Washington Square Park Conservancy’s Golden Swan Debacle

Golden Swan Garden – Bob Gormley via Village Sun

In June 2013, Washington Square Park Conservancy was “approved” by Community Board 2 in a contentious split-vote. One of the points of the Board’s resolution stated that it “encourages the WSPC, once it establishes itself, to support other smaller parks in the city that do not have equally dynamic fundraising abilities or infrastructure.”

It only took nine years for this to happen and then it backfired dramatically.

Per a recent article from The Village Sun, Washington Square Park Conservancy – private entity which does not run or manage Washington Square Park – recently ‘took on’ Golden Swan Garden, located at West 4th Street and Sixth Avenue, for sprucing up.

CB2 District Manager Bob Gormley, right before his July retirement, provided a glowing quote stating how amazing the garden looked in his opinion. Four months later, Conservancy p.r. sent out a release including this quote. (I don’t know if District Managers should be including quotes for press releases but there you go.)

The Village Sun touted this supposed accomplishment after receiving the release in late October. When Bob Gormley saw the piece, having walked by and seeing the park in disarray, he was like, hey wait a minute. He commented which led to this follow up piece. It’s priceless and fitting of how this private organization works.

From The Village Sun:

It was a feel-good story…or so it seemed: The Washington Square Park Conservancy had branched out from the eponymous park and pitched in to spruce up the downtrodden Golden Swan Garden one block away, which had been dumped on, literally — in every sense of the word. The park, which had become an open-air toilet, was now to be open and inviting once again.

However, a few days after The Village Sun’s report (which was based on a press release from the conservancy) at the end of last month, Bob Gormley, who recently retired after 16 years as district manager of Community Board 2, happened to be strolling by the garden and was shocked to see it both locked during the day and littered. He e-mailed photos to the newspaper of the sorry scene.

“I just took this photo,” he told us. “Garden still locked and still full of litter. I don’t understand why they would send a press release when the park looks so awful. Also, the stone tablet with the Eugene O’Neill item has been knocked over.” …

Ironically, a glowing quote from Gormley was even included in the aforementioned press release.

“The good work of the Parks Department and the Washington Square Park Conservancy has transformed Golden Swan Garden from an eyesore into an oasis,” Gormley gushed in the press release. “It’s a community gem.”

However, he told The Village Sun he recalled giving that quote a few months ago, and that now he actually wishes he could retract it because the garden is not living up to the new hype.

Grace Harman, the conservancy’s communications manager, assured that the organization is working with the Parks Department to bring the garden “back up to standard”…again.

“As the press release mentioned, this is an ongoing process,” she said. “While the spruce-up helped quite a bit, it was never going to be one and done. Tackling physical issues also doesn’t fully solve the social issues that we run into across the entire neighborhood. We’re currently working with NYC Parks to establish a plan to address Golden Swan’s needs and how we can work in partnership to meet them. The plan is for WSPC to continue deploying volunteers, purchase supplies and fund staffing as needed to bring the space back up to standard.”

Gormley stepped down from his staff post at C.B. 2 at the end of the summer without hoopla, having said beforehand that he planned to make a low-key “Irish exit.”

CB2’s June 20, 2013 resolution on Washington Square Park Conservancy.

Oh and the Golden Swan Garden is named after a famous saloon. Who knew?

More background here from the Parks Department.

Photo: Bob Gormley via The Village Sun

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