UNION SQUARE — Park advocates and city officials gathered in Union Square Sunday to urge Mayor Bill de Blasio to cancel the license for an upscale restaurant in the park's northern pavilion.
Saying there was already too little public space in lower Manhattan and citing the pavilion's historic role, the advocates called on de Blasio to reverse the Bloomberg-era plan.
“No one is going to go hungry if this pavilion stays a pavilion, and in fact it’s going to feed our spirits and our minds if we keep it as a park and a pavilion that we enjoy as a community,” said Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney. She added, “I understand the need for revenue to keep up the park, but this is just too heavy a price to pay.”
Opponents of the restaurant lost a two-year legal battle several weeks ago, when New York’s highest appeals court ruled against their argument that the restaurant would be an inappropriate use of public space and should require state approval.
The city granted the space to Chef Driven Market, the restaurant chain behind Pigalle and 5 Napkin Burger, in 2012. The February ruling paved the way for it to open as early as next month.
Supporters of the restaurant argue the revenue it would bring to the city could fund the maintenance and renovations of Union Square. However, many elected officials say this is not reason enough to sacrifice a limited amount of public space.
They also cited the historic significance of the spot, called the Woman’s and Children’s Pavilion, which has been home to speeches by Cesar Chavez, Emma Goldman, Gloria Steinem and many others.
“There are a lot of ways for the city to make money, and if you think about it for a moment there are lots of things that we don’t do that would make us money,” said State Assembly Member Richard Gottfried. “Some things are just wrong, and you don’t do them even if somebody will pay you.”
De Blasio's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some people who frequent Union Square said they would be happy to see a restaurant open.
“It would definitely benefit the park. It’s just what it needs,” said Antionio Varga, who lives on 20th Street and said he would like the opportunity to eat outside. “Nobody sits there ever,” he said of the pavilion.
Melissa Hurwitz, whose 4-year-old daughter was playing in the park, said she thought the space should be used, and would like to see a kid-friendly restaurant.
“If it’d be like shake shack, that would be great,” she said.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, however, said the deciding factor would be what could go into the pavilion instead of a restaurant or bar.
“A public planning process still could identify what would be the best use of the space, he said while watching his daughter play in the Union Square playground's sandbox. “The possibilities are many, but whatever it is, it should be programmed with community consultation.”
The park was home to Luna Park, an open air bar and restaurant, until 2007. The city began accepting bids for a new eatery in 2010. De Blasio spoke out against the restaurant plan as Public Advocate, but has not declared an official stance since taking office as Mayor, and did not act to reverse the course of February's lawsuit.
One of the city's winning arguments in the suit was that because the city had granted the restaurant a certificate rather than a lease, it had the freedom to get rid of the eatery at any time.
But Assembly Member Gottfried said de Blasio should use that ability to stop the plan now, and reverse the privatization of public space promoted by Mayor Bloomberg.
“If that’s the law, take it back now, give it back to the community,” he said. “The city is changing course on a lot of issues and this should be one of them.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the location of Luna Park. In fact, it was located just outside the Union Square pavilion.