Union Square Preliminary Injunction Granted: Stops Construction of Restaurant; Parks Department Says Restaurant Idea Never Locked in Stone

New York State Supreme Court Judge Jane Solomon signed an Order yesterday (May 7) in favor of the Union Square Community Coalition and granted a preliminary injunction preventing construction of a restaurant in the historic Union Square Park Pavilion.

While amending the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) obtained a few weeks ago, Judge Solomon explicitly noted that the Court was keeping in place a provision “prohibiting work on the restaurant and comfort station, and the removal of trees.”

This is an important victory for those fighting to save NYC’s trees and keep our public parks from being privatized.

(Update: That was incorrectly interpreted. Unfortunately, the trees are scheduled to be removed by the Parks Department.)

But wait. There’s also the small detail that the Parks Department stated to the court they were never quite sure they were putting in a restaurant anyway.

Despite NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe talking up his pet project (the restaurant) all over town, listing it as part of the plan on the Parks Department’s Union Square Park signs, applying for Building Permits for it, and contracting with the Union Square Partnership, which has spent $4 million on planning and design costs, that all suddenly became “not yet final” and “subject to further administrative review” when they were forced to backpedal under oath in Court.

And, as Judge Solomon noted, “Parks Department’s application to the Buildings Department states that a restaurant is part of the submitted plan, [yet] it claims that the design is open-ended to accommodate a restaurant or other use.”

Thus, Judge Solomon concluded: “petitioners’ motion for a preliminary injunction is granted in part to the extent that respondents are enjoined from installing fixtures for or operating a restaurant in the Pavilion, or allowing someone else to operate a restaurant, or offering a concession to operate a restaurant in the Pavilion, until further court order…”

Commissioner Benepe wanted a private restaurant in the pavilion. In the April 30th New York Daily News, a Union Square Partnership spokesperson confirmed to Juan Gonzalez that “a $7 million private donation to the project from an anonymous source is based in part on construction of the concession” and that the large, private donation would not be made without it. But Judge Solomon rebuked that claim, writing that the Parks Department now claims “that the anonymous pledge is not contingent on approval of the restaurant proposal.”

So much (for now) for Benepe’s selection of Danny Meyer (Union Square Partnership co-chair) to run the restaurant. In Court they had to change their tune. Danny Meyer submitted an affidavit “flatly denying that he is the anonymous donor, or that he will bid on the restaurant concession.” Chalk up an important victory against privatization.

Where is Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s Credibility? Has anyone seen it, lately?

Benepe stated two weeks ago that the 14 trees that the Parks Department planned to chop down at Union Square for the restaurant/playground were “dying” and “had to come down anyway.” But in Court, the Parks Department admitted that just two of the trees were “likely” to come down for “public safety reasons,” implying that the rest were perfectly healthy and would not need to be cut down except for the Parks Department’s construction in Union Square Park.

photo: Paul Robeson, outside the Union Square Pavilion