New Seating Installed Near Garibaldi Statue | Washington Square Park

Installed to “Discourage Skateboarding” – Paid for by private entity

New seating – in the form of “bistro tables” – was installed last week next to Garibaldi Statue at Washington Square Park. The purpose of this seating is stated to “dissuade skateboarders.” People took to using the tables immediately. They were first discussed by Park Administrator George Vellonakis last June at a Community Board meeting addressing Washington Square Park Conservancy.

There were picnic tables at one time in this location. When this blog asked park redesigner Vellonakis, during Phase II construction, about reinstalling the picnic tables there at some point, he responded that would be easy to do.

As it was –

Picnic tables in previous design

Instead they went with “bistro tables.”

Did the Parks Department get a Bulk Discount on These “Bistro Tables?” – Used Citywide

I also saw these tables outside Brooklyn Borough Hall recently and at least one other Manhattan park.

Brooklyn Borough Hall

Private Conservancy Paying for Things City Parks Department Used to

At a Community Board meeting last June discussing the private Washington Square Park Conservancy — which does not run the park — these “bistro tables” were discussed by George Vellonakis as a “future project.”

conservancy slide

The “Two Hats” Confuse the Issue

Vellonakis now wears two “hats” – one as the publicly paid Park Administrator for the NYC Parks Department, and one “hat” as Executive Director of the private Washington Square Park Conservancy. (Note: this “dual role” *should be* a conflict of interest.) Vellonakis was also the park’s controversial redesigner, hired in 2017 in an administrative position.

In the past (meaning for decades), the city Parks Department would fund this item. The larger issue is who is making the decisions. Yet there is no reason the Parks Department could not be paying for these tables (especially if they got a bulk rate). The more the Parks Department shifts onto the conservancy, the larger role they will gain — with access comes decision making over this public park.

Vellonakis at times forgets (?) to switch ‘hats’ and does NYC publicly-funded Parks Department business while wearing his private “conservancy” hat.

In the private group’s hidden (from the public) non-profit 501(c)(3) filing for New York State uncovered by Washington Square Park Blog, the four affluent conservancy founding members outlined a lot of information and their plans – when called on it, they later denied they would be doing any of it. One of these items was “furniture” for the park. Other items discovered: plans for extensive programming including film festivals and theatrical productions for “park patrons,” one of the founders had secret meetings with NYU, they relocated – and then banned – the park’s “hot dog” food cart vendors before the community even knew about this private group’s existence, and planned to secure a license agreement to run the park. When asked by The Villager, Elizabeth Ely said that this was “a joke.” (Of course, this is something we all joke about in emails.)

The private group’s stated mission is to raise funds to keep Washington Square Park “safe, clean and beautiful.” Not surprisingly, all the items the conservancy ladies — Elizabeth “Betsey” Ely, Gwen Evans, Veronica Bulgari and Justine Leguizamo — denied they would do, such as “programing” at the park, they increasingly seem to be doing. And no one, thus far, has stepped in to stop them.

Each individual item might not seem like much, however put it all together and you have another indication of the slippery slope and “mission creep.”

If you are not up to speed on the continually unfolding saga of this private conservancy which was formed in secret and revealed to the public via this very “murky” “process,” visit this page.

Washington Square Park remains one of the few larger Manhattan parks still run by the NYC Parks Department. Many are run by private entities which have “license agreements” with the city (see: Bryant Park, Madison Square Park, Central Park). The community fought for this park to remain very much public.

I will attempt to outline the larger issues further in a future post. The larger issues are not about these tables.

Some history of the Garibaldi statue’s location

Garibaldi previous location under construction

A move of the Giuseppe Garibaldi statue was included in the controversial redesign plan of the park (primary construction took place late 2007-2014+), relocating it from its previous location slightly to the east and facing west – a decision ironically made by Vellonakis, then the park’s redesigner. No skateboarding occurred on the statue to my knowledge previously. Sometimes when you fiddle with things unnecessarily there are unintended consequences.

So, what do you think of the bistro tables?

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Photos: Cathryn

Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:

Private Conservancy Watch

Garibaldi Uncloaked, Unscaffolded and Restored! Barring Last Minute Setbacks, Eastern End of Park to Open Soon May 25, 2011

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