By Nicole Breskin
UNION SQUARE — A group of Union Square residents are ready to take the city’s parks and recreation department to court if plans move ahead to install a restaurant in the historic pavilion in Union Square Park.
The pavilion is part of the North End Project that involves a $22 million park facelift and was begun in May 2008 by city officials and the Union Square Partnership, which runs the park.
“Our plan is to go back to court,” said Sylvia Friedman, the chairman of the Union Square Community Coalition, a group that opposes the project. “We will absolutely keep fighting.”
There are only two playgrounds but more than 100 restaurants within Union Square’s Community Board 5 district, according to the NYC Park Advocates, another advocacy group. They say this makes the neighborhood one of the most park-poor in Manhattan.
“This whole part of Manhattan cannot afford to lose a single inch of park space,” said Friedman, who lives two blocks from Union Square. Ideally, she would like to see the space used a community recreational center.
Local leaders had taken the parks department to court last year over the decision to put a restaurant in the 80-year-old pavilion – they believe playground and additional green space should be allocated.
But a judge, Jane Solomon, ruled against them in March, but she said the residents could raise the issue again when plans for the restaurant were finalized.
Friedman said the Union Square Community Coalition with NYC Park Advocates members would be prepared to revisit the judge’s ruling in court as soon as the city sends out requests for proposals from restaurant bidders.
The president of NYC Park Advocates, Geoffrey Croft, added: “We’ll be right back in court. A restaurant is not proper use of that park.”
Despite public opposition, the next steps to put a restaurant in the pavilion “are definitely in the works,” Parks spokesperson Cristina DeLuca said.
“We're starting to draft documents and notify everyone,” she said, emphasizing that there is public interest in having a restaurant in the pavilion, too.
Michelle Zaken, local mother of a toddler, said she could see the park going either way.
“I have mixed feelings,” she said. “If I didn't have a baby, I'd love the restaurant. It’s hard to get great outdoor restaurant space. But then, after having a baby, I could use the playground space.”
Bar-café Luna Park operated outside of the pavilion before construction began. The forthcoming restaurant would be placed within the pavilion itself.
Requests for restaurant proposals are expected to go out in the next few months.