Updated 8:01 p.m.
Remember Hot Dog-gate (Wiener gate?) with Removal of Park “Hot Dog” Vendors? An Update
In Fall of 2013, this blog revealed that a newly-formed private conservancy group at Washington Square Park was operating months prior to coming before Community Board 2 for approval of its “formation.” At its very first meeting in March of 2013, the four founding socialites instructed their executive director in behind-the-scenes discussions to work on relocating the park “hot dog” vendors — “away from the Arch view corridor”– and to find “new and different” vendors. This despite the fact that they had no such authority to do so.
It was later revealed that the “hot dog” vendors were being “banned” entirely. As this became public, the Washington Square Park Conservancy and the city Parks Department denied the private group’s involvement – but the emails tell the story. After mass media coverage and protests occurred, the Parks Department reversed the course and agreed to reinstate the hot dog food vendors.
In June 2014, two vendors re-appeared on the Fountain Plaza but then mysteriously kept appearing and disappearing.
One “Hot Dog” Vendor Returns Two Weeks Ago, No More Mario Batali Cart
After a long absence, one “hot dog” food & beverage cart has returned to the Fountain Plaza East to be joined later this summer by another “specialty food cart.” (“Hot dog” cart has never been entirely accurate since beverages, pretzels, nuts and ice cream are also typically sold.)
Mario Batali’s GelOtto cart (previously at NorthEast corner at the park) will not be returning. New York Dosas (vegan South Indian food) and Melt (ice cream cookie sandwiches) will be the other park vendors.
Fountain Plaza Once had Four Hot Dog Vendors, New Vendor coming to offer “Different Culinary Experience”
At a Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting in February of this year, Glen Kaylan from the Parks Department Concessions Division spoke about the vendor situation at the park. He said, “We are restoring two mobile food carts at the fountain area. We have decided as opposed to two hot dog carts to have one hot dog cart.” He stated that the other cart will be “a specialty food cart” with healthier items such as fruit and dried fruit “to offer a different culinary experience.”
“Going years back, there were four carts at the plaza. When we renewed, there was push back because the plaza had been reconstructed.” (Ed. note: and shrunk.) Fast forward to last year after the upheaval around the removal and agreement to reinstate the vendors: “Last April, we received 10 bids. The highest bidder was $250,000. Ultimately, [they] did not go forward with the contract.” He said they gave as the reason that “Parks [Department] changed the menu items,” having to offer the healthier items [which they say hurt their business]. (Really, they just added Froz Fruit and Coconut Water.)
It actually appears they bid too high to maintain. The length of the contract is five years.
Washington Square Park Administrator Sarah Neilson said at the meeting earlier this year that a few vendors cycled through last year: “We thought the first one would work out, then [that] the 2nd one would work out, while working on the third, all the others pulled out.”
New York Dosas contract goes through 2018. Melt, which arrived at the park last year, goes for four more years. Mario Batali’s Gelotto “decided not to continue,” per the Parks Department and they “will not renew that cart [location].” The other specialty food cart on the Fountain Plaza will arrive at some point over the summer.
As far as the push for “healthier” food items, Neilson stated “Every single park is being asked to comply with this.”
Private group, Behind-the-scenes Discussions, and Problems with “dual role”
Sarah Neilson has what is termed a “dual role” acting as Executive Director of the private Washington Square Park Conservancy as well as Park Administrator, working for the city Parks Department. At a “public hearing” about its “formation” in June 2013, the private group proclaimed it was just “a little friends [of] group;” the founders stated they only used the word “conservancy” in the name “because every other name [we looked at] was taken.”
Four wealthy women formed the group meeting in secret with Parks Department higher ups for over two years, hiding information from – and withholding inclusion of – the public in order to push through Community Board “approval.”
FOIL (Freedom of Information Letter) documents uncovered by this blog revealed how information was concealed and obscured from the public to garner this approval; information that should have led to a review and roll-back of the group. But under former Community Board 2 Chair David Gruber and current Parks Committee Chair Rich Caccappolo, this did not happen. The group says it is just working to raise money and corral volunteers at the park. FOIL documents showed the intent to do more.
For a refresher on some of what was withheld from the public, click here.
The incriminating meeting minutes above. The previous location of the vendors below. One was north of the Fountain, the other south of the Fountain. The locations actually blended in better for the park lay-out but the affluent women’s wishes prevailed and the vendors remain east-west of the Fountain. (Right now, the new vendor is to the east of the Fountain.)