Harvest in the Square raises $367G for park

A seating area alongside the tent (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Supporters of Union Square Park and devout foodies from around the city gathered at Harvest in the Square, the Union Square Partnership’s annual food festival and fundraiser that this year raised $367,000.

The event, held under a tent in the park on September 14, offered guests tastings from 50 restaurants in the area. The event featured neighborhood newcomers such as Nur, Bowery Road, Daily Provisions, Fusco, Ando and others, in addition to mainstays like Aleo, Blue Smoke, Union Square Café, Blue Water Grill & Metropolis and more.

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Rose crystal tower goes up in Union Square

Tower as seen from the west (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A new tower has just risen in Union Square, but unlike when this normally happens, there will be no howling about zoning and affordability.

The tower is actually a sculpture made out of nearly 350 rose-colored crystals and it debuted on Friday morning at an island east of Union Square Park.

“Rose Crystal Tower” was the creation of Dale Chihuly, whose career in the arts has spanned 56 years. It was done in partnership with Marlborough Gallery, the Union Square Partnership and the Parks Department, and will remain on view through October 2018.

At a ceremony unveiling the sculpture, which will be lit up at night through 16 lighting fixtures, Parks Commissioner Bill Castro noted the installation was part of the 50th anniversary for the city’s program of putting art in public spaces. At this time, over 1,300 artists have had their work on display through the program in 2,000 installations.

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Cops warn of holiday season spike in thefts and ongoing scams

Dec19 holiday market 2012

The Union Square Holiday Market (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Police from the 13th Precinct are advising members of the community to stay alert now that the holiday shopping season is here.

The precinct’s executive officer, Bennett Kalicovic, discussed the issue at a 13th Precinct Community Council meeting this past Tuesday.

Kalicovic said that the precinct is working with the Flatiron BID and the Union Square Partnership to curb thefts and the precinct is working on high visibility, especially in areas for shopping. He noted that shoppers should be aware of their immediate surroundings and should never leave their bags unattended but added that residents should also be protective of their identities because of the recent increases in IRS and identity theft scams.

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Harvest in the Square, now 20, raises $350K

Lillie’s Chef Thomas Contessa (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Lillie’s Chef Thomas Contessa (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Union Square neighborhood gave fall an early welcome last Thursday at Harvest in the Square, the annual culinary event that raises funds for the park’s maintenance and programming, this year bringing in $352,000 and over $5 million since the event began.

The event celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and Coffee Shop co-founder Eric Petterson, who worked with restaurateur Danny Meyer of the Union Square Hospitality Group to launch the event in 1995, said he was happy with what it’s become.

“It’s just an amazing event as far as raising money for Union Square Park,” he said. “It’s weird how time flies. This was really hard work when we started.”

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Union Square Park summer event series kicks off today

Children at a storytelling event during last year’s “Summer in the Square”

Children at a storytelling event during last year’s “Summer in the Square”

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Although the summer weather seems to have taken a break this week with persistent clouds and patchy rain, the Union Square Partnership is gearing up for warmer temperatures with a schedule of outdoor activities to take place in the park throughout the season. Summer in the Square officially kicks off today, offering free activities to entertain both kids and adults on Thursdays until August 13.

Fitness programs will be available in the mornings and evenings, while programming for children will mostly take place in the middle of the day. Jazz performances will take place in the park for the lunchtime crowd and while all of the activities are family friendly, the music performances in the evenings will be geared more towards commuters heading home after work.

Union Square Partnership executive director Jennifer Falk said that all of the activities available are thanks to partnerships with businesses in the neighborhood, many of which have participated in Summer in the Square in previous years. Some new businesses, like Reebok, are participating for the first time since the store on Union Square West only opened within the last year, but this is also the first year that the Strand Bookstore, which has been in the neighborhood for more than 60 years, is getting involved. Falk said that the bookstore will be joining the activities for a story time that centers around a new theme every week.

