The seemingly never-ending saga over plans to open a restaurant in the Union Square Pavilion may finally be over. (But let's face it, probably not.) The New York State Court of Appeals ruled today that the Parks Department is within its legal bounds to allow a seasonal restaurant to operate in the 85-year-old pavilion, Capital New York reports.
The battle over the proposed restaurant has been going on for almost ten years now, with opponents insisting that using the pavilion for a private restaurant is a flagrant misuse of public parkland. Critics have repeatedly pointed out that there are only two playgrounds but more than 150 restaurants, bars and markets within a two-block radius of the park. In 2008, a judge halted the project, telling the city it needed state approval to privatize the park. In 2009 a State Supreme Court judge reversed that decision. The plaintiffs appealed, and lost, in 2013.
Today, they lost again. The state's top court ruled that while "[p]laintiffs have a different view of the best use of Union Square Park and its pavilion in particular... this difference of opinion, without more, does not demonstrate the illegality of the Department's plan."
Geoffrey Croft, an outspoken parks advocate and one of the plaintiffs in this most recent lawsuit, said in a statement, "The proposed restaurant would take away desperately needed play space from children and the community as well as impact the pavilion's free speech uses. We sincerely hope the mayor will make the right decision and return the historic pavilion to the children and the community instead of allowing an irresponsible Bloomberg-era high end restaurant to be built which is clearly not needed.
"Business Improvement Districts should never be allowed to dictate public land uses and especially using money from anonymous donors. Communities should not have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting against the commercial exploitation of public park land. It's disgraceful."
The 200-seat restaurant will be called Chef Driven Market and be operated by restaurateur Simon Oren of 5 Napkin Burger fame. Oren has reportedly signed a 15-year agreement with the Parks Department and will pay an annual fee starting at $300,000 or 10 percent of gross revenue, whichever's more. Capital New York reports that Oren has also agreed "to fund at least $700,000 in capital improvements, to submit all menu items to the Parks Department for approval, and to include relatively affordable breakfast, brunch, and dinner options."