will need a full-time staff and it has to be maintained to prevent it from falling again into disrepair,” she said.

David Gruber, a Coalition member, said that displacement of people from Washington Sq. Park during the reconstruction could cause increased use of smaller parks. He suggested that the Campaign contribute to the maintenance of “gateway” mini-parks like Churchill Park on Sixth Ave. at Downing St., the two Minetta Parks on the east side of Sixth Ave. at Minetta Ln. and Bleecker St., Father Demo Sq. at Bleecker St. and the west side of Sixth Ave. and Swan Park on the east side of Sixth Ave at Fourth St. Zanzo, however, doubted that other uses could be made of Washington Sq. funding.

One Coalition member recalled that a few years ago the estimate for the reconstruction was $10 million to $12 million and asked why the jump in cost projections. “It has something to do with China,” said Haberman, who quoted a construction expert as saying that a building boom in China has driven up the worldwide demand for concrete. More pressure on the price of concrete is coming from Florida, where there is rebuilding in the wake of recent severe hurricane destruction, said Coalition member Richard Kaye.

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