By Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN — Muslim, Sikh, Pakistani, Indian and Filipino leaders blasted Midtown's Community Board 5 after it voted to endorse a plan to reroute five annual parades away from Madison Square Park.
Board members in favor of the plan argued the Flatiron District park is just too small to accommodate the large post-parade celebrations, which now draw up to 20,000 people five weekends a year. Residents had complained of unbearable noise and damage to the park.
But organizers blasted the decision, made on Thursday, with some accusing the board of discriminating against their cultures and others warning the re-routing would destroy the events, which have been city institutions for decades.
"It was a total insult to us," said Haresh Hamrajani, secretary of the Federation of Indian Associations, before begging the board to allow the India Day Parade to continue using the space. "It's our constitutional right to use the park," he said, adding that the group always cleans up after the event,
If the plan is approved, the Muslim Day, Sikh Day, India Day, Pakistan Independence Day and Philippine Independence Day parades would be reversed, and march away from the park instead of towards it. The parades would begin on Madison Avenue between East 26th and 27th streets and would travel north to East 39th Street.
Post-parade festivities would then be held on East 41st Street, in front of the public library, between Fifth and Park avenues and along Madison Avenue between East 39th and East 42nd streets, where there are far fewer residents, Ron Dwenger, chair of the Board's Consents and Variances Committee, said.
The plan is now being considered by the Office of Citywide Events Coordination and Management, which has jurisdiction over parades. The board can only weigh in on the post-parade festivals.
But organizers said the proposed stretch of East 41st Street is inappropriate for the festivities. Parade-goers want to relax, share food and meet community members in the relaxed setting and shade of the park, not corralled along a commercial street, they said.
Some board members noted that the Madison Park Conservancy, which strongly supported the re-route plan, welcomes other major events to the park, most notably the Big Apple BBQ, which also attracts large crowds.
"It just doesn't make any sense," said Jay Garcha, a member if the Sikh community, whose wife helps to organize the Sikh Day Parade.
He accused board members of shutting ethnic communities out of the park.
"They only care about color," he said.
Hamrajani also blamed prejudice.
"They're only targeting the Asian parades," he said.
But Dwenger and other board members who voted in favor of the plan said again and again that they support the parades and want them to remain in the community.
They noted that the re-routing may change which direction the parades go, but keeps the festivals squarely in Community Board 5.
"We want this in our community. We just want a compromise," said Dwenger, who added that the proposed new post-parade space is actually larger than the area where they were held before.
It is now up to the city to decide.