By Sabina Mollot
Marti Speranza, a Democrat running for City Council, risked but ultimately evaded arrest on Monday while calling for reform of Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS).
Ironically, the threat of arrest came because of the venue of her press conference, one of the city’s so-called POPS located in the atrium of Trump Tower.
As Speranza and supporters gathered at the space before the press conference, which was on a level below the ground floor, they were told they’d be arrested if they didn’t leave, her campaign staffers later said. However, Speranza and a couple of other speakers went on to make their arguments anyway, uninterrupted, as a few suit wearing men hovered at the room’s entrance. Afterwards, they stepped forward to ask the candidate and staffers if they’d be dispersing. Speranza’s campaign manager said the men later identified themselves as police from the NYPD’s Intelligence Unit. While no voices were raised, one of the men said he would normally turn the matter over to the legal department, but then added, “We don’t want to go that route.” He also asked if the campaign was planning any similar events in the future. When a staffer responded that doing so would be the campaign’s right, the man disagreed, but ultimately no one was kicked out.
Town & Village later reached out to the NYPD to ask if the men were in fact police, but the department did not respond to the question.
According to a campaign spokesperson, Speranza had attempted to get a permit for the event but was unable to. The candidate had asked city’s Street and Activity Permit Office (SAPO) but was rejected, with the office explaining it had no jurisdiction over press conferences. The NYPD precinct covering the area, when asked about a permit, referred the matter to the Trump Organization, and the company never got back to the campaign, the spokesperson said. The Trump website, however, notes that the atrium is available for events, though it isn’t clear what the fee is for the privilege. The website recommends using the space for cocktail parties or seated dinners, noting it can hold up to 350 people with options for promotional signage and VIP check-in.
At the press conference, Speranza used Trump Tower as an example of how POPS are being misused.
“They got to build 20 additional floors in exchange for providing the city with a public amenity,” she said. “The community is supposed to get something in exchange.”
POPS can be indoor or outdoor spaces accessible to the public that a developer or building owner agrees to maintain in exchange for being able to build bigger and taller than what zoning rules would normally allow for.
Speranza called for stricter enforcement and also blasted the lack of a clear path on how the public can access their local POPS sites.
“If someone wants to have an event in Madison Square Park or Union Square Park, we get their applications,” said the candidate, who’s also a member of Community Board 5. “For POPS, there’s no process.”
Speranza said she’s in agreement with a suggestion by Comptroller Scott Stringer to create a public awareness campaign so people know about existing POPS.
Her event was inspired by an April study conducted by the comptroller’s office that found over half of the city’s POPS (182 out of 333) had nonfunctional public amenities or none at all. In many cases, sites where violations had been found resulted in no action taken by the city. Additionally, the database of sites maintained by the Department of Buildings was incomplete.
Speranza said she found the issue of particular concern locally, because 40 percent of the city’s POPS are within the confines of City Council District 4.
“So many are here and so many are in violation, so it is a cause of tremendous concern for our Council district,” said Speranza. “Our light and our spaces are being threatened.”
The district runs from Stuyvesant Town to 98th Street on the east side of the district and up to 59th Street on the west side.
The Trump Organization didn’t respond to T&V’s request for comment nor did the mayor’s office, which oversees SAPO. The NYPD meanwhile simply referred a reporter to the city website for event permits that states SAPO organizes the process while the NYPD has the responsibility to approve or reject applications. Events that would require a permit include those where “sound devices” are used as well as parades, processions, or marches. Asked if the presence of a microphone, which is typically the only sound amplification device used at a press conference, would require a permit, a spokesperson for the NYPD said it wouldn’t.