Mystery donor’s big bucks back Bleecker park rehab

By Lincoln Anderson

Financed by $700,000 from a wealthy anonymous donor, a redesign is in the works for the seating area outside the Bleecker Playground, and some neighbors aren’t taking it sitting down.

The seating area, at Bleecker and W. 11th Sts., isn’t particularly heavily used, except for by Magnolia customers who like to eat their cupcakes there, just like Carrie in “Sex and the City,” then leave their wrappers on the ground.

Jessie McNab, an outspoken Westbeth resident who previously opposed the Abingdon Square and Washington Square Park renovations, is now, not surprisingly, raising a hue and cry over this latest park project.

“No one knows who this man is,” McNab said of the “mysterious donor.” “We don’t know if it’s going to be Marc Jacobs.”

McNab blasted the proposed paving materials, what she called the “extremely unpleasant seating” and the tree-pruning plan, which, she said, will cut the trees’ branches in a sort of zigzag pattern.

“Well, that will kill the trees, because they will go in shock,” she stated.

Asked if there was anything about the renovation plan that she liked, McNab sniffed, “Nothing at all.”

The creator of the seating area’s decades-old existing design is Rob Nichols, whose design for Washington Square Park from the same era has been replaced by the new design by George Vellonakis.

Doris Diether, co-chairperson of Community Board 2’s Landmarks and Public Aesthetics Committee, said the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has already O.K.’d the redo for the Bleecker seating area, which is in the Greenwich Village Historic District.

“They’re wasting all that money on something that was working before,” she said. “They’re moving the entrance around, and they’re changing the benches around.”

Diether said because the benches will be positioned across wide pathways, it will make it impossible for people to even speak to each other.

“This takes after Vellonakis’s mall plans,” Diether said, referring to the Washington Square redesign, with its extra-wide paths. “Most of the people at the meetings said, ‘Why are you changing this? It works fine.’ ”

However, Tobi Bergman, chairperson of C.B. 2’s Parks Committee, said Board 2 has been on record for several years now backing the seating area’s renovation as “a priority.”

“The park hasn’t been renovated in a long time,” he said. “It’s usable, but it’s not in great shape. … There are people who are against park renovations,” Bergman noted. “I understand that. I grew up in this city. You get nostalgic for the city, and you resist change. But look at Abingdon Square: Before it was a barren slab of asphalt; now, it’s a beautiful, flower-strewn oasis that’s swarming with people.”

Bergman said where trees’ roots are pressing up through the paving, the paving will be removed and a planted area will be cultivated around the bases of the trees. In the park’s center, the surface will be semipermeable crushed granite, which is also good for the trees.

“There’s not going to be any fences around the park, which is a thing people were concerned about,” Bergman assured. There will be a combination of fixed benches and movable seating, he added.

As for McNab’s assertion that the “zigzag” pruning pattern will harm the trees, Bergman scoffed, “She comes to all of our Parks Committee meetings and accuses them of trying to kill the trees. I don’t think it’s true.”

New lighting will also be installed, and the Parks Department is reaching out to the residents of the building next to the park, asking them to take down their extra-bright exterior lights, which they installed to deter noisy and illicit activities in the park at night.

Bergman said his understanding is that the “Family” sculpture will stay where it is in the park.

Above all, he said, the renovation will increase the seating area’s use — “and that trumps nostalgia.”

Cristina DeLuca, a Parks spokesperson, confirmed that a $700,000 donation has been made for the project, but did not reveal the donor’s identity. The project’s total cost is $1 million, with the other $300,000 coming from Council Speaker Christine Quinn, DeLuca said.

“The project will make the new seating area compliant to all current A.D.A. standards and repair pavements and add new curbs, fencing and light fixtures,” said DeLuca. “We will also add more greenery and trees. New benches will match the style of those in recently restored Abingdon Square Park. We don’t have a start date yet for construction.”

Some think that after all the heat he took from McNab and Co. — who even filed a lawsuit — over the Washington Square renovation, Vellonakis has been quietly pulled off the West Village parks redesign beat. The designer for the Bleecker seating area is Gail Wittwer-Laird, who recently did the Tompkins Square Park playground renovation.

However, DeLuca said, “George isn’t off of the Village ‘beat’. We have a number of other architects in the agency designing projects in the Village,” she said, citing the recently completed CaVaLa Park on Canal St. and upcoming renovations for Seravalli Park at Hudson and Horatio Sts.