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Marcus Samuelsson Food Fest Devoured Part of Morningside Park, Locals Say

 A private event took over the southern portion of the park since Wednesday, according to the Friends of Morningside Park.
Morningside Park
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HARLEM — A local parks group is criticizing Marcus Samuelsson’s star-studded food festival for taking over the southern end of Morningside Park for the last six days.

Harlem EatUp! — a four-day festival that President Bill Clinton and Mayor Bill de Blasio attended — set up four large tents in the public park for “The Experience,” a VIP food and drink tasting event Saturday that cost between $75 and $150 to get in.

“The park has basically been utilized for a private event for six days now,” said Brad Taylor of Friends of Morningside Park. “It’s just been a big imposition on our community and the park users.”

Saturday's event also had some free elements, including cooking demonstrations and access to food trucks, vendors and family activities.

Monday after the event, there were NYPD blockades at two entrances at the southern end of the park. People inside the park were told to avoid the area while a crew removed the tents and fences.

Apart from not being able to use a large part of the public park, the conservancy group is also worried about any potential damage to the park’s fields that are used by local schools, Little League, and recreational sports leagues, said Maurice Sessoms, a member of the park group.

“It looks bad,” Sessoms said. “They may have to reseed the area. If they do, they have to close the area and if they don’t the park is going to look like crap for the rest of the season.”

Because no one can get close enough to inspect the damage, it is difficult to say exactly how much restoration, if any, will be needed. There are a few small brown patches on the grass and muddy tire tracks near the edge of the fields, he added.

The park’s group is not opposed to hosting large events in the park. They simply want the park to benefit from hosting, Sessoms said.

“All of us in our group, we want the event. But we want it to be done correctly,” he said. “We don’t want the event not to be there. We just want them to respect the neighborhood.”

Another criticism is that the park is not benefiting from hosting the event. The festival's two beneficiaries, which will receive the proceeds from the event, are Citymeals-on-Wheels and Harlem Park to Park.

Event organizers paid the Parks Department $28,000 to use the park. They are scheduled to clear the area by 4 p.m. Tuesday, said Parks Department spokesman Sam Biederman.

"We carefully selected the park to host this enriching event, and worked closely with the Parks Department to ensure everyone’s safety and security during the festival, and to implement best practices for managing and maintaining the park’s grounds," a spokesman for the event said in a statement. "We are in the process of working with the city to make minor repairs that resulted from the festival’s use of the park.”

Tuesday morning, after DNAinfo asked Harlem EatUp! questions about Morningside Park, organizers reached out to Friends of Morningside Park about working with them for next year’s event, Taylor said.

“We look forward to working with them in the event next year,” Taylor said.