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

To The Editor

Pavilion restaurant is distasteful

To The Editor:

Re “Union Sq. board members clash over pavilion plan” (news article, Jan. 19):
One of the hardest things about being a citizen or an elected official these days is resisting the temptation to trade off long-term improvements that maintain the public’s control over public resources, for modest, but enticing, short-term benefits that cede control to a private entity. Mayor Bloomberg’s recent $14 million plan to redevelop and redesign the northern end of Union Sq. Park exemplifies this sort of dilemma. On one hand, the project offers to provide better paving for the northern plaza to eliminate its current “parking lot” look, renovate the playgrounds, fix the dilapidated pavilion and enhance the greenery in the northern end of the park. But on the other hand, the public is being asked to accept that the pavilion be turned over to a private concessionaire in order to pay for these upgrades. The private concessionaire would expand the current seasonal cafe into a larger, high-end, year-round establishment, cordoning off a segment of the park to all but those who could afford an expensive meal.
The rationale for turning over precious park space to a pricey restaurant, when the entire park is ringed with places of all price levels and descriptions, is mystifying. More generally, the argument that parks should pay for their own operating costs or capital improvements by accepting a mix of private, for-profit uses is extremely problematic. New York City has few spaces that are available for enjoyment by rich and poor residents alike, and even fewer that provide greenery and vegetation. We must hold onto these spaces, instead of turning them over to for-profit enterprises that will limit access to more affluent groups.

Given the dearth of public park space in New York City, and the great scarcity of park space in the neighborhoods surrounding Union Sq., it seems to me that instead of asking whether a pavilion in Union Sq. would provide for a slightly better playground, or nicer landscaping, we should be asking how to realize Union Sq.’s full potential as a community amenity. Instead of housing a restaurant, the pavilion could be turned into a public staging area for concerts and public rallies, a performance stage for artists and children or a facility for programs and activities sponsored by community organizations. Alternatively, more public facilities could be added that both people with or without money can enjoy, such as more benches and picnic tables. The public should not be asked to give up the right to use segments of the park, or to share with for-profit uses, in exchange for these benefits. In all the years I have represented the surrounding community, I have gotten countless pleas for more park space and open green space. I have never received a single entreaty for another restaurant.

New Yorkers are increasingly being asked to embrace the notion that parks must be self-supporting. Parks are essential hard assets and amenities that should be supported out of the city’s general funds. That the Parks Department has been systematically squeezed and is trying to operate despite this untenable pressure makes them the good guys, not the bad guys. It is the city administration that is willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for professional sports stadiums, while shortchanging local park renovations that is at fault. I urge those members of the public who live in the vicinity of Union Sq. Park, or who use the park frequently, to write to the mayor, Parks Department and their community boards for their right to retain full use of Union Sq. Park. While the community boards are often reliable spokespersons for the community and community interests, they cannot substitute for the public’s fighting for the amenities about which they care so deeply.
Deborah J. Glick
Glick is assemblymember for the 66th District

Union Sq. board is highjacked

To The Editor:
Re “Union Sq. board members clash over pavilion plan” (news article, Jan. 19):
The skewed priorities of the leadership of the Union Square Community Coalition are paradoxical. On the one hand, the two co-chairpersons publicize an “errant” member of their board of directors whose views about the proposals for the north end of Union Sq. differ from their personal support of them.

On the other hand, the leaders have been reluctant to disclose to the media that the organization’s grassroots membership has actually forced the co-chairpersons to issue a statement to the mayor opposing those plans — which have been devised by the Union Square Partnership, a business improvement district, and the Parks Department.

The Villager’s Jan. 19 headline, “Union Sq. board members clash over pavilion plan,” was only half the story. It took a substantial segment of the entire U.S.C.C. membership to convince the two co-chairpersons that their position does not represent the prevailing option.

Behind the current dissatisfaction with the U.S.C.C. leadership is a disturbing record that led one board member, Leo Blackman, to resign last month. Addressing the co-chairpersons, he wrote: “I joined the board because I wanted to get actively involved in determining the future of the park, and specifically the north end. We have been up against a BID that is used to having its own way, and a city government that is used to thinking of revenue ahead of public use. For the life of me, I don’t know why you [the U.S.C.C. co-chairpersons] have been so unwilling to oppose [the BID], but you have led [U.S.C.C.] in a lengthy pattern of appeasement. We have never threatened to rile up our members to get what we want — go to the press, call in politicians, write letters. Neither [of you] has the stomach for a political fight, which is what has been called for here.”

