Updated 8:41 p.m.
No Food Cart Vendors Near the “Arch View Corridor”
Locations Have Been Moved Around – With Mixed Results – Vendors Now Offer “Healthy Options”
Ah, the saga of the “hot dog” vendors at Washington Square Park. In November, this blog reported that a private group formed behind closed doors — which was supposed to have zero input into any park decisions — had requested that the park’s food cart vendors be “moved away from the Arch view corridor” and that “new and different vendors” should be put in place at this public park. The New York Post picked up on this, public outrage grew, a rally was held, boatloads of media coverage ensued, and at the beginning of this year, word was received from the city’s Parks Department that the “hot dog” vendors would be allowed to return to the park. Victory! A Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued, bids were due in April, and the vendors, which don’t look that different from the ‘old’ vendors, are now back as of this weekend.
The one change is the addition of “healthy options” to the carts which could have gone very many ways — nothing against “healthy” by any means – it’s the principle and preventing the sanitization of the park. In this case, it includes the addition to the menu of Coconut Water, Vitamin Water, and maybe FrozFruit is considered in there too.
Of course, even the moving of the vendors to new locations is controversial. For the longest time, the vendors were north and south of the Fountain. The Washington Square Park conservancy (“we’re not really a conservancy”) ladies are supposed to have no input whatsoever into any decisions at the park. This gets tricky when the “Executive Director” of the private group, Sarah Neilson, is also the park’s Administrator working for the city. They instructed Neilson in meeting minutes to move the vendors “away from the Arch view corridor.” The vendors were then moved East and West of the Fountain.
After I received FOIL documents related to the conservancy, I compared photos and realized one month later the vendors had been moved to new locations!
You might ask … who refers to this as the “Arch view corridor?” Redesigner George Vellonakis, that’s who. “Chairman” Elizabeth Ely confirmed this to the New York Post in early December:
“We got some word from our neighbors that [the hot-dog vendors] were unsightly,” said [Veronica] 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.
About the decision, Street Vendor Project’s Sean Basinski, who worked with the food cart vendors to keep them in the park, said, “We are very happy to see the hot dog vendors back in Washington Square Park. We hope the Parks Department will work with them so they can serve the community for years to come.”
As far as these locations for the food carts, the location on the Eastern side just doesn’t work. It’s way too cluttered and it actually blocks what was a nice view. The other vendor is now back south of the Arch although I believe he’s been moved back further and that’s a little cluttered too. The location by the Arch was very unobtrusive and bothered basically no one, except for the conservancy ladies and, um, a few of their Fifth Avenue neighbors.
This decision to move and ultimately banish the vendors took place months before this private group even came before Community Board 2 in June for “approval.” It was at their very first meeting in March of 2013. At that time, the conservancy ladies directed Neilson to switch things up.
But then came FOIL documents which revealed the whole “murky” business, outrage ensued, and for once, in what can sometimes feel like a city that offers few victories to its people, public sentiment swayed policy at a very public park.
Many thanks to everyone who spoke up, wrote, tweeted, media who covered the issue, people who came to the rally – residents & vendors & NYC Park Advocates. And thanks to the Street Vendor Project who coordinated the protest at the park with this blog in December.
Previously at Washington Square Park Blog: