Union Square: It’s a Nice Place
For a Green Wedding
Traditionally, the only blessing a marriage requires is from the father of the bride-to-be. But if that marriage-or even the reception-happens to be taking place in Union Square Park, the couple better be sure they have the consent of Community Board 5.
At its June 12 meeting, Board 5 recommended that a special-events application not be granted to Stewart Borowsky, 36, a Brooklyn resident who wants to host a wedding reception-150 guests, dancing, a live band, catered food, the works-on Oct. 18 in Union Square Park. It was the first-ever application the board had received for a wedding reception in the park, said Kevin Guillet, the chairman of Board 5’s parks committee.
It’s not that the board has anything against weddings; in fact, some Board 5 members spoke at the June 12 meeting in favor of the application, regardless of its faults. But the board’s ultimate reason for denying it was simple: Mr. Borowsky was invited to the June 2 meeting of the parks committee and he never showed up, Mr. Guillet said.
“We can’t support an application if we don’t know what it’s about,” Mr. Guillet told The Observer . “We’re part of the process, and if you want this done and you want our support, then you need to go through the process.”
For the record, Mr. Borowsky told The Observer that he never heard from the board, but added that he was unfamiliar with the application process and would happily make his case in front of Board 5’s parks committee. After all, he really wants to hold his reception in Union Square-not because he owns a co-op down the block, but because he works there.
Mr. Borowsky is a farmer who sells his wares four days a week at the Union Square Greenmarket. Along with his fiancée, 24-year-old Paulina Danilccyk, he runs a wheatgrass farm called Greener Pastures out of a warehouse in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The grass, which can be grown indoors and sprouts in a period of about one week, is used for everything from health food to window displays to wedding and event decorations.
“For a black-tie event, we covered the stairs of the Lexington Avenue Armory,” Mr. Borowsky said. “All the celebrities are arriving, and instead of a red carpet there’s this green carpet.”
Mr. Borowsky’s life is closely intertwined with the market and, as a result, Union Square. He met Ms. Danilccyk through a woman who came to the market looking for work, and another friend at the market convinced him to pop the question in September of last year. Many of his friends are the market’s operators and other farmers who truck their goods in from other parts of the state, as Mr. Borowsky did for years when he ran his farm upstate in Monticello. He also serves on one of the market’s subcommittees, the farmer-consumer advisory committee, which informs shoppers about current events and problems in local agriculture.
“What would make me happiest would be the opportunity for me to celebrate the marriage with the people I know and love and work next to,” Mr. Borowsky told The Observer . “The location seems to be ideal for me because I work there, and [because of] the nature of the work I do for everybody.”
If the Department of Parks and Recreation approves Mr. Borowsky’s application, which is still pending, he and Ms. Danilccyk plan to wed at his parents’ house in Rockville Center, Long Island, followed by a reception in the square. The catered food will be provided, at least in part, by many of Mr. Borowsky’s farming peers from the market. He also asked his friend Terry Fox to bring his band after he discovered Mr. Fox at the market playing Beatles tunes.
While pundits contemplate weighty abstractions such as how best to memorialize the victims of 9/11 and whether a tall, skinny pinnacle can fill the Twin Towers’ void, members of Community Board 1 of lower Manhattan are considering far less lofty matters. A theoretical architectural discussion is fine for Herbert Muschamp, but it’s the nuts and bolts of rebuilding that inspire downtown community-board members.
At its June 17 public meeting, Board 1 for the first time passed a resolution regarding the Libeskind design for the World Trade Center site, including a critique that had less to do with the plan’s aesthetics than with pedestrian concerns such as connectivity between transportation routes. In the board’s view, it’s these aspects of the plan-more than a renewed skyline or a moving memorial-that will most enhance the quotidian experience of those who live, work and shop in lower Manhattan.
The board’s new paradigm for downtown reflects, in part, the exploding residential population of lower Manhattan. A new study by the community board-the most comprehensive report on downtown housing yet produced by any city agency-shows that even though thousands of people moved out of lower Manhattan after 9/11, the number of residents has increased by approximately one-third since the year 2000, to more than 45,000 people. The population is projected to increase by at least another 10,000 people in the near future, as developers complete 6,000 residential units already in the pipeline.
In this light, the board offered a number of recommendations for improving what it characterized as “a bold and thoughtful blueprint” for developing the World Trade Center site. Most of the suggestions reflect the basic needs of a burgeoning urban residential community, such as good transportation, adequate recreational and cultural facilities and vibrant green spaces.
“The infrastructure that most neighborhoods have, we’re severely lacking down here,” Judy Duffy, a Board 1 staff member, told The Observer .
Board members are confident that the Libeskind plan will bring dowtown more cultural amenities and better transportation, but they want a larger heroes’ park and more points of access to and around the memorial than are currently proposed. Accessibility is a particularly important issue for downtown residents, especially for those who live in Battery Park City and experienced the Twin Towers more as barriers than conduits to the rest of lower Manhattan.
