Testimony of NYS Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh Before the Art Commission of the City of New York Regarding Renovation of the Northern End of Union Square Park

July 16, 2007

My name is Brian Kavanagh and I represent the 74th Assembly District, which includes parts of the Lower East Side, Union Square, Gramercy, Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village, Waterside Plaza, Kips Bay, Murray Hill, and Tudor City.

I would like to thank the Art Commission and President James Stuckey for the opportunity to provide testimony regarding the proposed renovation of the northern end of Union Square Park, which is entirely within the bounds of the 74th Assembly District.

As you know, Union Square Park, particularly its northern end, has been an important public space for many years. The pavilion and the adjoining plaza hosted the first Labor Day Parade, and served as a critical gathering place for labor activists, resulting in the designation of the pavilion as a National Historical Landmark. Over the years, this area of the park has served many roles: as a center for entertainment and recreation, as a space for children and their caregivers to play and relax, and as a gathering place for public events.

I believe that the design of the renovation before you today should reflect the public interest in preserving and maintaining an unambiguously public space where park users can gather, organize, and play – and maximizing the amount of such space in an area of the city where park space is very scarce.

The plans for renovating and expanding the playground area meet this objective, and I applaud the Department of Parks and Recreation for nearly doubling the space devoted to children’s play and ensuring that it will comply with the standards set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act. I believe that the construction of the playground should move forward promptly, notwithstanding any concerns people have as to other aspects of the proposed renovation.

On the other hand, I share the concern that others have expressed regarding the Department’s apparent desire to construct a new structure to be used as a comfort station. I am aware that the Arts Commission’s jurisdiction calls for a review of the design of the proposed project, rather than its use. However, in this case, the proposed addition of this particular element – the comfort station – is predicated on a proposed use of the pavilion that would diminish the public accessibility of the overall design of the renovation. I understand that the Department’s purpose in proposing this additional structure would be to provide bathroom facilities other than those that would be contained within the pavilion—thereby allowing the bathrooms in the pavilion to be available solely for a non-public use, the restaurant the Department would like to install in the pavilion.

Again, I believe that the design for the overall renovation should be evaluated from the perspective of whether it maximizes the amount of genuinely public space in the northern end of the park. The use of the pavilion has yet to be decided and will be subject to a request for proposals that the Department has not yet issued and that the local Community Board has requested be compatible with uses other than a restaurant. As such, I would suggest that the Arts Commission disapprove the free-standing comfort station at this time, pending a later determination of whether this element of the plan is necessary when the question of the pavilion’s use has been resolved. In short, if the pavilion ends up being used in a way that allows public access to bathrooms in the pavilion, then the free-standing comfort station will not be a sensible element of the design before you today.

Thank you again for the opportunity to offer testimony and for your consideration of my comments.