Since 2010, when the New York Fashion Week shows moved to Damrosch Park from Bryant Park, residents say, Damrosch Park has been all but taken over by one special event after another, making it off-limits nearly 10 months of the year. Setup for the spring fashion shows, which take place in September, begins in August; those shows are followed by the Big Apple Circus’s annual show, which runs from mid-October to January; the fall fashion shows are held in February (this year’s end on Thursday); and then there are private parties, also under tents, throughout the spring.
“It’s an assault on the neighborhood,” said Michael Graff, a lawyer who lives in the nearby Alfred condominium tower. He had to shout over the din of generators along West 62nd Street that provided power to a series of white tents for the fashion shows.
On Tuesday, a group of residents and NYC Park Advocates, a nonprofit group, announced that they had sent a “cease and desist” letter to the city and to Lincoln Center demanding that Damrosch Park be returned to its proper use as a city park.
City officials brushed aside the criticism, saying that Damrosch Park was a hard-surface plaza with few visitors in winter. They argued that residents had ample access to nearby parkland, including Central Park, and said that many thousands of New Yorkers were able to enjoy the circus and the fashion shows.
“Fashion Week generates $865 million in economic activity each year and helps create jobs in one of our city’s most important industries,” said Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
A representative of Lincoln Center did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At a news conference on Tuesday outside Lincoln Center, Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, criticized the city over the terms of its agreement with Lincoln Center, which allows the center to keep all the revenue generated by subleasing the park to outside groups. Fashion Week alone will pay $17.2 million over five years to use the park, Mr. Croft said.
Lincoln Center is also allowed to keep the money from a city-owned parking garage beneath the park, said Reed W. Super, a lawyer representing NYC Park Advocates and several residents. From 2006 to 2010, the garage yielded $26.7 million, he said.
“It’s illegal,” Mr. Croft said. “According to the City Charter, all of that money has to go back to the city’s general fund.”
The group argues that the deal with Lincoln Center amounts to the removal of parkland, a process that only the State Legislature can undertake. The letter said that “whether, how and when any portion of a New York City park may be used for nonpark purposes are decisions to be made by the State Legislature, not the mayor, not the parks department and certainly not Lincoln Center.”
City officials defended the agreement with Lincoln Center, pointing out that the cultural institution was solely responsible for the upkeep of the park and paid to maintain other public areas on its campus, including the signature fountain in its plaza. Lincoln Center, Ms. Wood said, “has spent millions to improve these areas, create new green spaces and program them for public enjoyment.”
Residents and some members of Community Board 7 said that in the past they had not looked forward to the four-month takeover of the park by the Big Apple Circus, but that they had grown used to it. Their frustration mounted, however, when Fashion Week arrived.
“It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Susan Levy, a resident of the Alfred.
March 8, 2010. (before) David H. Koch Theater in the background.
March 20, 2011. (After) Clear Cut. Trees and bushes removed to make room for commercail uses including projecting imaged of TV personalites on the wall of the Theater.
To make way for the Fashion Week tents, the city removed 67 trees from the park.
City officials say that many of the trees that were cut down were in poor health and that their roots were creating cracks in the ceiling of the parking garage. The city has planted 220 trees within a mile radius of the park, while Lincoln Center has installed an additional 88 trees on its campus.
But residents say that a tree half a mile away does not make up for the loss of shade and green in Damrosch Park. “Sadly,” said the letter to city officials and Lincoln Center, “Damrosch Park has been decimated. Even the parks department sign with the iconic leaf logo identifying ‘Damrosch Park’ was removed.”
Mr. Super, the lawyer for NYC Park Advocates, said that litigation was a possibility. “We prefer not to run right into court,” he said.