Updated 6:11 p.m.
CONservancy? Intent to Privatize Washington Square Park Confirmed With Newly Obtained Documents
Private Conservancy Group Colluded with Parks Department Officials to Withhold Critical Information from Community to Push Through Board “Approval”
NYU’s $500,000 “Gift to the Park,” Future Licensing Agreement and Other Known Plans Never Revealed to the Public At Meetings
In mid-June of 2013, Manhattan’s Community Board 2 voted to “approve” a private body, the Washington Square Park Conservancy, to help, in the Board’s words, “raise funds and organize volunteers around Washington Square Park.” The Board, in its vote, overruled requests from elected officials, members of C.B.2, and community members to hold off on voting and allow time for review of information that had not been provided — such as bylaws, budgets, incorporation papers.
For years, the community and park users said no to a Conservancy-type organization at famous and beloved Washington Square Park.
So, how exactly did this privatization push pass through the Community Board mechanisms?
Documents uncovered by Washington Square Park Blog reveal that the Washington Square Park Conservancy founders were coached by members of Community Board 2 and by City Parks Department officials on what to say, and, more importantly perhaps, what not to say before the Board’s two meetings, held within two weeks of each other, which would determine C.B.2 approval or rejection. Board approval opened the door to what amounts to a takeover of the park: the handing over of control of Washington Square Park based on inaccurate and incomplete statements by the Parks Department and the private conservancy members.
Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Bill Castro emerges as a key figure – Commissioner Castro knew that the idea of a Conservancy-type organization at Washington Square Park had been voted down many times over the last 15 years. The community expressed concerns over New York University Inc. gaining control over Washington Square Park — the corporation continues to feature the Park’s famed Arch in its advertising, as though it were their own — as well as other corporate entities looming.
Would the community prevail over private, commercial and real estate interests scheming to exert influence over who controls the Park?
Former New York City Council Member Alan Gerson represented the District containing Washington Square Park from 2002-2009. During meetings around the Park’s controversial redesign, at which the aforementioned Bill Castro was often present, Gerson confirmed that it was “absolutely” clear to Parks Department officials that IF a Conservancy were to be considered at Washington Square Park, the process by which this came into being would need to be vetted: it would be “an open and transparent process, subject to community input and normal oversight.”
After all, the Board had been repeatedly lied to by the Parks Department about the years of construction, costs and look of the park. Questions have long been raised over NYU Inc.’s influence on the Park’s (and neighborhood’s) bohemian character and radical history. Yet, some on the Community Board didn’t seem to grasp these concerns. Nor did they understand why, when private conservancies had been proposed for the Park previously, they had been rejected by the community.
To avoid any “open and transparent process,” Parks Department official Bill Castro just waited a few years for a more compliant Board, now chaired by real estate broker, David Gruber.
During the (only) two meetings devoted to evaluation by the Board, both the Conservancy and the Parks Department concealed the fact that NYU, which is gobbling up huge chunks of the Village, had become a major player in the financial make-up of the Conservancy. They knew how inappropriate this would seem to Board members, some of the board members are deeply involved in the fight against NYU Inc., the leviathan in the Village. One Board member said, “I am concerned about NYU. When you give money, you have control. What about NYU?”
NYU has secretly contributed $500,000 as a “gift to the Park,” which the Parks Department decided to funnel into the private hands of the Conservancy. New York University’s “gift to the Park” was known to Parks Department officials and the Conservancy; yet when asked about NYU’s connection, they scoffed at the possibility and failed to disclose NYU’s involvement.
NYU’s concealed involvement, the Parks Department’s role in that, and Board officials’ hidden collusion with the Conservancy prior to their testimony are grounds for rejection of the Washington Square Park Conservancy and merits further investigation by elected officials.
Next in series:
Bloomberg’s Parks Department to NYC: Privatize! | City Conspires to Legitimize Private Conservancy at Washington Sq Park Before New Mayor Steps In, Withholds Critical Info from Public: PART II
Hot Dog! Private Conservancy Secrets: Food Cart Vendors Vanishing, $5 “Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches” On Way, Mario Batali & More at Washington Sq Park: Part III
Previously at WSP Blog: