When an independent parks advocate and a group of locals on the Upper West Side secured a settlement that forced Fashion Week out of Damrosch Park, it was seen as a major – and unlikely – victory for the community against the city and a powerful institution.
Lincoln Center, which manages Damrosch Park for the city’s parks department, was using public land as a source of revenue, booking private commercial events at the expense of public access, according to the coalition of Upper West Siders who brought the suit in 2013. This past December, a settlement was reached between the plaintiffs – NYC Park Advocates and the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, which includes local residents Cleo Dana, Harold Smith and Zina Michajliczenko – and the defendants, Lincoln Center and the parks department.
After the settlement was reached, Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, lauded the court’s decision but wondered aloud to the West Side Spirit whether Lincoln Center and the parks department would truly honor it.
“It’s a tremendous victory for the people who live around there,” said Croft in January. “The devil will be in the details, whether they uphold the agreement and also dramatically decrease the number of non-park events.” Four months in, Croft and others who were involved in the fight feel that annual events like the Big Apple Circus and the seasonal tents set up by Lincoln Center no longer have any place in Damrosch Park, and that their presence is an affront to the settlement they secured.
“They’re still using the park as their private ATM,” said Croft in a recent interview.
The settlement acknowledges that Damrosch Park is dedicated parkland owned by the city of New York and is under the jurisdiction of the parks department.
It also states that in order to further expand public access to the park, Lincoln Center may not re-enter into an agreement with Fashion Week’s owners IMG Worldwide, Inc. following the 2015 event this past February. It also bars Lincoln Center from entering into commercial agreements “substantially similar in nature, size and duration to Fashion Week and for which access is not generally available to the public.”
Other protections in the settlement include that the parks department not remove, or authorize the removal of, any trees in the park except for health and safety reasons consistent with department policy. In 2010, 56 trees were removed from the park to allow Fashion Week to take place. It also requires that Lincoln Center and the parks department implement a landscape plan and replant perennial shrubs and permanently install trees.
Betsy Vorce, a spokesperson for the center, said they’re in full compliance with the settlement as it relates to Damrosch Park. The spring tent, which is located on the western portion of the park, will be removed in two weeks after the conclusion of three fundraisers for local causes and one private event.
Vorce did not know whether Lincoln Center had plans to enter into other commercial agreements beyond what is currently scheduled, but confirmed that another tent will be erected in Damrosch Park sometime after the spring tent is dismantled.
“Eventually another tent will go up, but it will be in compliance with the settlement,” said Vorce.
Later, in an email, Vorce said: “Plans are still under discussion for fall and beyond regarding private events in the tent.”
Vorce said Lincoln Center does expect the Big Apple Circus to return in the fall, and touted events during the center’s summer season and the annual Midsummer Night Swing, both of which are open to the public at free or low cost.
There’s also go to be a small, open marquee area on the north side of the park that will be used to receive artists over the summer, she said. Lincoln Center has complied with interim plantings at the park in accordance with the settlement, and will be meeting with the local community board to discuss a permanent planting plan for 2016.
As for NYC Park Advocates and others who are invested in the future of Damrosch Park, the judge’s decision says they are not barred from enforcing the terms of the settlement in court. Croft said NYC Park Advocates has not ruled out pursuing the matter further through legal channels.