Comments Are On Point at the Villager Regarding Washington Sq Park Private Conservancy’s Misrepresentations and Omissions to the Public

In the Letters to the Editor section in this week’s Villager, all but one is in response to last week’s article about the documents this blog obtained that show the Washington Square Park Conservancy founders misrepresented their organization and its true intended scope, and omitted information well known to them when making statements to the public. The letters ask for greater review of the matter (“What will Community Board 2 do about it,” “Questions Must be Answered,” etc.) and push back against privatization of public spaces, particularly at Washington Square Park! The original comments at the piece last week were great and so I’ve posted them here; if you have not read them, they are worth reviewing!

Max555:

So this is how rich people pull the strings huh? These people have robbed New York City of democracy, there is no transparency, everything is negotiated by millionaires and billionaires behind closed doors. Are we really supposed to believe that Gwen Evans sent an email expressing and urgent desire to sign a contract as a joke? I don’t think a five year old would believe that.

Stacy:

Keep the hotdog vendors. Dump the conservancy!

Judith Chazen Walsh:

And will we need to wear tuxedos to visit the Arch and subscribe to Burke’s Peerage to use the Park?

Secret agenda? Where have we heard that before and before and before….?

Unite brothers and sisters and dogs and squirrels. It is our Park

Gloria Tarigo

Great work Cathryn!

aParkNeighbor:

“At Washington Square Park, Sarah [Nielsen] will hold a dual role as the executive director of a nonprofit organization that is currently being formed. A group of citizens who live and work in the community is seeking to raise funds for the park and engage neighbors to help the Parks Department care for the park’s lawns, plants and playgrounds, and to create programming. We look forward to working with the new group to encourage community involvement and volunteering.”
– William Castro, author, the Villager Talking Point article “Conservancy Will Keep Washington Sq. Looking Good”, April 25, 2013. Manhattan Borough Commissioner for the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation since 2002.

1. the Conservancy *held a Board meeting in March* and instructed the Park Administrator Ms. Nielsen to act on the vendors at that time.

2. according to the just revealed by-laws, one of the guaranteed Board positions is for the Manhattan Borough Commissioner for the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.

3. deliberating the handling of vendors is not in the scope “care for the park’s lawns, plants and playgrounds, and to create programming”.

One has to wonder how the Commissioner can be ‘looking forward’ to working with a group ‘currently in formation’ on a scope of maintenance and programming, yet at the same time be at least a month past a board meeting (already operational) he had to be informed of, it not present, making a decision which not in the scope he represents here.

Patrick Shields

Tonight, December 5, from earlier in the evening, just after 6 PM, there is filming in Washington Square Park. Production assistants and NYPD are preventing anyone from entering the park from multiple entrances, including the entire west and northwest, and 5th Avenue sections, and further entrances were being tightened up as 8 PM approached. A private entertainment company has control of the park this evening, and is enforcing their permit with a great deal of aggressive authority.

This is where the Hudson River Park is headed, because economic leverage was just 100% turned over to real estate developers by law. Note that film and TV was also allowed in the HRP by this law, which will end up being on a constant basis, with constant demand. This community has made a grave error in allowing the Trust Act to be altered in the manner it was, and this will only get worse for the WashSq park if the WashSq Park Conservancy is allowed to grow in power. Stop it in its tracks, people. No matter how well intentioned, this park will end up answering to the whims of its “protectors”, and not the community which surrounds it. Slippery slope is never less of a cliche than when public lands are involved.

Patti Astor:

Hoo-ray for Cathryn Swan!!!

Bonnie Lynn:

It is no news that real estate interests, commercial interests and NYU!!! have taken over downtown and the rest of the city. But since this WSP “conservancy” and HRP “Trust” affects our precious park space, we better put a stop to
this PRONTO!!!

Janet

Absolutely, keep the hot dog vendors!

Mitchel Cohen:

Phil Abramson’s comments reflect the brazen disingenuity that the City’s Parks Department used to snooker Community Board 2 to gain approval for the private Conservancy at Washington Square Park. Abramson is a public employee with the Parks Dept., and in that capacity says: “The Parks Department operates and makes all decisions related to the operation of Washington Square Park, not the conservancy.” He then goes on to say that “N.Y.U., in fact, has not contributed half a million dollars to the conservancy.”

Ummm, how exactly is Abramson — a spokesperson for the “at least on paper” publicly run Parks Department — authorized to speak on behalf of the private Conservancy as well, let alone NYU Inc.’s intentions?

The conflict of interest involving Sarah Neilson, “who is both the [private] conservancy’s executive director and the [publicly funded] park’s administrator,” is itself a disease worth examining. Now with Phil Abramson speaking as a public employee on behalf of the Conservancy, it seems that the misuse of the public trust is contagious as well.

Guest:

This smells just awful. Even if the cerservancy was right, and it doesn’t look like it, they have handled this terrible. It does not bode well for the future. And I just feel bad for CB2 — they’ve been conned, bigtime. It all shows a very unfortunate lack of understanding for the legacy of this park – it’s not like any other – that’s why it is so coveted.

There a people in the neighborhood who have already fought such battles before – the spirit of Rev’ Howard Moody lives! The conservancy will not look good to go down this road again. Please, go back to the drawing board with this, CB2. Sad, sad, sad.

aParkNeighbor:

Did you swipe from the cookie jar, or have your brother bring over the chair to help you get to the jar? “See, there aren’t any cookies in my mouth right now, I didn’t. No fair!”. One expects next, “Besides, it was his idea!”

