In September Crain's New York Business reported that the food trucks parked at Tavern on the Green's terrace would be packing up by Oct. 15, when their temporary lease expired and the city said it would not be renewing the leases for a second year. There were originally four trucks that won bids to operate at Tavern: Rickshaw Dumpling, Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, Pera Turkish Taco and Ladle of Love. The latter left earlier this summer because owner, Leslie Lampert, said she was not making enough money at the site. In recent weeks, Rickshaw Dumpling has been an infrequent presence at Tavern, showing up mostly on the weekends when it's busier.
According to the city's new Request For Proposals issued yesterday the parks department is seeking proposals that "should make creative use of the space, keeping in mind that Parks envisions Tavern on the Green as a destination for everyday visitors to the park, with a vibrant bar scene and high quality, casual dining options." The City is making substantial capital improvements and expects the restaurant to open in 2013.
The City has lost millions of dollars since Mayor Bloomberg rejected a bid proposal by former Tavern owner Jennifer LeRoy that promised $30 million more than Dean Poll who was awarded the new concession despite past financial improprieties with another Central Park concession.
The city put out a long-awaited call for a new operator for the shuttered Tavern on the Green restaurant on Thursday, which will transform what was once a fine-dining cash cow into a casual eatery with a significantly reduced footprint, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The request is for a moderately priced restaurant, outdoor cafe and bar in Central Park. Tavern on the Green was one of the nation's highest-grossing independent restaurants until the restaurant's previous owners filed for bankruptcy and closed two years ago.
The new operator will be required to use the name "Tavern on the Green," for which the city owns the federal trademark registration.
According to the request for proposals issued by the Department of Parks & Recreation, plans involve substantially reducing the restaurant's size to about 10,320-square-feet, along with nearly 12,000 square feet of terrace space.
The former fine-dining restaurant was 25,000 square feet, including the famed Crystal Room, which the city dismantled last year.
The city's powerful New York Hotel Trades Council, or Local 6, which represented the former Tavern employees, will likely hold considerable sway in the process.
"We will factor harmonious labor relations into the decision-making process," said a spokesman for the Parks Department in an email.
In 2009 the city awarded the operating license for Tavern to restaurateur Dean J. Poll, who also operates Central Park's Boathouse restaurant. The deal fell apart in the spring of 2010 after Mr. Poll and the union couldn't reach a labor agreement. Since then the building has served as a gift shop and visitors center; four food trucks had also served food in a courtyard there for one year but their contracts weren't extended last month.
The current request for proposals says that each plan should include "a detailed description of any labor issues experienced in [the applicant's] restaurants."
"Respondents that can show experience with harmonious labor relations or a lack of negative labor issues will be preferred, as will respondents that show a likelihood of labor relations in this concession," the request says.
Josh Gold, a political director of Local 6, said he couldn't comment on the specifics of the process since he hadn't seen it. In an email he said he was "excited that the City is looking to reopen Tavern," as it's been closed for too long.
The delay in issuing a request for proposals was highlighted in an audit issued by the city comptroller's office earlier this month. The audit said the failure to have an operator resulted in a loss of $2.2 million in concession revenue, in addition to a loss of $3.7 million in state and city sales tax.
The city's parks department called the audit "inaccurate" and "misleading."
The city began substantial infrastructure improvements to Tavern on the Green this fall. It expects the new operator to spend a significant amount of money in capital improvements and hopes to have a restaurant running by 2013.
A site meeting and tour for interested restaurateurs will be held on Feb. 1 and proposals are due March 30.
The Wall Street Journal - December 30, 2011 - By Sumathi Reddy
A Walk In The Park - December 6, 2011
A Walk In The Park - November 4, 2011
Crain's New York Business - September 22, 2011 - By Lisa Fickenscher
A Walk In The Park - June 14, 2010