BY JENNIFER E. FALK | Over the last four decades, the Union Square Partnership has worked tirelessly to bring about positive change within the Union Square-14th St. district. We’ve showcased the beauty of our world-class park and created programs to benefit the businesses, residents and visitors who make the area a vibrant success. We take a multifaceted approach to enhancing the public realm and enriching the Union Square experience.
We were humbled when the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce honored the Partnership with its Neighborhood Business Advocate of the Year Award, acknowledging our many efforts on behalf of the district’s diverse business and residential community, as well as our beautification and sanitation programs, which have further helped to attract investment to the area.
This past year was a busy one as we engaged in a number of new activities to both improve upon our existing work, as well as highlight the strength of emerging new sectors within the district. First, due to the playground’s popularity and heavy use over the past five years, we invested more than $150,000 to replace the play space’s safety surface. Next, we welcomed the opening of The Pavilion seasonal restaurant on the park’s north plaza.
In its first year, The Pavilion established itself as a wildly successful amenity within the park, serving dishes featuring Greenmarket ingredients. The restaurant’s operator, Chef Driven, has been a terrific new neighborhood partner, working with the Partnership to provide 24 weeks of free children’s programming. We also connected them with local partners at the Veterans Administration for a special Memorial Day lunch, and they made a donation in honor of their opening day to benefit another terrific local nonprofit, Graham Windham. Equally as important, revenue from the restaurant’s first year of operations has already generated some $300,000 for the city’s general fund, to pay for vital services.
In 2014, Union Square saw a record number of daily visitors — 383,000 on a Greenmarket Friday in summer, which is a 10 percent increase since 2012. This rise in popularity has created strong demand for ground-floor retail space, driving vacancy down to 2.5 percent, among the lowest anywhere in New York City.
Filling these ground-floor spaces are a diverse array of retailers and new eateries, many of which further contribute to the area’s reputation as the epicenter of the city’s health-and-wellness scene. Over the past year, the district’s fitness options expanded as Planet Fitness, Reebok FitHub, CrossFit Union Square and specialized studios Fhitting Room, City Row and Pilates on the Square opened shop.
On lower Fifth Ave., dubbed “Athleisure Row” by Well+Good, Lululemon will relocate and expand, joining the strong co-tenancy of other athleisure retailers Athleta, GapFit, Nike, New Balance and newcomer Eddie Bauer.
To help people explore the area’s health-focused businesses, the Partnership launched Union Square Sweat Fest in February. More than 1,000 people signed up for complimentary fitness classes, gym passes, district discounts and social media giveaways from 40 local businesses during the weeklong event. The Partnership plans on expanding this program in the coming year with more fitness classes at our nine-week, free community programming series, Summer in the Square.
Drawn by these amenities and investments, as well as the area’s dynamism, central location and thriving business community, TAMI (tech, advertising, media and information) companies continue to flock to the neighborhood.
To help keep the area buzzing, the Partnership’s core services remain the foundation of our work. Our sanitation and landscaping teams have been extensively cleaning and beautifying the district in anticipation of the busy summer months. In 2014, we collected 125,708 bags of trash, removed 334 incidents of graffiti, maintained more than 600 pieces of moveable furniture in our numerous public seating areas, and planted thousands of bulbs, annuals, perennials and shrubs throughout the district. We also maintain a complimentary Wi-Fi system and solar-powered charging stations to keep park visitors powered-up and connected. And we fund a number of important positions, including a seasonal gardener for the park and a playground associate to program the playground.
Looking ahead, the year’s highlight will undoubtedly be Harvest in the Square’s 20th anniversary. Our signature food- and wine-tasting event raises funds to benefit the park and our district beautification efforts. Last year, guests helped us to raise more than $334,000. All told, Harvest has raised more than $4.7 million to support the Partnership’s investments in the park, and this year we hope to exceed the $5 million mark.
As we approach our 40th anniversary in 2016, we reflect on the incredible work that has taken place over the past four decades. We are proud of what has been accomplished together and thank our board members, community supporters and city and state partners who have worked collaboratively with us to bring about positive growth and continue to make Union Square a neighborhood for everyone.
Falk is executive director, Union Square Partnership