The board also wishes to reduce the emphasis on subterranean shops in favor of street-level retail; generally, the board is urging that new retail and commercial space be developed that will preserve the health of existing business in adjoining areas. Many existing outlets are still hurting for business, and with the economy still in the doldrums, some board members worry about commercial overkill.
By far the board’s most fervent wish, however, is for an underground bus-parking facility at the site. The issue prompted the meeting’s most heated discussion, just as it had three months ago when the board passed a strongly worded resolution supporting an underground bus park. Board members are still adamant that if buses approach the site at ground level, they will create a permanent snarl of oversized vehicles spewing exhaust onto crowded downtown streets.
Although Governor George Pataki recently reiterated his disapproval of a subterranean bus park, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (whose board includes Madelyn Wils, the Board 1 chairwoman) continues to entertain the idea; nor has the Port Authority ruled it out. Now that most of the memorial site will be 30 feet rather than 70 feet deep, an underground parking facility could easily be accommodated.
At the moment, it’s unclear how much of the Libeskind plan is changeable, although many aspects-such as the amount, type and location of new retail space-are far from being finalized. Nevertheless, many of the board’s proposals may well be pie in the sky; according to Ms. Wils, financial concerns will ultimately circumscribe redevelopment of the W.T.C. site.
“[The board’s] suggestions are based on need, whether they’re actually negotiable or not,” Ms. Wils told The Observer . “Most of them will all come down to the same thing-money.”
Is Soho Storefront
fated to Remain Vacant?
Nestled on a cobblestone street in Soho is a fire-engine-red storefront, its entrance swept faithfully each morning by its property manager, Lori Landino. But the daily upkeep is not done in anticipation of throngs of arriving customers. In the midst of one of Manhattan’s more prosperous neighborhoods, 76 Wooster Street, between Broome and Spring streets, has remained vacant for the past nine years.
The two-story building, which once housed Grace Jones’ famed restaurant La Vie en Rose, and where Andy Warhol rented an upstairs studio, saw its last tenants shut their doors in 1994. Since then, the State Liquor Authority has rejected four liquor-license requests for the space. And at Community Board 2’s June 19 public meeting, the building’s fate was further sealed when the board voted to reject yet another application for a liquor license, a recommendation that will once again likely influence the S.L.A.
The application was submitted by David Ghatarfart, who has been in the restaurant business for 20 years and currently owns Valbella, an upscale restaurant in Connecticut. Mr. Ghatarfart hopes to transform the abandoned storefront into a 198-seat, 9,000-square-foot restaurant. At the meeting, hoping to assuage fears that he might be planning to bring a raucous boîte to the block, the restaurateur assured board members that his dining establishment “is going to be a very, very expensive restaurant.”
According to a resolution drafted by Mallin & Goldstein, lawyers for Board 2, Mr. Ghatarfart’s restaurant would be the largest in the district, increasing foot and vehicular traffic, which in turn would create more noise pollution on an unusually quiet Soho street. Although there are no existing bars or restaurants on the block, there are 16 businesses with liquor licenses within 500 feet of the property, a number the board feels is already too high. “It’s not the rent that drives artists out-they’re rent-controlled. It’s the noise,” Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance and a member of the board’s executive committee, told The Observer . “[Mr. Ghatarfart’s] is the largest restaurant on one of the narrowest streets in Community Board 2, and we don’t want it.”
“There are some people that don’t want anything [at 76 Wooster Street]” Mr. Ghatarfart’s lawyer, Guy Parisi, told The Observer . “It’s a deprivation of someone’s right to use the building.”
The plight of 76 Wooster Street goes back some time. In October of 1997, Giuseppe Desiderio (another restaurateur with plans for the site) secured a liquor license for the property, despite neighborhood opposition. When he requested in January that the license’s hours-of-operation restrictions be lifted, Board 2 and the Soho Alliance filed suit against the S.L.A. In November of 1999, Mr. Desiderio was denied a license altogether, and his restaurant never opened. Of the three hopeful restaurateurs that followed, all were denied liquor licenses, including the most recent applicant, the Wooster Street Corp., which-after failing to obtain a full liquor license-applied for a wine and beer permit. It was rejected in December 2001.
“I have to go there every morning,” Ms. Landino, who is also the broker for 76 Wooster (which is owned by John Pasquale of PEP Real Estate), told The Observer . “Homeless people like to sleep there. I have to shoo these people away. People throw their garbage in the wheelchair access.”
“If Pasquale would relent and lease [the space] to an appropriate and legitimate business, we would not object,” said Mr. Sweeney. “The public interest is that kids can sleep … not that people can get a $200 bottle of wine. We would welcome a boutique, a furniture store, an art gallery, a Korean deli.”
But it’s not that simple. In fact, Ms. Landino said, the property is shown to prospective tenants as a retail space. “But it’s built out as a restaurant,” she said, pointing out that leasers are generally not willing to incur the cost involved in converting the property.
“It’s not like it’s a hip-hop club,” she said of Mr. Ghatarfart’s restaurant. “We only want five-star clients, but we’re up against the community board, and the neighbors are very organized. We walked in not realizing what we were up against.”