The Long Con: Washington Square Private Conservancy Attempting to Program Park & More – Part I

Betsey Ely, Conservancy founding member & Chairman, at a C.B. 2 meeting

In June of 2013, the four founding members of what would then become Washington Square Park Conservancy came before Community Board 2’s Parks Committee for a “public hearing” in order to get “approval” for their group. Community members had long stated they did not want and fought back against a private conservancy at Washington Square Park. Once word got out that this group had been formed behind closed doors with no public input, it was met with skepticism and concern.

When the four founders at last came before C.B.2, their stance was to reveal as little as possible. They clearly had been coached to do so. They professed that they didn’t know what they were doing, they were just a “little friends’ [of the park] group.” Maybe they’d form a book club. (Yes, they really said that.) For them, it was about planting flowers and corralling volunteers and not much else. They said they didn’t have any financial information or concrete plans to show.

It was not until Washington Square Park Blog uncovered emails and other documents that it was exposed that this was not the case all along. The affluent ladies held back mountains of information from the Board and the public that they had outlined in their 501(c)3 documents submitted to New York State.

Unfortunately, Community Board 2’s Parks Committee was all too willing to look the other way and “approve” this private group without any information or documentation – the only member of the committee who asked for more information and voted against this private conservancy was Sharon Woolums – the sole vote against approval. Later that month, this came before the full Community Board where members were more skeptical and although there was a ‘split vote,’ it was still approved.

Sarah Neilson 2014 addressing community concerns re: conservancy

Washington Square Park Conservancy does not run Washington Square Park – unlike other park conservancies which have been given authority to do so – the park remains run and managed by the city’s Parks Department which, at least in theory, requires public participation in decisions around the park. However, it was recently revealed via a Gothamist article, Mission Creep: Emails Show how Wealthy Donors Exerted Influence Over Washington Square Park, that Washington Square Park Conservancy has been overstepping every which way – as anyone involved at the onset could have predicted.

Will Morrison, WSP Park Administrator, December 2020

Gothamist laid out how WSP’s Park Administrator, Will Morrison, employed by the city’s Parks Department, would jump when Washington Square Park private conservancy Chairman Betsey Ely expressed any concern at the park. It is not supposed to be the case that a city agency is influenced by one private individual or entity because they have purse string ties to a public space.

Conservancy and Parks Department Deny Any ‘Overstepping’

In 2021, the group raised $336,000 toward that effort, providing grants to the city that funded two gardeners, two maintenance workers, and a playground associate. The conservancy is currently hiring its own “program manager” to plan events aimed at kids and senior citizens. [WSP Blog Note: This is yet another untruth and misrepresentation.]

“Within our community area, we offer a wide range of free public programming open to all, with activities for kids and adults of all ages from fitness to art, working to deliver something for everyone that spends time in Washington Square Park,” Woodruff said

WSP Blog will next delve into a further installment as far as how egregiously incorrect the above statement by WSP Conservancy’s Sheryl Woodruff – who came from Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation – was, next.

Community Board 2 At Last Responds to Recent Concerns

Please join in for this meeting next Wednesday, May 4th of the Community Board on Washington Square Park Conservancy.

Community Board 2 PARKS & WATERFRONT Committee Meeting

Rich Caccappolo, Chair
Wed., May 4th 6:30 PM – Meeting Access via Videoconference

  1. *Update by the Washington Square Park Conservancy on recent and upcoming activities.

Please register using the link below:

Stay tuned for Part II in this series.

Related Information at WSP Blog & Elsewhere:

Wash Post goes ‘square’New York Post, 2013

Highlights from Gothamist Article — Mission Creep: Emails Show how Wealthy Donors Exerted Influence Over Washington Square Park, April 2022

“Murky” private entity encroaching on a public space: Private Conservancy Watch

Documentation: What was Concealed in Public Statements by Washington Square Park Private Conservancy Founders

Community Board 2’s resolution “approving” Washington Square Park Conservancy

This week’s Villager: Conservancy, C.B. 2 feel unmitigated heat at very tense meeting March 14, 2014

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