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‘Sweatfest’ campaign aimed at reviving those New Year’s exercise resolutions

Michele Gordon (far left) leads a cardio workout at Reebok FitHub held last Friday. (Photo by Steve Jackson)

Michele Gordon (far left) leads a cardio workout at Reebok FitHub. (Photo by Steve Jackson)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A campaign by the Union Square Partnership to promote fitness during the winter months as well as the neighborhood’s gyms and fitness retailers was a surprising hit, with nearly 1,000 people signing up for the offered complimentary fitness classes and other freebies. The program ran for one week and ended last Monday.

“We were expecting about two to three hundred people to sign up,” said Kriss Casanova, Director of Economic Development at the Union Square Partnership. Instead, the Partnership said that Early Bird passes were gone within nine minutes when registration opened earlier in February. An additional 900 people signed up for passes to the free classes and events throughout last week. Casanova said that it got to the point where they had to turn people away because the events were so packed. Those who weren’t able to snag passes to any of the fitness events were able to participate in the social media giveaways, which included memberships and packages to various gyms and studios, including one prize that offered a bag of goodies from the Union Square Greenmarket and an annual membership to the 14th Street Y.

Although the park has offered free fitness classes outside during the warmer months, this new program got the many fitness studios and health-oriented businesses involved with free exercise classes, personal training sessions and complimentary gym membership packages at places like CrossFit Union Square, Core Pilates NYC, Crunch, Clay Health Club and Spa and others.

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Commission shoots down shell for former Tammany Hall

Rendering of the proposed shell dome, which would have raised the height of the old Tammany Hall building by two stories (Rendering by David Ettinger and Wei Lee, BKSK Architects)

Rendering of the proposed shell dome, which would have raised the height of the old Tammany Hall building by two stories (Rendering by David Ettinger and Wei Lee, BKSK Architects)

By Sabina Mollot

The plan to add a shell-shaped glass dome onto the old Tammany Hall Building in Union Square has been turned down by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It was during a hearing that took place on Tuesday, November 25, when the Commission declined to approve the rooftop addition for the recently landmarked building. However, the LPC left the door open for the applicant, the architectural firm BKSK, to submit another proposal — and a revised design is already in the works.

Following the hearing, BKSK’s lead partner on the dome project, Todd Poisson, said the firm is hoping to meet with the Commission’s chair informally in January to discuss it and then present it again to the entire Commission.

On the new design, he would only say, “We’re really excited about it.” He noted how the chair had said the building as it stands now “begs for enhancement.”

“Architecturally speaking, it’s a modest building. It’s Neo-Georgian but it’s not the greatest example of Neo-Georgian the city has to offer.”

The dome was intended to create room for around 20,000 square feet of office space. Half of that would have been in the newly created space while the rest would be in the existing structure. Along with the dome, which would have replaced the current slate roof and raised the building’s height by two stories, other proposed changes to the property include removing the theater, restoring the storefront infill, replacing signage and adding windows and a new entrance.

Poisson, who’d given testimony alongside partner Harry Kendall, later acknowledged, in an interview with Town & Village, the “range of opinions” from the Commission on why the proposal hadn’t gotten the green light.

“There was concern about our removal of the existing hipped roof,” he conceded, “and that the proposed replacement was not quite in harmony yet with the rest of the building.” But, he added, “They were intrigued by the proposal’s symbolic content.”

The content he was referring to was inspired by Tammany, the Native American chief of the Lenape. Poisson said the symbol of Tammany’s clan was a turtle, which was from a creation myth of a great turtle rising from the sea and creating land and putting mud on its shell. The idea behind the shell concept at the property, said Poisson, was to “re-brand” Tammany as not just a name synonymous with a corrupt political machine but the chief who helped develop peaceful relations with the European settlers.

“Early colonists use Chief Tammany as a uniquely American symbol and many Tammany societies sprang up,” he said. “The height of irony is that the only Tammany society to make it into the 20th century is Tammany Hall, only to be known for its corruption. We’d like to remind people of the story no one remembers.”

However at the November hearing, not everyone was moved by the historical reference. The few speakers who came to give testimony in support of the proposed alteration were outnumbered by over a dozen in opposition of it, with most saying they thought the contemporary design was inappropriate.

