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Damrosch Park – Private Encroachment on a Public Park

Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center is a public Park created by Robert Moses as a separate entity from Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (LCPA), and while the City has an agreement with Lincoln Center to manage the park, it is presumably still subject to City and State statues regarding its use.

Damroasch Park courtesy: Jason Bergman

Damroasch Park Before courtesy: Jason Bergman

Since its dedication in May 1969, Damrosch has served a community of park users, which includes residents in adjacent apartment buildings, students at nearby university campuses, and countless visitors to Lincoln Center, with a variety of active and passive recreational choices. The renowned architect, Dan Kiley, designed it with benches and planter beds surrounded by leafy trees and an array of flowering plants and shrubs.

In July 2010 there was a vast change in the appearance and purpose of Damrosch Park, with some mysterious illegal agreement among the City, LCPA, and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.  IMG- Fashion Week, a private, for- Profit Corporation, totally unregulated was given carte blanche to take over and do what ever it wanted to a public park in the heart of New York City. To provide for Fashion Week’s tents 57 flowering trees were cut down overnight, the established azalea plantings and the beautiful granite benches disappeared.

In addition to Fashion Week activities, the park is occupied by the Big Apple Circus and private parties during the winter and spring months. This means that for 10 months of the year, the public has no access to the park.

The destruction of the Park is an outrage and the residents of the neighborhood sought administrative relief. Park Commissioner Benepe admitted that the park falls under the Public Trust Doctrine which bars use of parks for any non-recreational purpose without the approval of the state legislature. State Senator Tom Duane found no such approval.

Manhattan Community Board 7, in which Damrosch Park lies,  passed the following resolution:

Mayor Bloomberg, the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and Lincoln Center to take immediate steps:

  • to consult with Community Board 7 prior to the negotiation, execution, renewal or operation of any agreement between DPR and Lincoln Center or its concessionaires that is likely to result in the substantial exclusion of the public from Damrosch Park
  • to restore the landscaping in Damrosch Park to its early 2010 status and to replace the Damrosch Park signage and other indicia of Park Department ownership and control of a NYC public park;
  • to ensure year-round access to Damrosch Park by its community of users;
  • to protect the park atmosphere from excessive noise and fumes caused by the generators required to provide electricity to the concessionaires’ events; to protect the surrounding community from excessively loud music levels emanating from the concessionaires’ private late-night events, as well as from the noise and inconvenience caused by the incessant setting-up and dismantling of equipment for those events; and
  • to consider other permanent sites in NYC for Fashion Week that would not impinge on the use of public park land by its natural community of users.

Other agencies and government officials have been approached.  It now seems that the only way to remove Fashion Week and restore the Park is through a lawsuit.

So, what is your reaction? Leave a comment.