As The Villager reported, the two co-chairpersons think I should resign, too. I choose to stay on, masochist that I am. I am encouraged to do so not only because of support from the U.S.C.C. membership at large but equally because of the demonstrated opposition to so much of the BID’s project by respected citywide and local organizations and by our elected officials. It is a roll call of the Municipal Art Society, the Historic Districts Council, the Fine Arts Federation of New York, Place Matters, the NYC Park Advocates campaign — Save Union Square Park, the Greenwich Village Block Associations, the Fifteenth St. Block Association, Village Independent Democrats, Samuel J. Tilden Democratic Club, Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats and Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Steven Sanders.

That’s why I’m determined to remain on the U.S.C.C. board, reverse its “lengthy pattern of appeasement” and urge its leaders to heed their own constituents, whose membership dues are being squandered on policies they resoundingly disapprove.
Jack Taylor
Taylor is a member, Union Square Community Coalition board of directors

Do we need another restaurant?

To The Editor:
This is a response to Lincoln Anderson’s article, Jan. 19, entitled “Business commissioner gives pavilion restaurant good review.”

Of course the plan for a restaurant in Union Sq. Park takes away park space from children and the public. New York City’s commissioner for the Department of Small Business Services, Robert Walsh, is so dazzled by the vision of a private business in the park that he chooses to ignore the fact that every inch of the north end of the park that is not re-created for children’s playgrounds and use by the community is space that is being taken from the public — and for what? — a restaurant in an area with a super-abundance of great places to eat.

Nardos Assefa

Don’t privatize public parkland

To The Editor:
Re “Business commissioner gives pavilion restaurant good review” (news article, Jan. 19):
Opponents of the Union Square Partnership’s plans for renovating the north end of the park are not “thumbing our noses” at a plan that will improve the life of the neighborhood. Rather, we embrace a plan that will renovate the pavilion for public and community use, and that will maximize play space for our children. We reject a plan that will reserve a portion of a public park for an exclusive restaurant, and thus begin the privatization of much-needed public land. Maintenance of public parkland is the job of the city’s Parks Department, which our tax dollars support. Contributions to the department from private industry are welcome, but not as a tradeoff for a profit-making land grab.

Walter Naegle

Let’s not ‘renovate’ away trees

To The Editor:
Re “Washington Sq. redesign to go public; some think it’s too late” (news article, Jan. 19):
Lincoln Anderson’s piece on the Washington Sq.’s redesign was very well written and informative. I have only one question; which trees are being considered for removal to improve “the sightlines”? I love all the trees, big and small, in the park, and would hate to see any of them go, unless they are unhealthy.

Peggy Friedman
Friedman is executive director, Washington Square Music Festival

Keep the mounds, chuck lights

To The Editor:
I recently heard that there are plans for a big-time renovation of Washington Sq. Park and was wondering why this was really necessary. Who has ever complained that the park isn’t beautiful and enjoyable in its current form? Certainly not the children and grownups that use the hills to sled whenever a major snowstorm allows. It may not have the great open spaces of Central Park, but then again, this Downtown park is not nearly as big. Why should children have to make a trek 3 miles north to experience a little winter fun? And, while we’re at it, maybe the money spent lighting the Arch so that it resembles something in Las Vegas could better serve tsunami relief or housing for the homeless.

Edward Walters

I’m so scared by the U.S.A.

To The Editor:
Re “Out there, and too far beyond” (arts article, Nov. 17):

Your extraordinary review of “Rosebud — The Lives of Orson Welles” has me flabbergasted. An extraordinary script — universally acclaimed in the U.K. — is dissed without qualification. Presumably, a 21st-century American distaste for one of her own genius sons is responsible for this curious lapse of judgment; what a pity. You’re only pandering, you know, to a burgeoning opinion on this side of the pond that the U.S. — capable of reelecting George Bush with an unassailable popular vote — is genuinely beyond help. Don’t let us down! Please. 

Gemima Parkinson

Letter writer nailed Koch

To The Editor:
Last week a writer to the letters column complained — quite legitimately, I think — because Ed Koch gave away the ending of “Million Dollar Baby” in his review of same.
Mr. Koch responded in a rage, calling her, in effect, an anti-Semitic bigot. Methinks the former mayor protests too much.

To anyone who has followed Mr. Koch’s ideological journey over the past decade, it must be clear that he would not have become such an enthusiastic Bush booster if Mr. Bush had not tilted so favorably toward Israel throughout the last four years. If that makes me a bigot, so be it.

Bella Jarrett

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