One in the latter group was Jack Taylor of the Union Square Community Coalition. Taylor had been involved in the USCC’s fight for the landmark designation of the building, which was finally approved last year after 29 years of consideration. At the hearing, he argued that the current hipped attic roof of the building, which is opposite Union Square Park’s East Side at East 17th Street, “is so visible that it defines the contours of the building.”

Removing it, he said, “would be to demolish a protected architectural element of the designated structure.” The building, he continued, had been designed to look like the Georgian-inspired architecture of the old Federal Hall on Wall Street. Federal Hall, where George Washington took his oath of office, also had a hipped attic roof.

Others who either gave testimony in person or via written statement against the dome proposal were Council Member Rosie Mendez, the Historic Districts Council, Community Board 5, Gramercy Neighborhood Associates and the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

Rendering of dome design from the side (Rendering by David Ettinger and Wei Lee, BKSK Architects)

Rendering of dome design from the side (Rendering by David Ettinger and Wei Lee, BKSK Architects)

In support of the plan however was Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, who gave her testimony in person. She later explained that she did so because the building was very much in need of attention, and the BKSK plan would have added something “bold” to the roof while restoring the rest of the property.

In a written statement, she said, “We applaud BKSK Architects’ bold design, which complements the history of Union Square as a vital and active, contemporary civic space. The removal of the overabundant existing signage, as well as the slate, mansard roof will greatly improve the overall look of this highly-visible property. The streamlined signage plan is simple and elegant, and the addition of a glass-domed roof provides a contemporary element while honoring the building’s Colonial Revival-style.”

Falk added that the USP looks forward to seeing how the design evolves.

Taylor, meanwhile, said he couldn’t help but point out that while the USP supported the new roof, it didn’t lend its support to the landmarking effort.

“For the first time in my memory, which goes back to the days of when the BID and the LDC (now the Union Square Partnership) were first formed in the 1980s, it’s a reaction to a landmark issue, a preservation issue,” he said. “Which,” he added, “the Partnership, as now it’s called, has never spoken anything about. And now there’s a reaction to an issue involving preservation and landmarking and of course it’s on the wrong side.”

In response, a spokesperson for the USP said the Partnership had been in support of the designation. However, since the effort wasn’t facing opposition once the building owner decided to support a designation, the organization didn’t feel it was necessary to send anyone to testify.

Other people who testified in support of the dome included Barry Benepe, co-founder of the Union Square Greenmarket, and Margaret Cotter, president of Liberty Theaters and the building’s owner.

Along with needing the LPC’s blessing to move forward with a plan to create office space, Cotter would also require a special use variance to build the dome. Poisson said this is because the eastern most portion of the property falls into a different zone than the rest of the building, and the eastern zone is residential.

Harvest in the Square raises $334,000 for park

Breads Bakery at Harvest in the Square (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Breads Bakery at Harvest in the Square (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Community residents and local restaurateurs came out in full force last Thursday night to celebrate the impending arrival of fall at Union Square’s 19th annual Harvest in the Square event.

The food tasting festival raised $334,000 and Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, said that she will be speaking with the Parks Department soon to discuss goals for the coming year and determine how the money will be spent. Tickets were $125 and $400 for early VIP entry.

Danny Meyer of the Union Square Cafe and Eric Petterson from The Coffee Shop are the founding members of the event and have been participating every year. Other returning participants included the Union Square Whole Foods, Blue Water Grill, Rosa Mexicano, Almond, Blue Smoke and others, with nearly 50 local restaurants in all. Some new restaurants participating in the event for the first time included The Pavilion, All’onda, The Gander, Cevich, 201 Bar and Restaurant and Botequim.

Richard and Kamille Serna, residents of the Financial District, are in the area frequently because they manage a building on 15th Street. Although they’ve been working in the area for a while, this was the first chance they got to partake in Harvest in the Square.

Kamille said they were impressed with what they tried so far but were particularly looking forward to sampling what Blue Water Grill had to offer. The Union Square restaurant’s Executive chef Luis Jaramillo was serving Maine lobster deviled eggs with tarragon.

