Bloomberg's Privatization of Washington Sq Park: NYU, Tisch, Who Else?

Phase I of the City’s extensive planned “renovation” of Washington Square Park has gone from a projected $6 million to over $13 million. The “renovation’s” TOTAL costs, once two, now three Phases, stated to be $16 million at the onset (an excessive sum to begin with), are now lurching upwards to $25-30 million.

Where will the money come from? Since most everyone believes that Washington Square Park could manage with a few repairs on a relatively minor budget, it seems like a tailor made scheme for future privatization of the Park. Will a private conservancy be put into place to further control and manipulate this park? The Park’s redesign aims to change everything about its past – why not that?

Of course, the elephant in the room is New York University whose advertising pitches and promotional materials all feature Washington Square Park’s Arch (a public space, last we checked) larger than life. On the subway the other day, I saw five ads across the car for NYU’s School of Continuing Professional Studies — the Arch was bigger than anything else in the ad.

NYU is throwing in $1 million thus far for the “renovation” of the Park despite their insistence that they are “not involved.”  The University even sent a letter last year from their Community Affairs office to their “neighbors.”  It stated that “the University believes it [the Park] has been in need of renovation for some time” … “though NYU had no hand in the specifics of the Park’s redesign.” ??

NYU’s $1 million is an amazingly small sum towards this spot that they claim as their own and use in all their advertising and as the site of their graduation ceremony. Anything more and perhaps it would look like they had too much control, eh?

But since Mayor Bloomberg and NYU President John Sexton are such good friends — and Sexton’s endless expansion of NYU through our city’s neighborhoods has been bolstered by Mayor Bloomberg’s “policies” … the destruction of the fabric of communities is what Mayor Bloomberg likes because then his rich yet bland vision of NYC is further realized — there’s definitely some behind-the-scenes negotiating going on here.

Then there’s the Tisch Family who clearly believe there can’t be enough structures with their name on it — who forked over a nominal $2.5 million towards the reconstruction of the historic circular fountain guaranteeing them the naming rights and the aligning of the fountain with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. Soon it will be unveiled as the TISCH FOUNTAIN; a plaque on each side. (Whether anyone will actually call it that or be cool with that plaque’s existence is another story.)

Who exactly is negotiating these deals? Parks Commissioner Benepe? If you’re going to sell off one of the most famous and beloved spots in New York City at least do a good deal.

With the Park’s redesign costs skyrocketing out of control, will the City ultimately commission other corporate naming rights within the Park? The JP Morgan Chase Garibaldi Statue perhaps?


* Updated and revised version of a post originally published February 29th, 2008 *

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