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Community Board Wants Big Apple BBQ Out of Madison Square Park

By DNAinfo Staff on March 4, 2011 3:53pm

The 2010 Big Apple BBQ in Madison Square Park.
The 2010 Big Apple BBQ in Madison Square Park.
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By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN — Midtown's Community Board 5 is trying to take a bite out of the Big Apple BBQ.

Two committees of the board voted Thursday night to recommend ousting the popular summer celebration from Madison Square Park — despite the park conservancy's endorsement — citing concerns about damage to the park. They noted their decision last month to bar five ethnic groups from ending their parades near the same space for similar reasons — that vote is now under city review.

The Union Square Hospitality Group is planning to hold its ninth annual Big Apple BBQ Block Party on June 11 and 12 in and surrounding the Flatiron District park.

The festival, which drew over 100,000 people last year, will feature $8 plates of BBQ classics, a beer tent, live music and cooking demonstrations, organizers said.

Grilling at the annual Big Apple BBQ, which organizers want to bring back this year.
Grilling at the annual Big Apple BBQ, which organizers want to bring back this year.
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Tom Reidy, the conservancy's director of park operations, had urged the board last month to move five post-parade celebrations away from the park despite fierce opposition, arguing that the parades drew too many people, causing serious damage to the park's greenery and forcing crews to work long hours to clean-up. But he maintained the BBQ event, which last year donated $135,000 to the conservancy, was different from the parades because the BBQ organizers hire professional cleaners and have always left the park clean.

Board members said police have no incidents on file in connection with the event and said that not a single complaint was filed with the board over noise, smells or congestion last year.

Nonetheless, the committees voted eight to five to bar the BBQ from the park, arguing that it should be kept open for residents to enjoy. The board's vote is only advisory.

"I just think it's too big for Madison Square Park," said committee member David Golab, a longtime critic of the event who has consistently voted against it and said that he has heard complaints about the event.

He and others also made the case that opening the park to one event was wrong after closing it to the others.

"It's not fair to deny ethical, cultural and religious post-parade events but allow commercial events to occur," Golab said.

Board member Matthew Schneid agreed, arguing that allowing the event would be hypocritical.

"When we voted not to give ethnic organizations and now we're going to vote an event that's clearly not ethic, we're sending a very bad message," he said.

Aside from precedent, board member Howard Mendes also argued that the park should be left for residents to enjoy.

"This barbecue is wonderful but take this somewhere else," he said.

But Board Member Nicholas Athanail, who lives in the area, said that the festival has done its best to address noise concerns and that he's always been impressed with how clean the streets have been left.

"My experience with this event is remarkable," he said.

The event will now go to the full board for vote next Thursday, May 10.