Tavern on the Green: Now Up for Grabs!

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The city Parks Department on Monday released its long-awaited 42-page request for proposals (RFP) from area restaurateurs seeking to operate the lucrative 25,000-square-foot Central Park eatery "currently known as Tavern on the Green."

A number of big names have been mentioned as possible contenders, including Danny Meyer, Drew Nieporent, Dean Poll — even Donald Trump! — though current operator Jennifer Oz Leroy, daughter of the late legendary restaurateur Warner Leroy, owns a federal trademark on the eatery’s famous name and has vowed to retain her flagship restaurant.

In a statement, Michael Desiderio, currently the restaurant’s chief operating officer, said: "The LeRoy Family has proudly owned and operated Tavern on the Green since 1974, guiding it to unprecedented success and establishing it as a world renowned destination that is part of the fabric of this great city. The LeRoys have every intention of working with the City to continue serving the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and visitors that come through their doors every year for generations to come."

Tavern on the Green is among the country’s top-grossing independently owned restaurants, earning more than $36 million in 2008, yet paying only $1.2 million, roughly 3.5 percent of revenues, to its landlord, the city.

"The City expects that proposers offer a minimum annual fee and percentage of gross receipts that reflect current market rates," according to the RFP, which further notes that other city-owned eateries pay as much as 10 to 20 percent of revenues.

"Proposers are encouraged to submit comprehensive, thoughtful and imaginative proposals for the renovation and operation of a restaurant that will continue to attract and delight patrons well into the 21st century," according to the RFP.

Site visits are scheduled for March with proposals due May 1. The 20-year licensing term for the site begins in January 2010.

The full press release from the Parks Department:

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe today announced the release of the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the renovation and operation of the restaurant currently known as Tavern on the Green, located in Central Park, just west of the Sheep Meadow near 67th Street.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for an entrepreneur to play an active role in shaping the face of New York City – to embrace diners from around the world in one of the City’s most bucolic settings,” said Commissioner Benepe. “With the release of the RFP, Parks looks forward to the evolution of this world-famous dining establishment in Central Park that will attract and delight patrons well into the 21st century.”

“We take great pride in managing and maintaining Central Park, and hope the winning proposal will integrate this iconic landmark into the beautiful natural surroundings,” said Douglas Blonsky, President of the Central Park Conservancy and Central Park Administrator.

The RFP is available to the public through the Parks Department website (www.nyc.gov/parks/businessopportunities) or by contacting the Parks Revenue Division at 212.360.3454 for a hard copy. All proposals must be submitted by Friday, May 1, 2009. Prior to this deadline, Parks will hold two site tours of the proposed concession site, followed by a proposer meeting that will provide potential proposers with the opportunity to ask questions. Parties considering responding to the RFP are strongly encouraged to attend a site tour and the follow up meeting.

Parks is seeking imaginative and thoughtful proposals that will respect the architectural intent of the original building and its location within the park landscape. Parks will evaluate proposals based on several specific criteria listed in the RFP, which includes the fee offered to the City, plans for capital improvements, the proposer’s operating experience, planned operations for the restaurant, and proposer’s financial capability.

The restaurant, originally known as The Sheepfold in Central Park and constructed in the latter half of the 19th century, is one of the City’s finest examples of Victorian Gothic architecture and one of the Park’s most treasured landmarked buildings. The preliminary sketch for the building was published in the First Annual Report of the Department of Public Parks of 1871. Sixty years later, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses converted the Sheepfold (which actually housed 200 sheep that grazed across the street) into a restaurant named Tavern on the Green, which opened to the public on October 20, 1934. New Yorkers quickly embraced this new eatery and it soon became an integral part of the City’s social life. A succession of management companies operated the restaurant until well-known New York restaurateur Warner LeRoy acquired the license in 1973. The revitalized restaurant became a popular destination for tourists and New Yorkers alike. It has grown in size and popularity over the years, embracing more than a half-million patrons annually.

Tavern on the Green: Now Up for Grabs!