[Note: Link to documents below.] At the one public meeting dedicated to discussing a conservancy at Washington Square Park in June of 2013, the founders of this private group came before the public and presented a minimum amount of information about themselves. They referred to their organization, the Washington Square Park Conservancy, as “a little friends group” which only used the word ‘conservancy’ in its name because “every other name [they might use] was taken.” They were ‘just getting started’ and “in formation,” as the words of the announcement for Community Board 2′s Parks Committee meeting stated.
Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro spoke prior to the founders at the meeting. He offered them up as four affluent neighborhood women who just wanted to do a nice thing. Castro perhaps should go into p.r. because he orchestrated this scenario every step of the way to ensure that any piece of information that might just have ruffled community feathers was kept well hidden. As Manhattan’s Parks Commissioner for many years, Castro knew the topics people would take issue with in the Village and specifically in relation to Washington Square Park. He knew of strong community sentiment that wanted to guarantee that this iconic park NOT get out of public control, that the park NOT go the way of the other privatized parks in Manhattan; in fact, the community had turned down the idea of a conservancy at the park for many years. But Bill Castro, working with others in Bloomberg’s Parks Department, needed to get this private entity pushed through. (Was it a mandate from Michael Bloomberg himself to make this happen before his three seemingly endless terms end? Parks Commissioner Veronica White? Castro’s own fervent desire? Why is not clear.) The Parks’ official planned it all quite well — and he got his Community Board approval at the full Board meeting just two weeks later (31-13), tho’ “conditional” with some potentially sticky “stipulations,” but perhaps he figured he could work around that later.
And this private group of women went along with it. They were eager to act like a full-blown conservancy almost from Day 1, months before they came before Community Board 2. They’d been working on setting up this corporation behind closed doors for two years out of public view (tho’ the time frame they gave the public was shorter than that.) They’d chosen to structure their organization like all the full-on conservancies — with an Executive Director who is also the park administrator, working for the City. Why did they need this? The only reason offered was so “they could share news about the park.” They downplayed anything they might do at the park, focusing on the planting of flowers and rounding up volunteers. They said they had no budget (they did), they offered no bylaws or concrete plans (both existed).
The information they presented to the Board didn’t even touch the surface of those plans, their secret meetings with New York University Inc., money from NYU, their intention to change bylaws to include a license agreement (which allows for operational oversight of the park), to take on a much larger role, to program film festivals and theatrical productions for “park patrons,” and more. The recently exposed vendor issue – the Conservancy’s decision to move and switch up the vendors, ending the presence of the park’s long-time “hot dog cart” workers (which will happen as of now at the end of the year) – is just a small indicator of what they have in mind going forward.
Washington Square Park has been run by the city’s Parks Department for years. It has had a designated Park Administrator who works for the city for the last 17 years. It has functioned quite well, remained (other than its hotly battled redesign, almost complete) true to what people love about it, and the public has felt like it has remained their park. Now that is threatened.
Visit this page to view some of the documentation obtained by Washington Square Park Blog that reveals information that was kept concealed.
Note: this is not everything but these are key areas.
Documents obtained by Washington Square Park Blog include: e-mails that reference Washington Square private Conservancy signing license agreement with the city in future and changing bylaws (never mentioned); Documents Re: NYU meetings, NYU money and Washington Square Park Conservancy (never mentioned); Parks Department official Bill Castro’s role in coaching Conservancy founders to avoid “murky areas” in order to “satisfy public inquiry” prior to coming before Community Board; and the moving of “hot dog guy” away from “arch view corridor,” and decision to bring in “new and different vendors.”
For more background:
Recent Series based on these documents begins here with PART I.
There IS more to come.
And article in this week’s Villager, Blogger Skewers conservancy over hot dog purge in the park.