010908unionsq.jpgNo one knows for sure what’s to become of the future Union Square pavilion, but a strong contender for the space – formerly occupied by the shabby Luna Park – is a new restaurant helmed by Danny Meyer, who opened the Union Square Café in ’85 and whose Shake Shack in Madison Square Park is an object of obsession.

Construction begins on a new pavilion this winter, but some insiders are betting Meyer wins the rights to the space; besides his Shake Shack success he just so happens to co-chair the Union Square economic development corporation and has been heavily involved in the rehabilitation of the park’s north end. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe tells the Observer there’s no conflict of interest issue to prevent Meyer from bidding and says the license will go to someone with a “track record”, which Meyer’s got in spades.

A growing number of critics are strongly opposed to the restaurant idea; they feel that especially considering the political significance of Union Square park, every square foot should be free and available to the public. Even State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick is making noise: “In neighborhoods like Union Square which are starved for green space but already overwhelmed by dining choices, it is terrible public policy to continue to transform municipal parkland into a commercial engine.”

Benepe seems immune to community outcry against the restaurant and argues that the eatery is “crucial” to the park’s continued vibrancy. “Why wouldn’t you want to bring hundreds of people into the park during the off hours to make it safe and vibrant?” he wonders. Of course, hundreds of people were in the park when a brawl left four shot, one stabbed; another melee broke out in broad daylight when nearby Washington Irving High School let out. Maybe whatever eatery opens there can distribute free samples containing a mild sedative?

Photo of Union Square pavilion by Wallyg.