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Union Square Park, a place to play

Children’s yoga classes are part of the Summer in the Square free event series that begins on Thursday, June 12. (Photo courtesy of the Union Square Partnership)

Children’s yoga classes are part of the Summer in the Square free event series that begins on Thursday, June 12. (Photo courtesy of the Union Square Partnership)

Playground repaired, WiFi increased and restaurant opened

By Sabina Mollot

Fitness classes are part of the Summer in the Square program. (Photo courtesy of Union Square Partnership)

Fitness classes are part of the Summer in the Square program. (Photo courtesy of the Union Square Partnership)

Recently, the playground at the north end of Union Square Park, known as “Evelyn’s Playground,” got a bit of a makeover. A new soft surface replaced the one that had been there since it opened and had undergone much wear and tear. Along with heavy use, another destructive factor, which turned the spongy ground covering into Swiss cheese was high heeled shoes. At the newly opened playground, there are no heels allowed.
Other recent improvements to the park include increasing the free public WiFi network capacity eight-fold to accommodate more users and the return of solar-powered cell phone charging stations at three of the sitting areas. Then of course, there’s the controversial restaurant inside the park’s pavilion, fittingly named The Pavilion. It finally opened for business on May 1 after community activists lost a court battle arguing such a commercial enterprise didn’t belong on park grounds.
Jennifer Falk, the executive director of the Union Square Partnership, recently spoke with Town & Village about the restaurant, the playground improvements and other springtime work aimed at improving the Union Square district.

Evelyn’s Playground as it appeared when the surface was recently repaired (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Evelyn’s Playground as it appeared when the surface was recently repaired (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

On the new surface for Evelyn’s Playground, Falk said since the 15,000 square foot play space opened in December, 2009, replacing two smaller ones, “We’ve had an enormous amount of foot traffic.”
The former playgrounds, she pointed out, only totaled 5,000 square feet and these days more of the playground’s visitors come from further away just to enjoy it. It wasn’t just the size but the improved rides that have brought in more kids and the new safety surface, instead of the old asphalt, has been a hit with parents.
The funds to make the recent round of improvements, which had a pricetag of $175,000, were raised by the USP. In total, close to $350,000 was raised and some of that money will also go towards the park’s annual series of free programming, Summer in the Square.
As always the Thursday series, kicking off this year today, June 12, will include kids’ events, fitness and dance classes and low-key lunchtime jazz concerts. On June 12, things start early with “Wake up Yoga” at 7 a.m. Yoga storytime for kids starts at 10 a.m. With the Gazillion Bubble Show at 10:30 a.m. Things will wind down at 1 p.m. after jazz with students from The New School until the evening. (In response to feedback from a recent survey, the USP has expanded the SITS schedule to offer additional fitness classes in the evenings.) There will be a return of past years’ boot camp, running club and evening yoga.
As far as the new restaurant is concerned, Falk declined to comment on the controversy that’s surrounded its opening for close to a decade, other than to say she didn’t think the fact that alcohol is now served there was inappropriate for the setting. Because, she reasoned, “the food is much more of what’s focused on.”

The Pavilion restaurant (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The Pavilion restaurant (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Currently, the restaurant is just open for dinner but hours are expected to expand soon to include lunch and eventually breakfast. Price wise, it’s not the Tavern on the Green activists feared, but it’s no Shake Shack either. The menu now includes dishes such as hanger steak ($23.50), kale caesar salad ($11.95), short rib ravioli ($17.50) and oysters ($3 a piece) with ingredients bought from the park’s greenmarket.
Also among the arguments against the restaurant by the Union Square Community Coalition and other critics was that the Pavilion should be used for events, preferably for children, rather than a commercial enterprise. However, even with a business in the space, the kiddies haven’t been forgotten completely as now there’s Tuesdays @ The Pavilion, a free, weekly crafts and story time event from 3-5 p.m. Veterans also had their day at The Pavilion recently when the restaurant and the USP sponsored a luncheon for former servicemen and women in celebration of Memorial Day. The event was also in recognition of the one-year anniversary of the Manhattan VA Medical Center reopening after Hurricane Sandy. “The Partnership hopes to make this an annual event to continue to connect our local businesses with community organizations,” the USP wrote in a recent blog post.
The park has also recently undergone landscaping work, with the lawns reopening for picnickers and sunbathers.
For a schedule of events taking place throughout the summer, visit unionsquarenyc.org.

