Today’s (Sunday) New York Post:
Update: The print version of the Post’s story has a slightly different title than the online version — it also features photos of John & Justine Leguizamo and Mario Batali — with the heading: Dog-Gone Elitists: Society ladies purge Wash Sq. of wieners
by Kate Briqulet
What a bunch of weenies!
A private, celebrity-studded park conservancy has succeeded in booting two poor hot-dog vendors from Washington Square Park — to make the area less “unsightly.”
While the dirty-water dogs will be gone by the end of December, the city is keeping the gelato stand run by Mario Batali — a conservancy board member — along with a famous Indian cart. It’s also making room for a stand selling gourmet ice-cream sandwiches.
“I will miss this spot,” said Moon Mohammad, 35, an immigrant from Bangladesh who for three years manned a cart inside the park, which is teeming with hungry college students in the heart of NYU. “If I move outside the park, I’ll make hundreds less [a week]. It affects my business.”
In April, The Post revealed the city Parks Department was secretly forming a conservancy with the help of actor John Leguizamo’s wife, Justine, and socialite Veronica Bulgari.
Now it appears the private group was calling the shots well before introducing themselves to the public this summer.
Memos obtained by a park watchdog show the celebs asked the Parks Department to relocate the $2 frankfurters in March — from the arch to the east and west sides of the fountain. Their request was granted a month later.
“This is a private, affluent group of women being given decision-making power unbeknownst to the public,” fumed Cathryn Swan, who first exposed the red-hot removal on the Washington Square Park Blog.
“This is indicative of what their future plans might look like,” she added. “[They’re] treating the park as a pristine garden rather than an active public space.”
According to meeting notes, the conservancy asked park administrator Sarah Neilson to “follow up on moving the hot-dog guy away from the Arch view corridor” and to push for “new and different food vendors.”
Neilson, who earns $88,000 as a Parks employee, also serves as the conservancy’s executive director — an unpaid position some critics charge is a conflict of interest.
Instead of offering the carts other spots inside the park, Parks honchos signed a deal with Melt, a Lower East Side bakery that will sell $4 ice-cream sandwiches.
Batali will continue operating his Otto Enoteca Pizzeria Gelato Cart, which has been in the northwest corner of the park since 2005. The NY Dosas cart — a purveyor of Indian crepes in the park for the last decade — will stay in the southwest corner.
Still, the conservancy denies it’s engaging in class warfare.
“We got some word from our neighbors that [the hot-dog vendors] were unsightly,” said Bulgari, the conservancy’s president. “We suggested moving them based on what other people were telling us. The fact that it was done was Parks’ decision.”
Asked which neighbors complained, conservancy chairwoman Betsey Ely named George Vellonakis, the architect behind the $30 million park redesign. He declined to comment.
A Parks spokesman said the agency is allowing contracts with the hot-dog stands to expire to “ensure clear views of the fountain and arch and . . . to bring in a more diverse selection of food options.”
* * *
Top Photo: Helayne Seidman, New York Post
Other Press Coverage:
Gothamist picked up the story: Hot Dog Vendors Kicked Out Of Washington Square Park (A lot of interesting comments at Gothamist site!)
Washington Square Park Food Cart Upheaval: Hot Dogs are Out New York Business Journal
Washington Square Park’s Hot Dog Vendors Get the Boot Grub Street New York
Previously – the full background – at Washington Sq Park Blog:
Bottom Photo: Cathryn