Central Park’s Great Lawn Closed Due to ‘Significant Damage’ from Global Citizen Fest

The concert drew crowds during heavy rainfall, damaging the iconic 12-acre lawn at the center of Central Park. The Lawn will remain closed to the public until April.

| 05 Oct 2023 | 06:34

After a rainy Global Citizen Festival, the Great Lawn in Central Park is closed to the public until April for “seeding, sodding, and aerating,” according to a notice on the Central Park Conservancy’s website — a month earlier than the Lawn’s usual November to April winter closure period. “The use of heavy equipment and intense foot traffic in the saturated conditions from the Sep. 23 concert damaged a large portion of the lawn and fully destroyed a third of it,” said spokesperson from the Conservancy. A video uploaded by the Conservancy shows large sections of the lawn where the grass has worn down into uneven stretches of mud.

Global Citizen, an advocacy organization that describes itself as an “action platform dedicated to achieving the end of extreme poverty,” attributed damage to causes apart from the festival. “Four inches of rain fell in Central Park in the days after our event was loaded out. That rainfall caused widespread damage and massive flooding across the Park that is completely unrelated to the Festival,” said a Global Citizen spokesperson.

The Global Citizen Festival took place on a soggy Saturday this year, as Tropical Storm Ophelia washed the city with heavy rains. The concert, headlined by artists like Ms. Lauryn Hill, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and BTS Member Jung Kook, continued nonetheless. “The show is rain or shine!” festival organizers posted to Instagram, two days before the concert. An estimated 30,000 people showed up—half the crowd size of past years—many clad in colorful ponchos and rain boots.

In the days leading up to the festival, meteorologists warned that Tropical Storm Ophelia would bring strong winds and precipitation to New York. “The Global Citizen movement isn’t going to stop because of a little bit of rain,” said Hugh Evans, the organization’s CEO, in a CNN interview on Sep. 20.

“Daily in the week before the event, we worked closely with the NYC Mayor’s Office, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, Office of Emergency Management, NYPD, FDNY and the Central Park Conservancy. Ultimately, the City of New York, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Central Park Conservancy, determined that this year’s festival should go ahead in the rain,” said a Global Citizen spokesperson.

In an Oct. 2 letter to Mayor Eric Adams, District 6 Councilmember Gale Brewer criticized the City’s decision to go “full speed ahead despite torrential rain,” and requested that Mayor Adams move the festival to other venues in future years.

“12-acres of public greenspace will be unavailable to New Yorkers until April 2024 or later, all to accommodate a one-day event,” she wrote. “I urge you to schedule the Global Citizen Festival in a venue other than Central Park, such as an arena or stadium.”

On Oct. 5, The West Side Spirit asked park goers near the Great Lawn for their thoughts on the matter. Jim Beard, 62, who lives on the Upper East Side, appeared unmoved by the closure. “There’s been big events on the Lawn before. I think that’s part of the risk,” he said. “I don’t think anyone should be surprised. Stuff happens.”

Carol, a resident of the Upper West Side, agreed with Councilmember Brewer. “They probably should move the concert,” she said, while sitting with her friend Janet on a bench. “Many people use the lawn this time of year,” said Janet. “The kids play here after school. Usually there’s activity, but look—it’s barren.”

“In a bigger world, you might ask if it’s appropriate to have these huge festivals in the middle of the park that’ll keep other people from using it,” said Michael van Itallie, 81, who lives on the Upper West Side. “The park is delicate.” He peered over the fence surrounding the Lawn. “Though it doesn’t look too bad from here.”

Councilmember Brewer says that the lawn may cost up to $1 million to repair, based on initial estimates from the Central Park Conservancy. Global Citizen may be responsible for the expense. “Global Citizen works with the Central Park Conservancy to assess and cover the costs of any damage, and we remain committed to fulfilling those obligations, as we have since 2012. This was communicated to the Central Park Conservancy before this year’s event and after it, as always,” said a Global Citizen spokesperson. The Central Park Conservancy did not respond to The Spirit’s question about how much the lawn will cost to restore.

According to Global Citizen’s spokesperson, the organization “delivers more than $10 million of economic benefit to New York every year.” One source close to the organization says the sum includes “the annual direct and indirect economic impact the Global Citizen Festival has on the city.” In her letter, Councilmember Brewer estimated the festival’s contribution to the City General Fund at around $2 million—likely a figure consisting of fees paid directly to the city, including concession fees to the NYC Parks Department.

“I have never been a fan of the Global Citizen Festival because so little, if any, of the grants are allocated to non-profits in New York City,” Councilmember Brewer wrote.

Some New Yorkers may be reminded of a rainy Saturday in 1981, when a free Simon & Garfunkel concert drew over 500,000 people to the Great Lawn. It, too, was a benefit concert—though the funds raised went toward the renovation of Central Park.