Thursday, October 16, 2014

Union Square Park Restaurant: High-End Eatery Not Returning To Children's Pavilion

(Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)  Click on images to enlarge

An empty Pavilion Market Cafe in Union Square Park at lunch time. Is the controversial restaurant faltering? The restaurant was forced to eliminate breakfast service months ago due to poor business.  "The staff have left in droves,"  said an employee.  "Its hard to staff a seasonal restaurant and it doesn't help when the business is not there."    

The City is allowing the restaurant to remain open until October 31, past yesterday's "on or about" October 15 deadline.

A Park Experience? The concessioner was required to install up to a seven foot high barrier to separate the playground from the restaurant which is on the other side of the faux grass on the wall (above). 


By Geoffrey Croft

The controversial restaurant will not be returning to the historic Woman's & Children's pavilion in Union Square Park NYC Park Advocates has learned.  

Administration officials are currently working out the details which would move the high-end eatery out of the pavilion building and into the north end of the plaza.

One of the sticking points left is how much of the north end would the restaurant take up and whether or not the indoor space which is currently being utilized by the restaurant's kitchen would be removed and instead be used for community and neighborhood uses. 

The de Blasio administration had initially rebuffed the community,  and the local elected officials who have been unanimous in their opposition.

In January in one of the first court appearances under the new administration  city lawyers argued before the New York Court of Appeals that luxury restaurants belong in public parks – and it doesn’t matter how much they charge to eat there,  how many people can't afford it or how much land they take away.  In fact,  the city said,  these eateries can take up to “98 percent” of a park. 

The de Blasio administration shockingly argued in the State's highest court that there is virtually is no limit in the amount of space a restaurant can occupy in a public park. The city also argued that didn't matter how high the prices were even if the vast majority of people would be prohibited from affording it  - a restaurant would qualify as a "park purpose" under the law.  

No More Breakfast. The cheapest food item is a single piece of shrimp for $ 4 dollars.

The City’s Law Department also vigorously argued that it retains the legal right in the license granted to the restaurant concessionaire to freely terminate the contract “at will” at any time, citing the agreement.  

The Court of Appeals decision came at a critical time as parkland alienation,  the sale,  lease or use of parkland for non-park purposes without State legislative authorization,  was routinely exploited under the Bloomberg administration.  Increasingly the city has allowed parkland to be taken from communities and used as cash cows or as free real estate for commercial or industrial purposes in flagrant disregard of the law critics charge.

In March, numerous City, State and Federal elected officials sent a strongly worded letter to Mayor de Blasio imploring him to cancel the Bloomberg - era contract to build the controversial high-end bar/restaurant in the historic pavilion.

There is nothing progressive about displacing families, children, seniors and eliminating one of the county's most historic free speech sites in a public park. On Sunday March 9, elected officials,  community residents and representatives from more than 50 neighborhood associations came together to call on Mayor De Blasio to void the concession agreement and give back the pavilion to the people and do what is right for New York City.  

In April  at a closed-door meeting close to a dozen elected officials and representatives met with top administration officials at City Hall.

The group included  Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer,   NY State Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried,  City Council Member Corey Johnson and representatives from  NY State Assembly Member Deborah Glick, State Senators Liz KruegerBrad Hoylman, and Public Advocate Letitia James,  as well as a senior advisor to Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.   

Administration officials included Jon Paul Lupo,  director of the Office of City Legislative Affairs,   Marco Carrión, head of the mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, Emma Wolfe,  director of intergovernmental affairs and Peter Hatch, de Blasio's former chief of staff as Councilman and now senior advisor to first deputy mayor Anthony Shorris who lead the meeting.   

The elected officials presented their case and argued that the administration had the legal right to cancel the restaurant contract as the city had represented in court and won.

Administration officials were not moved. They countered by saying that canceling the contract was not so easy, a concept they were not so forthcoming about to the Court of Appeals, and was one of the major reasons why the court ruled in thier favor. 

Mayoral officials at the meeting also argued that canceling the contract would create "a bad precedent" for business.  