Holiday Market is big business for city as well as organizer and 150 vendors

The Union Square Holiday Market, now in its 19th year (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The Union Square Holiday Market, now in its 19th year (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

For small businesses looking to boost foot traffic during holiday season, there is arguably no better location than a holiday market, specifically, the 150-plus booth one that takes place at Union Square Park each year.

The market has grown over the 19 years it’s been run there by the company Urban Space, occupying the south end of the park, and a stroll through on any day it’s open clearly shows there’s always a steady stream of shoppers.

Urban Space has kept a tight lid on what it charges vendors for use of its red and white striped booths, but on a recent day, an operator of a medium-sized booth said his rent was about $15,000. This is for the five weeks, November 21 to Christmas Eve, that the event runs. Not that he was complaining. “It’s the busiest hub in the city,” he said. He, like the majority of merchants there, are repeat tenants, and those thinking of becoming one might want to sign up soon. A rep for Urban Space, Rachel Van Dolsen, said that the “footprint” of the event has gotten as big as it’s going to get.

Van Dolsen declined to discuss rents for booths although she said the aforementioned figure didn’t sound accurate. (Another vendor at last year’s event, however, told T&V that amount sounded similar to what she paid, though hers was a little higher. “Expensive, but worth it,” she said.)

Along with its location on top of an entrance to the Union Square subway, the market has become a hit with shoppers looking for items that are handmade or hard to find as opposed to mass-produced items, which Urban Space doesn’t allow.

Last year the amount of money the company shelled out to the city in exchange for use of the park was $1,378,972, so even without official numbers, it’s clear the bustling bazaar must do pretty well for the organizer. The city of course makes out too, with its cut going to a general fund.

The Union Square Holiday Market (Photo courtesy of Urban Space)

The Union Square Holiday Market (Photo courtesy of Urban Space)

Of course, being that the event runs throughout one of the year’s coldest months, even with the built-in foot traffic, there are still going to be retailers who don’t want to conduct business outdoors as well as businesses that wouldn’t be able to sell effectively in one of the stalls.

As Faith Hope Consolo, a broker for the real estate firm Douglas Elliman, explained it, “The holiday market is for a very specific customer, and if that retailer sells products for that shopper, sure, it makes sense to go there. These can include holiday decorations, ornaments, one-of-a-kind gifts. But a pop-up probably makes more sense for apparel. You might want to try on something, and an outdoor market is not the place for that.” Electronics are also not a big seller at markets, noted Consolo, though accessories are.

At this time, asking rents for retail spaces around Union Square are around $60 per square foot to $90 per square foot on the side streets, while asking rents on the avenues are a whopping $400 per square foot. The rent gets higher closer to Flatiron, added Consolo. And of course, these are the prices for longterm leases, not pop-up shop spaces, which around holiday time, are hard to come by.

“There are fewer pop-up opportunities at the holidays because many retailers will lease a holiday shop well in advance,” said Consolo. “But someone can always find something if they look long and hard enough.”

Ultimately, as for whether it makes more sense to rent at the market or at a store, “Holiday markets have the same rule of thumb as any retail site,” said Consolo. “Better locations have higher rents. You pay more to be near entrances, etc. And Union Square certainly is bustling as more retailers, restaurants and services open to appeal to all the high-tech workers and residents there.”

In related neighborhood retail news, to help push shopping at neighborhood stores as the market is open, the Union Square Partnership has been offering District Deals booklets at the information booth at the market (across from the subway entrance gazebo). The booklets contain over 40 deals from retailers like Union Square Wines and Spirits and Jivamukti’s yoga school.