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City Won't Help Effort to Make Public Cafe by the 161st St. Farmers Market

By Patrick Wall | May 30, 2013 11:21am
 Neither DOT nor Parks will provide public seating by the Bronx Borough Hall farmers market.
A 161st Street Farmers Market Cafe
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CONCOURSE — The idea seemed both simple and splendid: why not add café-style seating in the park near the weekly Bronx Borough Hall farmers market to encourage healthy eating and park use?

Cary Goodman, head of the 161st Street Business Improvement District and one of the people who dreamed up the idea, offered to store the tables and chairs in the BID office and supply workers to maintain the once-a-week café in Joyce Kilmer Park.

And he knew whom to ask for the furniture — the Department of Transportation, which helps local groups around the city create public social spaces through various programs.

But when the BID asked the DOT for the seating, the agency said it had none to spare.

“The Transportation Department with its enormous budget can’t find a few hundred dollars for street furniture?” Goodman said. “Then, fine, let us borrow some.”

On Tuesday, Community Board 4 voted unanimously to send the DOT a letter in support of the farmers market café, which district manager José Rodriguez said could be a “game changer” for the neighborhood.

“If the BID is going to provide the storage space, the volunteers to do the set up and clean up, all I want to know is, why would [the DOT] not allow that to happen?” said Rodriguez.

A DOT spokesman said the BID requested movable street furniture of the kind used in the agency’s Plaza Program, which helps nonprofits create neighborhood plazas.

The agency informed the BID that, “this is not currently feasible due to existing demands for such supplies,” the spokesman said.

The BID and community board also approached the Parks Department about setting up the furniture around Heinrich Heine Fountain (better known as Lorelei), which stands at the southern end of Joyce Kilmer Park, just steps from the sidewalk where the farmers market runs.

A Parks Department spokesman said that the agency does not provide temporary furniture and that it would need to see a “detailed proposal” before allowing the BID or community board to put its own seating in park space.

This is not the first time the BID has bumped up against the city in its drive to enhance the area, which is home to the borough’s courthouse and government headquarters, many businesses and a strip mall and, of course, Yankee Stadium.

Last year, even after the BID dispatched its own workers to clear public flowerbeds along the 161st Street underpass and plant rosebushes, it struggled to convince the city to care for them.

And, when the BID tried in the past to organize movie nights on a public plaza in front of the Bronx County Building, the city shut it down, citing safety and insurance concerns.

“There’s a question of fairness here,” Goodman said, noting the flourishing, city-supported plazas and sidewalk seating that seem ubiquitous in parts of Manhattan.

He called the 161st Street area the “capital of the borough,” which thousands of government workers and jurors pass through daily, not to mention countless residents and baseball fans.

“This is a hub,” Goodman said, addressing the city. “Put some resources behind it to make it a great place.”

The farmers market, one of GrowNYC’s dozens of city Greenmarkets, begins next week and runs every Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. until November 26.

This year, it will collect food scraps to turn into compost and old clothes and other textiles to recycle.

Margaret Hoffman, a Greenmarket regional coordinator who manages the Borough Hall site, said the park space by the market seems perfectly suited for café-style seating.

“It’s sort of calling out for it,” Hoffman said. “I can’t think of another location where this would work quite so smoothly.”