A lot happening surrounding the Park as questions swirl around the private conservancy pushed through at Washington Square Park by an intricate web of deception.
If there is one meeting to show up for to signal your support and appreciation of what Washington Square Park has meant as a public space for decades, it is this one:
Please ATTEND —
Wednesday, February 5th, 6:30 p.m.
Community Board 2 Parks Committee
Judson Church Assembly Hall, 234 Thompson Street off Washington Square South
(Trains: A,B,C,D,E,F,M to W. 4th Street-Washington Square)
Manhattan’s Community Board 2 is curiously downplaying the whole issue and allowing the Wash Square Park Conservancy founders to return to give an “update” on their “activities.” In light of all that has been revealed* this is an entirely inappropriate response. The four “founding members” first came before the public at one C.B. 2 Parks Committee meeting in June with a presentation that (we now know for certain) was overflowing with misrepresentations, omissions and evasions. Although their line at the time was: “we aren’t really a conservancy, [it’s just] all other names [we considered] were taken,” documents obtained by this blog point to the fact that the founders intended their private entity to function as a full-blown conservancy from close to Day 1.
Key information Washington Square Park Conservancy founders intentionally covered up in early June at the meeting addressing their organization’s “formation” (tho’ clearly the entity was well formed by that time):
- NYU money — a committed $500,000 “Gift to the Park (why couldn’t this channelled into the Parks Department budget rather than funneled through the private conservancy?);
- Numerous meetings occurred with NYU higher ups (no one knows what was discussed yet in an email Elizabeth Ely, WSP Conservancy Chairman, wrote that NYU was going to want to know what they planned to do with its “monies”);
- Future license agreement to be signed with the city (giving the conservancy a larger role in maintenance and operations of the park);
- Elaborate programming plans including film festivals and theatrical productions for park “patrons” (in public statements, the founders limited their organization’s scope to planting daffodils and recruiting volunteers);
- A quite large budget! (the Conservancy founders when asked if they had a budget replied “no” yet (501(c)(3) documents filed in late April outline a four year extensive budget);
- Future stipend to their Executive Director Sarah Neilson (also a Parks Department employee – their public statements said she would receive no salary from them – which technically is true, a stipend is not a salary, however, this illuminates one more thing known to them that was kept from the public);
- Discussions concerning the Conservancy being involved in adding additional furniture and benches in the park (??);
- And, of course, there was the moving of the “hot dog” vendors “away from the Arch view corridor” and later removing of them entirely (something they still say they had nothing to do with). Thanks to public pressure, the “hot dog” vendors will be returning in the spring!
These four women were extensively coached by Parks Department officials, particularly Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro. WSP Conservancy Chairman Ely wrote in an email to the rest of the Conservancy board:
“We have to meet with Bill [Castro] before the CB [Community Board] meeting. There are too many murky areas for which we do not have answers that would satisfy public inquiry.”
The Conservancy was also coached by Community Board 2 members on how to handle themselves before the public at the C.B. meeting.
The only solution? Start over – from scratch. The “process” itself has indeed been “murky” – and corrupted. It is time to separate the affluent Conservancy members from the city’s Parks Department – an arrangement that only leads to problems: too much is decided out of public view.
Washington Square Park has never been a privatized park. For over 17 years, this amazing public space been run by an administrator who works ONLY for the city’s Parks Department. On the whole, this has worked well with a greater level of transparency and accountability. If Washington Square Park needs additional funds, let the community figure out exactly how to raise it. Let’s immediately cut the ties of the private conservancy to the park — their involvement guarantees the door will swing wide open shuffling corporate, real estate, and wealthy interests (and NYU) in! Private interests are only too eager to get their hands on Washington Square Park. It seems clear that these people will say anything to keep their private conservancy in play; at this moment, they are backtracking greatly. But it’s too late. How can we trust anything they say? They may have started out with good intentions but too many lies have been told. And Community Board 2 “leaders” are being all too willing to look the other way.
Other articles to check out:
Hot Dogs will return to the park, but questions simmer current The Villager, January 30th, 2014
Parks Department Takes a Seat Behind Nonprofit Conservancies Today’s New York Times!
*Here you can view the documents obtained by Washington Square Park Blog (new ones have been added!) uploaded to the site as well as an overview as to how the whole conservancy got pushed through:
Everything ever written at this blog on the private conservancy.