Stacy

Keep Privatization of Public Spaces away from Washington Square Park

1 reply from shmnyc:

“Stop Privatization of Public Spaces” is a better goal. If you accept privatization of public spaces, but just not a WSP, you’ve already lost the battle.

guy:

Veronica Bulgari, one of the conservancy’s founding board members…….we talking Bulgari jewelry/hotels Bulgari?

cathryn_1:

What great comments!!

Here is new link to some of the documents I referred to in the article, information kept from public: http://washingtonsquareparkblog.com/documentation…

Cathryn, Washington Square Park Blog

aParkNeighbor:

Looks like the “black diamond” run of the Conservancy met up with a tree.

See the transcripts.

aParkNeighbor:

Anyone who wants to understand the root cause of why this group must not be granted a role of conservatorship over a public trust should do the following:

1. Read the following quote from the above interview:

As for why they don’t have their bylaws posted on their Web site, Bulgari responded, “None of the other conservancies have their bylaws on their Web site.”

2. Google “bylaws central park conservancy”

3. Ask what a reasonable answer would have been to the above question, by a group acting in good faith and openness and taking their trusteeship as a serious commitment to their community.

4. Take note that this is a constant behavior of this collection of individuals.

Pete Davies:

This is all very troubling. Despite the claim by Parks administrator (whose salary is paid by the taxpayers of NYC) the Central Park Conservancy By-Laws (March 2012) indeed can be found online:
http://www.centralparknyc.org/assets/pdfs/by-laws…

Those of us living downtown have been pushing for online posting of bylaws for Parks Conservancies and other public-private partnerships (such as Business Improvement Districts) but we’ve had little success in achieving that. It seems that City Hall does not want to make it easy for the public to see those documents.

Also: When the WSP Conservancy group first appeared before CB2 last spring, I specifically asked them during the public forum Q&A what their budget was; the answer given was that they had no budget in place. It appears that their answer did not fit with the facts. The Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner was present at that meeting and let their claim of “no budget” remain in the public record.

Many more answers surrounding the creation of the WSP Conservancy are needed.

Thank you to Lincoln Anderson and Cathryn Swan for bringing this to light.

A. S. Evans:

The privatization (aka giveaway) of public resources–parks, schools, libraries, hospitals–is a dangerous and undemocratic trend. No doubt the Conservancy made an attractive proposal to CB2, but no good can come from dealing with a dishonorable and deceptive group. Hopefully, CB2 will have the courage to re-open and investigate the Conservancy and their true motives.

Many thanks to Lincoln Anderson and Cathryn Swan for their excellent reporting on the Conservancy’s ethically challenging behavior.

Giovanni:

If this so-called “conservancy” has its way, we can fully expect the very worst kind of elitist privatization takeover, and the kind of haughty high-handed attitudes that go along with it, to ruin a treasured public space that belongs to all New Yorkers, not just the privileged few. Catherine Swan did a great job exposing their duplicity, I bet Julian Assange and Edward Snowden would be impressed. The question now is what will everyone else do about this?

A film festival? We already have TriBeCa and the NY Film festival and dozens more. What’s next, a locked gate like Gramercy Park, where you need to be a millionaire or a nanny to get in? How about a Bloomberg Pavilion where the fountain stands, with valet parking and wedding events for Russian billionaires? How about a helipad for NYU’s administrators, or a four star restaurant to replace the playground?

These may sound like exaggerations, but do you want to take the chance that I’m kidding? Would you have believed just 12 years ago we would have 2-4 bedroom apartments selling for anywhere from $10-$100 million? The foreign money pouring into the city combined with the collapsed value of the dollar have conspired to make us as cheap to foreigners as Mexico is to us.

This is the dream Bloomberg has built for himself and his cronies, and it’s a nightmare for everyone else. Now the elites and the developers want to finish the job and take over the parks, which were originally built and intended to be open and for the general public. But their ideas are already falling flat.

I have been in WSP over a hundred times this year, and I almost never see anyone buying from that little Mario Batali gelato cart that looks like a prop in a movie, yet people are always buying from the hotdog stands.

But don’t be fooled, the fancy new food carts are just the first step. Just look at how they have turned Bryant Park into Disney On Ice with the restaurant and bar and sponsored pavilion all the holiday gift shops and wall to wall tourists and the merry go round. Now tell me you’d like to see the same thing happen to Washington Square Park?

These conservatory people need to get over themselves. This is New York. We still eat things like hot dogs and hot pretzels and Good Humor bars even if they do not. we don’t need someone to conserve what we already have, it’s been working fine for a hundred years without a babysitter to take care of it.

Ever since they shut down the park for what seemed like forever just to prettify it, and move the fountain a few yards over just to adjust the sight-lines (which made no sense at all) it is becoming more obvious now that the whole point was to prove that you can shut down and rebuild a major NYC public park in preparation for the real rebuilding plan. And the real plan seems to have something to do with NYU demolishing the central village, and the real estate developers cashing in on their next big land grab.

It’s time for incoming Mayor de Blasio to step in and stop it before its too late, or we really will become a Tale of Two Cities.

aParkNeighbor:

Non-denial Denials, a PR Tactic

1. Question: Please explain this thing you apparently were planning

Answer: that is not happening now, and has not happened as of this moment, and will not happen in the future

2. Question: Please explain why you concealed and misrepresented information during review

Answer: you should stop being negative, and come support our efforts

3. Question: yes but there is this specific thing you said that clearly indicates an intent…

Answer: – it was a joke

– you are taking it out of context

– we are being scapegoated

4. Question: if you negotiate private donations with NYU, if you take control of vendors in the park, if you solicit a license agreement and plan to modify your rules to execute it, if you plan events which are for “patrons” rather than the public, aren’t you actually controlling the park, rather than organizing volunteers and raising money for maintenance?

Answer: the Parks department makes all decisions

Patti Astor:

Great Summary! Right On!