Monday, December 6, 2010

Design Firm Offers Up Vision For Union Square's Children's Pavilion - Without Kids


Interior. Children's Pavilion? BNOdesign envisions the space not as what's needed in the communty but instead as another restaurant. All that time and energy put into these designs makes one wonder what delights the firm could have come up with if they put their efforts into creating a design that served the community instead. Despite strong community opposition, the Union Square Partnership and the City are attempting to install a seasonal restaurant in the historic pavilion.

Performers in the pavilion, sponsored by the Union Square Community Coalition - early 1980's.

On its website, design Firm BNO asks if you've ever wondered what's going to happen with that wonderful classic building on the north end of Union Square Park in New York City? BNOdesign came up with what they describe as a "romantic, yet informal, restaurant idea for the space. Not only will it compliment the local neighborhood, it will also create an elegant dining experience in the middle of the park."

Apparently the firm is unaware or doesn't care that the community is dead set against using the Children's Pavilion for a restaurant. As is widely known, the community wants the pavilion renovated and restored to its former use as a sheltered, indoor recreation center that serves a variety of year-round recreation and free public uses. The area around Union Square Park has the lowest amount of playground space and the Highest concentration of restaurants in the entire city. In CB 5 there are only two playgrounds but there are more than 150 eating establishments, bars and markets within just a two block radius of the park. The pavilion and adjacent playgrounds have played an important role in the lives of countless children. For more than 130 years, the park‘s pavilions have served many functions - a playspace for children, a bandstand, a reviewing stand, a speakers’ rostrum, and as a focal point for labor rallies and social protests.

Unlike Manhattan's other pavilion in Columbus Park which was handsomely restored and given back to the neighborhood for community activities the anonymous donor and a BID are being allowed to dictate public land use policies. They have spent millions of dollars attempting to take away and privatize much needed public space from the community.

BNOdesign says that their project design, "is solely conceptual and is not in any way related to current decisions for the Union Square space."

The pavillion Is being rehabilitated by the architecture firm Architecture Research Office (ARO). According to a Nov. 6, 2006 agreement with the Parks Dept, the architecture firm ARO has billed $566, 680, and expects $677, 103 more, as January 2007.

According to ARO principal Stephen Cassell, the firm expanded the basement level to make offices for parks employees and relocate the restaurant's kitchens below ground. The restaurant design however has never been released.

Parks Department spokesman Philip Abramson was apparently confused recently when he explained why or how the playground was expanded. "By relocating a concession to the pavilion, Mr. Abramson told Washington Square News, "we were able to triple the size of the outdoor play area." What he didn't mention was that the original plan moved the restaurant into the pavilion but expanded playground space in the park by just 14%. Due to intense community pressure the Bloomberg administration finally bowed and not only changed the plan from a year -round to a seasonal restaurant, but an inappropriate outdoor concession terrace and poor design which put users into a pit - was also changed. This decision finally freed up the entire space in front of the pavilion and enabled the playground to be expanded.

Another issue is the City's intent of limiting demonstrations and events in the North End of the park: Due to its configuration and size the north end of the park has historically accommodated large gatherings of people for many reasons including protests demonstrations and rallies. The BID and City's plan is also expected to impede on the parks' historic first amendment and free space role in the Northern Plaza as the City will be less inclined to issue permits for large gatherings in order to protect the commercial interests of the restaurant. It is this important role which served as one of the main reasons why the park was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997. The city has attempted to all shift demonstrations to the South side of the park which is not ideal for a number of reasons.

The Parks Department closed the RFP responses in August 2010 but has not yet announced who they are awarding the concession to. Danny Meyer has promised he will not seek to benefit from the restaurant, however Union Square Partnership (BID) Secretary Eric Petterson, from the Gotham City Restaurant Group, has not publicly recused himself from bidding on the project. Mr. Petterson ran the Luna Cafe which occupied the sunken terrace in front of the pavilion for twelve years.
– Geoffrey Croft

Exterior. Pavilion - Looking South. This is how BNOdesign envisions the design and usage of the historic pavilion.

Union Square - North End. October 2, 2002. Thousands attend a free concert in honor of the late John Lennon.
Union Square - North End. The city has attempted to all shift demonstrations and major events to the south side of the park which is not ideal for a number of reasons.

Playground equipment in the sunken terrace, circa 1985. The BID and the City have tried to claim this area as new playground space when in fact they are restoring what was taken away by the seasonal Luna cafe for twelve years.

Read More:

Washington Square News - December 8, 2010 - by Jaewon Kang

Here's What the Controversial Union Sq. Restaurant Might Look Like

Curbed - December 3, 2010 - by Joey Arak

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