PROGRESS REPORT: New Astor Place squares are hip and happening

Douglas Dunn & Dancers lit up one of the new plazas at the inaugural Astor Alive! performing-arts festival last September.
Douglas Dunn & Dancers lit up one of the new plazas at the inaugural Astor Alive! performing-arts festival last September.

BY WILLIAM KELLEY | Spring fever is upon us, and Villagers are once again enjoying our streets and open spaces.

At long last, the years of planning, design and construction of the transformative Astor Place/Cooper Square renovation project came to fruition over the winter. A decade in the making, these newly created town squares will come to life in the warm weather, primarily as places to sit, relax and observe the city’s bustling streets. In the next month, we will also welcome two small businesses opening kiosks in Astor Place — La NewYorkina and Astor Plate — once again featuring MUD coffee. The kiosks will activate both north and south plazas at Astor Place and contribute to overall plaza maintenance funding.

Construction’s end brought with it the eagerly anticipated return of Tony Rosenthal’s iconic “Alamo” (a.k.a. “The Cube”) sculpture, which had been undergoing restoration in New Jersey for almost two years. We are thrilled to welcome “The Cube” back home in time to celebrate its 50th anniversary, an impressive milestone given that it was New York City’s first piece commissioned as part of its first Public Art Program, which also turns 50 this year.

We also dedicated another iconic work of art at Astor Place in 2016, Jim Power’s mosaic poles, seven of which are now permanently installed in the plazas. Working with the city and local community stakeholders for approvals and funding, the poles tell the cultural history of the neighborhood, and are a triumph of populist art.

To celebrate “The Cube” ’s birthday and return of the mosaic poles, the Village Alliance is planning a host of free community events and programs in 2017.  Beginning with the Astor Poetry Jam on Sat., April 22, our seasonal programs will showcase local performance and visual artists, as well as a broad range of participatory events, in a comfortable and welcoming environment at the crossroads of East and West Villages. Following the Poetry Jam, we are planning the “Creativity Cubed” series, focusing on crafts and storytelling through paper sculpture, mosaics and other media.

The Astor Blaster Silent Disco on Fri., May 5, will commemorate the broad musical legacy of the neighborhood, while later in the fall, the Astor Alive! festival will once again highlight the current Downtown performing-arts scene, all free and open to the public. To stay up to date with the latest events at Astor Place and the surrounding neighborhood, including free fitness classes and more, follow @AstorPlaceNYC on social media or visit www.astorplace.nyc

On the business front, our local retailers continue to face challenges from online competition, but also from changing consumer spending habits, which are shifting away from goods and services toward more curated “experiences.” To encourage our community to shop locally, we continue to expand the Village Access Card program, now with more than 75 participants, offering exclusive benefits to neighborhood residents and employees. Our small businesses need your patronage more than ever, visit villagealliance.org/deals to sign up for your free card and explore the best of the Village.

Our most recent project installed uniform planters and upgraded tree-pit treatments along University Place.

Kelley is executive director, Village Alliance business improvement district