Documentation: What was Concealed in Public Statements by Washington Square Park Private Conservancy Founders

Updated January 30, 2014 — New Documents at Bottom of Page

At the one public meeting dedicated to discussing a conservancy at Washington Square Park in June of 2013, the founders of this private group came before the public and presented a minimum amount of information about themselves. They referred to their organization, the Washington Square Park Conservancy, as “a little friends group.” They remarked that they’d only used the word ‘conservancy’ in their name because “every other name [they might use] was taken.” They were ‘just getting started’ and “in formation,” as the words of the announcement for Community Board 2′s Parks Committee meeting stated.

Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro spoke prior to the founders at the meeting. He offered them up as four affluent neighborhood women who just wanted to do a nice thing. Castro perhaps should go into p.r. because he orchestrated this scenario every step of the way to ensure that any piece of information that might just have ruffled community feathers was kept well hidden. As Manhattan’s Parks Commissioner for many years, Castro knew the topics people would take issue with in the Village and specifically in relation to Washington Square Park. He knew of strong community sentiment that wanted to guarantee that this iconic park NOT get out of public control, that the park NOT go the way of the other privatized parks in Manhattan; in fact, the community had turned down the idea of a conservancy at the park for many years. But Bill Castro, working with others in Bloomberg’s Parks Department, needed to get this private entity pushed through. (Was it a mandate from Michael Bloomberg himself to make this happen before his three seemingly endless terms end? Parks Commissioner Veronica White? Castro’s own fervent desire? Why is not clear.) The Parks’ official planned it all quite well — and he got his Community Board approval at the full Board meeting just two weeks later (31-13), tho’ “conditional” with some potentially sticky “stipulations,” but perhaps he figured he could work around that later.

And this private group of women went along with it. They were eager to act like a full-blown conservancy almost from Day 1, months before they came before Community Board 2. They’d been working on setting this up behind closed doors out of public view for two years (tho’ the time frame they gave in statements was shorter). They structured their organization like all the full-on conservancies — with an Executive Director who is also the park administrator, working for the City. Why did they need this? The only reason offered was so “they could share news about the park.” They downplayed anything they might do at the park, focusing on the planting of flowers and rounding up volunteers. They said they had no budget (they did), they offered no bylaws or concrete plans (both existed).

The information they presented to the Board didn’t even touch the surface of those plans, their secret meetings with New York University Inc., money from NYU, their intention to change bylaws to include a license agreement (which allows for operational oversight of the park), to take on a much larger role, to program film festivals and theatrical productions for “park patrons,” and more. The recently exposed vendor issue – the Conservancy’s decision to move and switch up the vendors, ending the presence of the park’s long-time “hot dog cart” workers (which will happen as of now at the end of the year) – is just a small indicator of what they have in mind going forward.

Washington Square Park has been run by the city’s Parks Department for years. It has had a designated Park Administrator who works only for the city for the last 17 years. It has functioned quite well, remained (other than its hotly battled redesign, almost complete) true to what people love about it, and the public has felt like it has remained their park. Now that is threatened.

Documents obtained by Washington Square Park Blog:

EMAILS THAT REFERENCE WASH SQ PRIVATE CONSERVANCY SIGNING LICENSE AGREEMENT WITH THE CITY AND CHANGING BYLAWS (something they said they would not be doing):
LICENSE_AGREEMENT_EMAIL_BYLAWS_CHANGE_WSP_CONSERVANCY

DOCUMENTS RE: NYU MONEY AND NYU MEETINGS AND WASHINGTON SQ PARK CONSERVANCY (in chronological order):

NYU_money_meeting_notes_washington_sq_conservancy_chronological_order

PARKS DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL BILL CASTRO’S COACHING, TO AVOID “MURKY AREAS” AND “SATISFY PUBLIC INQUIRY:”

Parks_Dept_Bill_Castro_CB2_Wash_SQ_Conservancy

MOVING OF THE HOT DOG VENDORS AWAY FROM “THE ARCH VIEW CORRIDOR” AND BRING IN “NEW AND DIFFERENT VENDORS (p. 2):

hot_dog_vendors_move_wash_sq_park_conservancy

NEW! ADDED JANUARY 6, 2014

CONSERVANCY 501(c)(3) APPLICATION REVEALS LOADS OF INFORMATION never mentioned at the one public meeting Community Board 2 held in early June to address its “formation” yet document filed in late April:

washsqpark_IRS

LETTER BILL DE BLASIO SENT AS PUBLIC ADVOCATE TO MANHATTAN PARKS COMMISSIONER BILL CASTRO AUGUST 2013 regarding “concerns over transparency and community involvement”:

bill_de_blasio_letter_manhattan_parks_commissioner_washington_sq_park_conservancy

MANHATTAN PARKS COMMISSIONER BILL CASTRO AT LAST RESPONDS TO DE BLASIO IN DECEMBER 2013:

bill_castro_response_bill_de_blasio_public_adv_washington_square_park_conservancy

CONFLICTs OF INTEREST BOARD LETTER TO VERONICA WHITE RE: SARAH NEILSON “DUAL ROLE” AS WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK ADMINISTRATOR AND “EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR” CONSERVANCY (These “dual roles” are being sold as pure “fundraising” – if this is so, why can’t they just “raise funds” via the Parks Department?)

conflicts_of_interest_board_response_parks_dept_neilson_dual_role_june_2013

New! Added January 30, 2014:

WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK CONSERVANCY BUDGET E-MAIL TRAIL (Excel Document)

Washington Square Park Conservancy Budget Email Trail

See also:

Timeline of Road that Led to Community Board 2 “approval” of the Washington Square Park Conservancy

This is Part V in series. (Go to above page and scroll to bottom for links to entire series!)

And article in December 5, 2013 Villager, Blogger skewers conservancy over hot dog purge in the park

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mitchel Cohen December 6, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Great work, Cathryn!

It is tempting to dismiss this as a “tempest in a teapot” — so what if the Conservancy “suggested” moving the hot dog vendors? But, as your series and documents show so vividly, this is really about WHOSE “suggestions” take on the force of law and whose are ignored or dismissed.

AND, in whose interests is the particular decision being made?

If the Conservancy was really only concerned with acquiring funds to donate to the park, no strings attached, they would write that into their bylaws. That they refuse to do so — and it’s such a simple thing! — is a good indication that there’s a larger game afoot, as you’ve shown in your exposes.

Thank You,
Mitchel Cohen
Brooklyn Greens/Green Party and
Secretary, WBAI radio Local Station Board*

* for ID purposes only.

Reply

cathryn December 12, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Thanks, Mitchel! I appreciate your insightful, well framed comment.

Cathryn

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Patti Astor January 7, 2014 at 7:05 am

Wow, incredible work Cathyrn. Obviously this NOT just about the Hot Dog Vendors so let’s all keep up the pressure and the vigilance.
Patti Astor

Reply

cathryn January 7, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Hi Patti,

Thank you!! So true that this was *not* just about hot dog vendors… they were representative of the larger issues with this private body and brought attention to this but there is so much more.

Yes, re: keeping up the pressure and the vigilance!

Thanks for your comment –

Cathryn

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