Time to get square project back on track

After a surge of interest two years ago in renovating Washington Sq. Park, there now comes a renewed effort to upgrade the Village’s landmark centerpiece.

The effort is coming from several directions, including Community Board 2 and the Parks Department. Aubrey Lees, when she was the board’s chairperson, made renovating the park a goal and organized the meeting two years ago at which a redesign by George Vellonakis was presented, and at which Adrian Benepe, Parks commissioner, talked about conservancies and what they can do for parks.

It was decided the Washington Sq. Association would be the vehicle to raise cash for a Washington Sq. Park Fund — not a conservancy, primarily a money-raiser.

However, since then, the process has not progressed and little money has been raised. Parks pegs the renovation’s cost at $6 million to $10 million — no small sum. The lack of a concrete plan approved by C.B. 2 is cited as having been a hindrance to raising funds. Also, some point to New York University, saying it should be the first to make a major donation. So far, Councilmember Alan Gerson, who has gotten $600,000 allocated for the project, is the only elected official to contribute. In other words, there’s some finger-pointing going on.

According to Bill Castro, the Park’s Department’s Manhattan borough commissioner, the process stalled because we’ve been in an economic recession, making it tough to raise funds. Yet, he said in about three months there will be major news — when Parks hopes to announce significant private donations for the square. Castro also said that the department is working to help set up a form of a conservancy for the park. He assures refurbishing the square is a top priority of Commissioner Benepe.

It’s good to see Board 2 under Lees, now the Parks Committee chairperson, revisiting the issue. Yet, while Lees’ committee should be involved, a broader-based Board 2-sponsored Washington Sq. Park Task Force — similar to the successful Board 2 Landmarking Task Force Lees led — would be better. This body would unite community representatives and stakeholders, such as Board 2 members, residents, the Village Alliance, N.Y.U., Washington Sq. Association and Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Many issues need to be addressed, such as whether the dog run or statues should be relocated; what type of fence or benches should be installed; and the number, kind and placement of children’s areas. Also, the idea of a conservancy is bound to raise debate, and merits discussion. We think that a broad-based task force is the appropriate venue for this discussion and moving the project forward.

We’d like to see more elected officials allocate funds and N.Y.U. step up its already generous park support and take a leadership role, since its campus is on the square.

And let’s keep in mind the wisdom of the late Tony Dapolito, