Friday, January 28, 2011

Central Park Boathouse Restaurant Workers Charge Hostile Work Environment

"They treat us like animals in that place," said Alejandra Betancourt, a banquet waiter who is still employed there. "Many times, we work double shifts from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., but they don't even give us decent meals to eat or proper work breaks, or pay us all our overtime."

Ex-Boathouse Restaurant workers Francisco Labayen and Frankie Palaquachizo with recorders they used to secretly tape conversations at work they say prove hostile work environment.
Ex-Boathouse Restaurant workers Francisco Labayen and Frankie Palaquachizo with recorders they used to secretly tape conversations at work they say prove hostile work environment. In 1993, a U.S. appellate court ruled that Poll illegally fired a waiter at one of his Long Island restaurants after he overheard the worker complaining about the poor tips he was receiving. (Photo: Branch Price for NY Daily News)


Employees at the iconic Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park have been secretly taping their bosses.

Fed up with their treatment by management, dozens of waiters and dishwashers have been reporting to work for the past year armed with miniature cassette recorders and have taped hundreds of workplace conversations, according to the New York Daily News.

"These tapes and transcripts provide irrefutable proof that the Boathouse Restaurant has repeatedly violated federal labor laws," said Peter Ward, president of Local 6 of the hotel and restaurant workers union.

Restaurant owner Dean Poll can be heard on several of the tapes warning his employees that if they vote for a union he "will go out of business."

A dozen workers claimed Thursday in interviews with the Daily News that supervisors routinely threatened and retaliated against them for trying to organize a union.

On Tuesday, Poll suddenly dismissed 16 workers - all supporters of the union campaign.

The restaurant normally employs about 100 people in the winter and up to 200 during the spring and summer.

"They told us we were terminated because they have a new policy of bringing in agency workers," said Francisco Labayen, a banquet waiter who regularly wore a wire to work.

Local 6 responded to those firings by formally petitioning for a union election Thursday to the National Labor Relations Board. Ward wants investigators from the federal agency to listen to the audiotapes for themselves and sanction Poll for a host of unfair labor practices.

A picture of the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park.

The restaurant grosses more than $18 million annually. With it, Poll has a virtual monopoly on dining in the most famous park in America and also operates the boating and bicycle concession in the park.

He is a restaurant owner, however, with a history of labor problems.

Last year, he won a license from the Parks Department to take over the old Tavern on the Green restaurant, but the Bloomberg administration quickly revoked the license after Poll failed to reach a labor agreement with Local 6, which had represented the old Tavern on the Green workers. Ward now wants Donald Trump to take over Tavern on the Green.

A 2007 audit of the Boathouse operations by then-city Controller William Thompson found that Poll had underreported more than $2.3 million in revenues to the city over a two-year period.

During that time, the restaurant claimed more than $1.3 million in banquet tips as an expense, but could provide no proof that it actually passed those tips on to its employees.

In 1993, a U.S. appellate court ruled that Poll illegally fired a waiter at one of his Long Island restaurants after he overheard the worker complaining about the poor tips he was receiving.

Read More:

New York Daily News - January 28, 2011 - By Juan Gonzalez

A Walk In The Park - November 19, 2010 - By Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - October 15, 2011

A Walk In The Park - June 14, 2010

Governor Cuomo Nominates New State Park Head


Governor Cuomo Nominates Rose Harvey as Commissioner of Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the nomination of Rose H. Harvey as commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

"Rose Harvey's experience and knowledge as well as her expertise creating countless cost-effective parks, playgrounds and open spaces in underserved communities with efficiency makes her the person we need to lead this agency," Governor Cuomo said. "I thank her for her public service and look forward to working with her."

Currently, Ms. Harvey is a senior fellow at the Jonathan Rose Companies, where she acts as an advisor and researcher on parks and open space issues, and launched a non-profit organization to fund, design and develop safe, well-managed parks in urban neighborhoods. She was also recently a McCluskey Fellow and Lecturer at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

For 27 years, Ms. Harvey held multiple leadership positions with The Trust for Public Land, most recently as Senior Vice President and National Director of Urban Programs. There, she oversaw all real estate acquisitions, urban park design and developments, managed the finances of a $20 million annual operating budget, and closed between $50 and $75 million worth of land and parks transactions each year across 8 states – a total of nearly $1 billion and more than a thousand new and enhanced parks, gardens and playgrounds in underserved neighborhoods in New York City, Newark, N.J. and Baltimore. She has also established large landscape woodlands and natural areas throughout New York State and the Mid-Atlantic region.

Ms. Harvey began her tenure in the parks and open space arena as the Assistant Director for Conservation Easement at the Maryland Environmental Trust, where she negotiated protections of private lands holding environmental significance.

Ms. Harvey received her B.A. from Colorado College in 1977 and M.E.S. at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in 1984. She currently serves on the Board of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Yale Leadership Advisory Council. In the past she has served on many conservation organizations, including the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Hudson River Institute and Walsh Park Low Income Housing. In addition to multiple state and national awards for her environmental stewardship and advocacy for open space and parks, Ms. Harvey has written multiple articles and op/eds in numerous national media outlets and industry trade journals.

Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky, M.D., Chair of the New York State Council of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said, "Ms. Harvey has been key to many of the great additions to state parks of the past 20 years. I look forward to working with her to foster strong private-public partnerships that protect and enhance New York's parks, open spaces and heritage. I am also deeply committed to working with Governor Cuomo's administration in preserving our state's recreational landscapes and natural resources."

Frances Beinecke, President of Natural Resource Defense Council, said, "Ms. Harvey's decades of experience in creating hundreds of parks and thousands of acres of open space makes her the perfect choice to lead New York's agency tasked with protecting and preserving public land. I applaud Governor Cuomo for selecting such a dedicated professional.

Ned Sullivan, President of Scenic Hudson, said, "Rose Harvey brings to this critical job sterling credentials and experience in land conservation and in creating and managing urban gardens and parks. Governor Cuomo has selected an outstanding candidate to help him implement his broad reform agenda and to meet the state's responsibilities as steward of our unparalleled parkland."

Kim Elliman, CEO of the Open Space Institute, said, "Rose brings an unparalleled passion for providing all New Yorkers with access to parks and open space. Throughout her 30 year career, she has built an incredible track record of creating and protecting parks, from vest-pocket parks in cities to landscape parks like Sterling Forest. She is singularly qualified for the job and I commend Governor Cuomo for his selection."

Leslie Wright, New York State Director for The Trust for Public Land, said, "Governor Cuomo's selection of Ms. Harvey as Commissioner for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation shows that he is serious about maintaining open space and making it accessible to as many New Yorkers as possible. Ms. Harvey's storied career in establishing parks, playgrounds and gardens in urban areas, combined with her ongoing advocacy for open space makes her the ideal candidate to lead this agency."


Additional news available at | High resolution images available at | password: cuomo | New York State | Executive Chamber | | 518.474.8418

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Governor Cuomo Nominates Rose Harvey as Commissioner of Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
New York State Office of The Governor Press Release - January 27, 2010

Capital Tonight - January 27, 2010 - Liz Benjamin

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Trump's Tavern On The Green Dream

"Having destroyed the old Tavern for no good reason, Bloomberg is now torn.

Letting Trump revive the place from the ashes would embarrass him, as Ed Koch was when Trump saved the Wollman Rink from City Hall's incompetence in the 1970s."

Tavern on the Green in 2008. (Photo: Andrew Henderson/The New York Times)

Donald Trump's plan to revive Tavern on the Green faces resistance from Mayor Bloomberg.

"I have a lukewarm interest in it, because it would require a tremendous amount of work and money," developer Donald Trump said in 2008. Apparently that has changed. On Wednesday Mr. Trump announced he had brokered a deal with restaurant union president - and Bloomberg third term backer when some other labor bosses didn't - Peter Ward. Mr. Trump, never reticent about his ambitions, said he would spend $20 million of his own money to rebuild Tavern and make it “the highest-grossing restaurant on the planet.’’

The mobile food trucks - when they show up - now occupy parts of the former Tavern on the Green site. Mayor Bloomberg rejected a $86 million dollar proposal by former Tavern owner Jennifer LeRoy - whose family had operated the iconic eatery since 1974 - that promised $30 million more than Dean Poll who was awarded the new concession despite past financial improprieties with another Central Park concession. The mobile food vendors bring in a few hundred thousand dollars annually to the City.

For years Mr. Trump has met with stiff resistance for his plan to build a $40 million, 1500, seat high-end restaurant and banquet/catering facility on State Parkland in Jones Beach. - Geoffrey Croft


Donald J. Trump and the head of the powerful union that represented the 400 workers at Tavern on the Green say they have come to an agreement that could revive the shuttered landmark restaurant that is now home to a food-truck court and a visitor center, according to the New York Times.

Mr. Trump, never reticent about his ambitions, said that if New York City granted him the license to run Tavern he would spend $20 million of his own money to rebuild it so it would be “the highest-grossing restaurant on the planet.’’ Neither he nor the union’s leader, Peter Ward, president of the Hotel and Motel Trades Council, would reveal specifics of the agreement. But Mr. Trump said “the contract allows me to offer the highest level of service and quality.”

Reaching a deal with Mr. Ward has been a crucial stumbling block to reopening the once-glittering restaurant after its previous operator, the LeRoy family, declared bankruptcy and closed it on New Year’s Day of last year. The city owns the restaurant in Central Park and had given the operating license to Dean J. Poll, operator of the Boathouse in the park. But Mr. Poll lost the right to run the restaurant after he failed to reach agreement with the union, a necessary condition for his license.

For the plans to go forward for a future “Trump on the Green,” the developer would have to get the New York City Parks Department to grant him the operating license. And yesterday, the city did not leap into Mr. Trump’s arms.

The parks department deferred to City Hall and Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor, said, “The city is not ready to announce any future plans for Tavern on the Green and has not had any discussions with possible restaurant operators.”

Mr. Ward, who has signed hotel contracts with Mr. Trump for decades, said the five-year labor agreement “is a fair deal and gives him everything he needs to create a great new restaurant.”

The city’s original request for Tavern bidders had specified that the new operator come to agreement with the union, and Mayor Bloomberg cited the failure of Mr. Poll to do so as the reason for suspending the fruitless negotiations last May.

Mr. Ward said that his agreement with Mr. Trump allowed for the rehiring of former Tavern workers, some of whom have been unemployed since it closed. “It’s not only the workers — reopening Tavern would mean more money for the city. It would be a win-win situation.”

Mr. Trump said of his deal with the union that “the economic consequences of the union contract won’t be a consideration since the restaurant will be such a huge success.”

Inside Tavern on the Green.
"Nice doggy, cute little pooch," a terrified Rick Moranis says while trying to reason with a monster in front of Tavern's famed Crystal Room (above) in a memorable scene from Ghostbusters. He was looking for help from the well-healed and indifferent crowd. In August, the city tore down the Crystal Room, which was built in the mid-1970s by Warner LeRoy when he took over the restaurant. The City erected an eight-foot-high fence to keep prying eyes away. A city source told A Walk In The Park that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Patti Harris personally toured the site and were responsible for making the decision to tear down the Crystal Room.

The 350-seat Crystal Room alone brought Tavern on the Green more than $6 million a year, according to Ms. LeRoy.

Read More:

New York Times - January 26, 2011 - By Glenn Collins

New York Post - January 28, 2011 - Steve Cuozzo

A Walk In The Park - October 15, 2010 - By Geoffrey Croft

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Park Push Over Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

New park in South Williamsburg.
City Council member Diana Reyna is pushing to create two-acres of much-needed park space by covering up part of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway's (BQE) dreaded open-air trench part of which runs through the neighborhood between South 3rd and South 5th streets in South Williamburg. The BQE separated a vibrant neighborhood when it was built. (Image: Courtesy DLANDSTUDIO - Principal Susannah Drake)


There’s yet another huge cover up in the works for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

As city officials move forward with plans to fix the BQE “ditch” — a sunken, mile-long stretch bordering Hicks Street that separates Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill from the Columbia Street Waterfront District — City Councilwoman Diana Reyna is pushing a smaller, yet more ambitious, plan for the expressway in South Williamsburg, according to The Brooklyn Blog.

Reyna (D-Brooklyn) wants to bring two-acres of much-needed park space there by covering up part of the BQE’s dreaded open-air trench that runs through the neighborhood between South 3rd and South 5th streets. She and the nonprofit St. Nick’s Alliance commissioned landscape architect Susannah Drake to design a plan that caps the expressway with a baseball field, soccer field and tree-lined lawns.

