Updated – March 6, 2019
This “Murky” Private Organization Does not run this Greenwich Village park – Dubious Beginning
Above: Justine Leguizamo, Veronica Bulgari, Gwen Evans, Elizabeth “Betsey” Ely, 2013
In early 2014, after Washington Square Park Blog published secret documents exposing the lengths the newly formed private Washington Square Park Conservancy had gone to keep their true intentions from the public, Community Board 2 – instead of rolling back their “approval” of this private entity – decided to hold meetings every six months at which the organization would come before the board to “update” on their “activities.” This self-dubbed “little friends’ [of the park] group” had been “approved” after a “murky” public hearing with a split full board vote in 2013.
These semi-annual meetings happened perhaps twice before the Community Board forgot about them and a year or more went by without any updates. It was this blog which reminded them and they finally resumed the ‘practice.’ Nonetheless, this public update process has been problematic and does not seem to be accomplishing much.
One issue is that only 2 1/2 members of C.B. 2’s 13 member Parks committee are cognizant of what to look out for – the rest either are new (arriving after the contentious “approval” vote in 2013) or they think private organizations should be involved in all public parks, not recognizing the full implications of this privatization of decision-making and why the public fought back against privatizing Washington Square Park.
This public space remains one of the few larger parks not run by a private entity – this is solely due to community oversight and should be worn as a badge of honor. Core concerns of private entities getting involved in decision-making (which we see at all the privatized parks): change in use of the park, less public access, commercialization, real estate and corporate interests gaining sway, lack of transparency and accountability, and so much more. I have written extensively on this (see links below); there is more to be written.
With the appointment of park redesigner George Vellonakis one and a half years ago as the publicly-paid city Park Administrator to Washington Square Park, NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver showed a lack of awareness of the contentiousness over the Greenwich Village park’s redesign and the role Vellonakis played. Commissioner Silver should have been aware of what it meant to appoint Vellonakis as Park Administrator, employed by the New York City Parks Department. Vellonakis was also approved to be Executive Director of the Washington Square Park conservancy, following Sarah Neilson, who left under curious circumstances in the fall of 2016. This “dual role” should be considered a conflict of interest in itself due to what can be done behind the scenes by private entities without accountability to the public.
Washington Square Park remains one of the few larger parks that is not run by private entities, solely due to community push back for years. Washington Square Park Conservancy was “approved” – at the one “public hearing” in 2013 dedicated to its “formation” (the truth was it was already ‘formed’) – to operate solely as a fundraising entity – in theory.
This private organization would never have been approved if they had been forthright in their true objectives; the four founding conservancy ladies intentionally left out numerous details, evaded questions and misrepresented themselves as, basically, an innocent and clueless group of neighbors who wanted to plant daffodils and, oh, maybe “form a book club.” Their true objectives were uncovered by this blog. An organization which is formed on such shaky ground is hard to trust going forward.
Current Community Board meetings on private organization lack focus and structure
The C.B. 2 meetings where the Washington Square Park conservancy presents its “updates” lack clarity and distinction as to where the Parks Department’s role begins and ends and where the private conservancy’s does. This is due to George Vellonakis not understanding or perhaps more importantly failing to respect the issues and the Community Board’s lack of due diligence in structuring the meetings and recognizing what the issues are. The result is a failure to reign this private organization in when it goes off-course – programming events (which the four founding members said publicly they would not be doing), relocating and at one point banning the park’s “hot dog” vendors (public outcry reversed this – see archives), conducting private meetings with NYU and other corporate entities, other behind closed doors meetings and making key decisions about this iconic park, something they were never supposed to do.
The Washington Square Park Conservancy does not RUN Washington Square Park, the NYC Parks Department does, this private organization is set up to raise supplemental funds, but it is clear that it would like to do so much more, as this was their undisclosed and concealed intention from the beginning.
Please attend the next meeting (which should have been held in December but is being held in March):
C. B. 2 PARKS/ WATERFRONT Meeting, Rich Caccappolo, Chair
Wed., 3/6 @ 6:30 PM- NYU Silver Building, NYU Silver Building, 32 Waverly Pl., Room 414 [Please note that the accessible entrance is located at 31 Washington Pl.]
Update by the Washington Square Park Conservancy on recent and upcoming activities.
Start of the community input process for the design of Gansevoort Peninsula with the Hudson River Park Trust and the contractors hired by them for this project.
Previously at Washington Square Park Blog: