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Racism Fears Prompt CB5 Officials to Duck Big Apple BBQ Decision

By DNAinfo Staff on April 8, 2011 8:55am  | Updated on April 8, 2011 12:39pm

Grilling at the annual Big Apple BBQ.
Grilling at the annual Big Apple BBQ.
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Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Staff Writer

MIDTOWN — The Big Apple BBQ's pit-masters look set to return to Madison Square Park in June after two committees of Midtown’s Community Board 5 bowed out of making a decision to move it.

The ninth annual Big Apple BBQ Block Party in Madison Square Park is scheduled for June 11 and 12. More than 100,000 people flocked to the party, hosted by Union Square Hospitality Group, last year to enjoy plates of BBQ classics, live music and beer.

But the board's Parks and Consents & Variances committees voted 8-to-5 last month to recommend the city oust the party, citing concerns about damage to the park and noise. There is no history of complaints, the board admitted.

The 2010 Big Apple BBQ in Madison Square Park.
The 2010 Big Apple BBQ in Madison Square Park.
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Last night, they backed out of making that decision, voting 12-to-2 to recuse themselves from weighing in at all. Instead, they urged the full CB5 board to launch a task force to look at the pros and cons of holding large events in area parks.

The board currently lacks a definitive policy about which events merit shutting parks to local families, which many members fear opens them up to criticism of favoritism and elitism.

The board was publicly excoriated by members of five ethnic parades whose applications to hold their post-parade celebrations near the park were rejected in February, sparking accusations of racism. Board members said Thursday they feared that any decision they made on the Big Apple BBQ would be seen as unfair.

"This is our integrity and consistency on the line," said board member Kevin Kim, who has long expressed concern about the fairness of the parade decision.

He said after the board complained that a 5,000-person parade would have an impact, "Now we’re looking at 100,000 people and we’re saying 'This is okay'?"

The board voted to reject permits for post-parade celebrations near the park for five ethnic parades including the India Day Parade and the Phillipine Independence Day Parade.

The parade groups argued they deserved access to the park in the same way the BBQ festival was.

The Madison Square Park Conservancy has pushed CB5 to reject the parade-goers, saying they left the park a mess, while the BBQ did not. The BBQ also donated $135,000 to the conservancy in exchange for its event last year, while the parades typically don't give such donations, the conservancy argued.

But board members said they had to be consistent.

"We approve them one year, we don't approve them another year, and we don't really have a rhyme or reason of why that occurs," board member Ron Dwenger said.

Tom Reidy, the conservancy's director of park operations, defended the board's right to approve one event while denying others.

"The impact from the parades is much different than the impact from the Big Apple BBQ," Reidy said.

The decision now goes before the full board for vote on April 14 at 6 p.m. at St. Xavier High School at 30 West 16th St.

The city has the final say over whether to grant the permit to the Big Apple BBQ festival, but is expected to approve it as in past years.