Reyna is now in the process of trying to secure government funding and City Hall blessing for a project estimated at $85 million to $175 million.

South Williamsburg ranks at the bottom of the city in parkland and is among the tops in asthma rates. Reyna says the project would help solve these problems – as well as reconnect the North and South side neighborhoods of Williamsburg.

Axonometric of South Williamsburg.


“The kids who play there have to play by a six-lane highway,” said dlandstudio principal Susannah Drake. As for Southside Williamsburg’s existing park areas, Drake said, “They’re not well-equipped, they’re disconnected, and they’re often difficult to get to.” Drake and her team spent the better part of 2010 helping Councilwoman Reyna drum up support for the plan from community organizations and government agencies, relying on scientific evidence about noise and air pollution to gain public and private interest. The team is drawing upon several California studies that linked the proximity of major highways to asthma rates, and spurred state legislation prohibiting construction of schools within 150 feet of heavily trafficked arteries. According to dlandstudio, there are five public elementary schools and two junior high schools within the general vicinity of the proposed park area.

Read More:

The Brooklyn Blog - New York Post - January 25, 2010 - By Rich Calder

Capping a Brooklyn highway could mean greener, cleaner South Williamsburg
Architect's Newspaper - January 21, 2011 - By Jennifer K. Gorsche

Private Tennis Club Operating On Randall's Island - Critics Charge

Critics are raising a racket over the Parks Department's decision to allow a private tennis club to operate on public land and want the Randalls Island facility to lower its rates.
The Bloomberg administration allowed a $19 million dollar private tennis club to be built on Randall's Island. Sportime charges $72 to $105 per hour for indoor courts, on top of fees of $500-750 to join, and monthly dues paid by its 2,000 members. The December 31, 2001 agreement between the City and the Randall's Island Sports Foundation (RISF) allows the license fees to be paid to the (RISF) instead of to the City's general fund. RISF collected approx. $750,000 last year. The project - spearheaded by RISF - avoided ULURP which is required for a “new building of more than 15,000 square feet ... located on park land.” (Photo: Warga/NY Daily News)

Randall's Island

The city's elite are holding court at a swanky tennis center on Randalls Island, with members shelling out more than $1,000 a year for perks, shutting out poor players from the South Bronx and East Harlem, critics charge, according to the New York Daily News.

Park advocates and local leaders from both sides of the East River have been slamming the Parks Department for allowing a private club to operate on public parkland, and skipping the public review process.

They want Parks to review its contract with Sportime on Randalls Island and force the club, which opened 18 months ago, to lower its rates.

"It is outrageous that our public land has been sold to the highest bidder," said Marina Ortiz of East Harlem Preservation.

The facility is generating cash for the Randalls Island Sports Foundation, the nonprofit that manages the park, but none for the city's depleted coffers.

Sportime charges $72 to $105 per hour for indoor courts, on top of fees of $500-750 to join, and monthly dues paid by its 2,000 members.

"No one I know can afford those rates," said Ortiz.

Sportime members get discounted court time and the right to book courts before nonmembers. They also enjoy access to "members only" locker rooms with steam baths and a massage therapist.

"This private club is for wealthy New Yorkers and private schools," said Geoffrey Croft of New York City Park Advocates.

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem) called the perks "ridiculous."

"What benefits are there for the average Joe off the street?" she said.

Croft said Parks could force Sportime to change its membership system or even revoke the club's contract.

Sportime rents court time to Manhattan private schools. The club's shuttle bus stops only on the upper East Side.

In 2006, private schools offered funding for new ball fields on Randalls Island in exchange for exclusive field time, and advocates blocked the deal arguing Parks bypassed the city's public review process.

Boden said the review was unnecessary for Sportime because there already were tennis courts on Randalls Island.

But Croft said those courts were located elsewhere and noted that the process is required for buildings over 15,000 square feet, such as the tennis club.

The enormous new tennis facility which had NOT previously existed at this location was allowed to be built avoided ULURP. (Photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on image to enlarge

Read More:

New York Daily News - January 25, 2011 - By Daniel Beekman