Volume 74, Number 38 | Jan. 26 - Feb. 1, 2005

Big room reserved for Washington Sq. redesign meeting

By Lincoln Anderson

Plans to renovate Washington Sq. Park will be presented to the public at Community Board 2’s Parks Committee meeting on Wed., Feb. 2, at the Metro New York Developmental Disabilities Center, at 75 Morton St., in the first-floor activity room, starting at 6:30 p.m.

The Parks Department plans a two-year, $16 million renovation of the park, hoping to start in four months. The project would be done in two phases, with half the park closed nine months to a year, then the process repeated with the other half, so that half the park would remain open throughout the work.

Parents and children enjoyed sledding last weekend on Washington Sq. Park’s endangered mounds. Downtown’s only hills, the mounds — which need repair — are not included in a redesign proposed by the Parks Department for the park.

Villager photos by Josh Argyle

Depending on the reaction of the Parks Committee members and public on Feb. 2, the committee may or may not vote on whether to recommend approval of the design, according to Aubrey Lees, the committee’s chairperson and co-chairperson of the Community Board 2 Washington Sq. Park Task Force.

Lees said she got the room at 75 Morton St. for the meeting because it can hold at least 200 people.

The design, by landscape architect and Villager George Vellonakis, calls for raising the park’s sunken central plaza to grade level; aligning the fountain — which will be completely rebuilt — on a north-south axis with the Arch; moving the two dog runs to the park’s southern edge across from Judson Church; shifting the Garibaldi and Holley statues to the north sides of the small ovals to the east and west of the main plaza; replacing the elevated, concrete Teen Plaza performance space as well as the children’s play mounds with grass lawns; probably reducing the number of chess tables and possibly cutting down some trees to open up sightlines.
The task force has met regularly over the past year regarding the park’s renovation. Its meetings are private, closed to the public and press.

According to Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and a task force member, the meetings have mostly focused on fundraising for the costly project. Only recently did members actually see the design.

Two weeks ago, Clay Bushong, who was on the task force as a member of the Washington Sq. Park Council, resigned from the Council in frustration after looking at the design. He said he was disappointed at the configuration of the dog run and the fact that the renovation of the children’s playgrounds is not necessarily included in the plan and is also concerned that the renovation of the park buildings, including the bathrooms, does not appear to be in the initial scope of work, either.

According to the Parks Department, a request for proposals will be put out at some point seeking private firms to redesign and rebuild the park buildings.

In addition, Bushong feels N.Y.U. is wielding too much influence over the process. He noted N.Y.U. objected to the dog runs being relocated to the park’s southeastern corner, feeling it was too near Bobst Library, and Parks moved them.

“They want the park to be Harvard Yard — a quad,” he said.

N.Y.U. closed its Bronx campus in 1973, and has since increased its presence around Washington Sq. as its main campus.

Lees said she has had a good working relationship on the project with N.Y.U., whose director of government and community relations, Michael Haberman, is the task force’s co-chairperson.

When the park was last renovated, in 1970, it was based on a plan by a community-led team of landscape architects, headed by Robert Nichols. Nichols’ daughter, Eliza Nichols, has been a leader of the effort to keep the children’s play mounds.

“People say I support saving the mounds because my father built them — but it’s because they’re ideal for children to play on,” she said.

As Downtown’s only hills of any height, the mounds are also a favorite spot for Greenwich Village children to sled.

Bill Castro, Manhattan borough Parks commissioner, says the process so far has included outreach to important community stakeholders, such as the Washington Sq. Association and Washington Sq. Park Council and that public officials including City Councilmembers Alan Gerson and Margarita Lopez have also been kept abreast of the project. As for what will become of the mounds, he said, “We’ll deal with that also.”

At last Thursday’s C.B. 2 full board meeting, District Manager Art Strickler said there’s concern by groups that perform in the park, including the Washington Sq. Music Festival, that a provision be made for some sort of raised platform they can use.

Lees feels Teen Plaza is “underused.” Peggy Friedman, director of the Music Festival, which is held on Teen Plaza, said, for now, she is withholding comment.

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