"They feel an obligation to the concessioner's investment, " said an elected official who attended the meeting, an account that was confirmed by several attendees.

"But what about the tens of millions in public money that was spent."    

The elected officials were not buying that excuse as both the city, and the concessioner were aware long before the business spent a dime that is was an issue.  

A few weeks after the meeting however elected officials were told by de Blasio officials that a deal had been made by the administration which would require the restaurant to move after the 2014 season which ends "on or about October 15"  according to concessionaire's license agreement with the city. 

NY State Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, and State Senator Liz Krueger  included the news of the move in their most recent newsletters. 

As Public Advocate Bill de Blasio wrote to the New York State Liquor Authority expressing his "concern" in granting Chef Driven Market a liquor license adjacent to a public playground.  

"I urge the State Liquor Authority  to explore and weigh whether the license being sought by  Chef Driven Market, LLC is in the best interests of this community," he wrote in the October 19, 2012 letter. (below)

"In your delberations, I urge you to consider the proximity of similar businesses in the immediate area and the effect of this type of establishment will have on children using the adjacent playground," de Blasio wrote.

March 9, 2014. Assembly Member Richard Gottfried making a point.  

Is The Restaurant Faltering? 

It appears the controversial Pavilion restaurant may be not selling as many $495 bottles of Cristal champagne as they had hoped.

Several Chef Driven Market employees painted a bleak picture of restaurant fortunes.

The restaurant was forced to eliminate breakfast service months ago due to poor business and now the cheapest food item is a single piece of shrimp for $ 4 dollars.

On a recent afternoon a slight but steady drizzle left only the center tables dry from the cold damp wetness.  

"The staff have left in droves," said a The Pavilion Market Cafe employee on a recent visit.

"Its hard to staff a seasonal restaurant and it doesn't help when the business is not there."

When asked to estimate how many staff remain the employee replied,  "scant."

"They're trying to extend it to November 8th but I don't think we'll make it. Look at it," the employee said while pointing to the empty restaurant.  

"The city will evaluate The Pavilion's performance during its first season, and make adjustments as deemed necessary to their operation moving forward," the Parks Department said in a statement declining to comment on the deal.

The City is also allowing the restaurant to 
remain open until October 31, past yesterday's October 15th deadline because they opened on May 1st,  fifteen days later than thier contract specified. 


The area around Union Square Park has the lowest amount of playground space but the highest concentration of restaurants in the entire city.  Since 2004 Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Union Square Partnership — a Business Improvement District/Local Development Corporation — have attempted to seize thousands of square feet of potential recreation and neighborhood space by turning the historic pavilion into a high-end restaurant.  The BID has been allowed to dictate public land use policy aided by an eight million dollar anonymous donation.

For the past decade the community has been fighting to have the historic pavilion in Union Square Park restored to its former uses which include a sheltered,  indoor recreation center that served a variety of year-round recreation and free public uses for children,  teens,  families,  seniors,  and the greater community at large.

In 2004,  Save Union Square Park,  a grass roots,  community - based campaign was organized by NYC Park Advocates to advocate for the needs of the community. With the help and support of 57 community organizations,  elected officials and a broad-based labor coalition,  the campaign succeeded in defeating an irresponsible plan to create a year-round restaurant and greatly increased the amount of playground space,  much of it recaptured from play areas lost to the previous seasonal cafe.

Plaintiffs including the Union Square Park Community Coalition sued claiming the City violated the Public Trust Doctrine which says that municipal park land can not be used for non-park purposes without the consent of the State Legislature. 

Read More:

Union Square pavilion restaurant could be cooked, local pols say
The Villager - October 16, 2014 -  By Lincoln Anderson

A Walk In The Park - March 10,  2014 - By Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park -  January 16,  2014 - By Geoffrey Croft

As Public Advocate Bill de Blasio wrote to the New York State Liquor Authority expressing concern. 

Elected officials including Rosie Mendez, Dan Garodnick and Gale Brewer also wrote to the State Liquor Authority. 

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