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Shake Shack Hogging Public Plaza for Staff Use, Community Board Says

By Janet Upadhye | November 26, 2013 1:40pm
 Community Board 2 members say Shake Shack is appropriating a public space for meetings and team-building exercises. 
Willoughby Plaza
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DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Downtown Brooklyn locals are flipping out over Shake Shack employees' reported overuse of a public park next to the popular hamburger seller, Community Board 2 members said Monday.

Shake Shack employees regularly take over Willoughby Plaza — located adjacent to the hamburger joint — to hold “staff meetings and team-building exercises,” making it hard for the public to use the space, according to CB2 member Hemalee Patel.

“Every time I walk past there they are...all over the plaza and people are unable to use the space. They’re making a lot of noise, pushing tables together,” she said at the CB2 meeting, adding that the trainings usually take place from 5 to 6 p.m.

“Now look, if you’re a small, local mom-and-pop shop and you once and a while use this, you know, I’m not gonna say anything. But they’re a huge corporation. You need team building? Then why don’t you get an office space or rent some space? Seriously, this is a public plaza and they appropriated it,” Patel said.

CB2 district manager Robert Perris said during the summer months he saw at least 15 employees use the plaza almost every day.

Reps for Shake Shack did not immediately return calls for comment.

The city spent $2 million dollars in 2011 to add lighting, outdoor seating, greenery and bike racks to equip Willoughby Plaza for public use. The park, which is is run by the Department of Transportation and maintained by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, is located at the entrance to Downtown Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall and is flanked by Shake Shack and Panera Bread.

"As far as we know, Shake Shack has not been using Willoughby Plaza for any events," Downtown Brooklyn Partnership spokeswoman Vivian Liao wrote in an email Tuesday.

The Partnership told Perris a different story when he called to complain over the summer about Shake Shack's use of the plaza, he said. Perris said he called repeatedly and was told, "It’s the position of the Downtown Brooklyn partnership that Shake Shack is a valued neighbor in the Downtown community and that if they need to use the space on a temporary basis than [we] are comfortable with that,” he said.

Local Olga Alexandrovar said she thought Shake Shack employees have a right to use the space.

"They work here, too, and they are also our community," she said.

But Patel doesn't agree.

“I think it is completely un-neighborly of them, considering how much money they make off of the citizens of Brooklyn,” she said. “To use our public spaces this way is just unacceptable.”

The DOT did not immediately return calls for comment.