Union Square Redesign

UnionSqPark1 Union Square Redesign
The new design.

Last night, Community Board 5 overwhelmingly approved the Parks Department’s redesign for the northern end of Union Square Park. The redesign will triple the size of the current playground–adding a “Tot Lot” for the wee buggers, a “Toy Box” for ambulatory children and “the Mountain” for older kids (and Observer staffers hiding from editors).

The area where the greenmarket currently is will be even greener: Trees will be planted around the northern gateway plaza, and it will be resurfaced and an electrical and plumbing infrastruture will be constructed to provide services to the greenmarket venders.

The pavilion that currently houses the seasonal restaurant Luna Park will be completely overhauled and its basement will be expanded. The Parks Department will have offices and maintenance space inside, and a request for proposals will be issued after its completion for another restaurant to use the space for six months of the year; the pavilion will be open to the public in the winter months.

UnionSqPark2 Union Square Redesign
Playgrounds and pavilion.

While the board’s position on the redesign was positive, several board members and members of the public expressed concern about the restaurant. Eadie Shanker of the Committee to Save Union Square Park urged the board to reject the plan and instead concentrate solely on the playground renovation. Her group is opposed to the “privatization of public space,” and she presented the board with a petition signed by 910 area residents decrying the “the Mayor and his handmaiden’s” pavilion plan. She also had a list of local politicians that opposed the pavilion plan, including Borough President Scott Stringer (who also addressed the crowd but largely stayed out of the fray, saying, “I’m not for [the restaurant in the pavilion], but we have to continue to talk about it”), Assembly member Deborah Glick and Congress member Caroline Maloney.

A representative from the Union Square Community Coalition also opposed the plan, calling the use of public space by a private business symptomatic of the “growing class division that’s splitting our city.”

But other area residents were nonplussed. Several mounted the podium to speak in favor of the redesign and the inclusion of the restaurant in the pavilion, noting that the “current conditions are deplorable; the bathrooms are disgusting.” (The redesign increases the number of bathrooms and provides more maintenance than the park has now.)

According to Manhattan Parks Department Commissioner Bill Castro, the park’s redesign will cost approximately $17.8 million. $13.8 million has already been raised, which includes a $5 million anonymous donation. The plan will now go before the Arts Commission; if approved, work will begin in October or November of this year. When asked if any other uses of the pavilion would be considered for the R.F.P., Mr. Castro said very succinctly, “No.”

-Matthew Grace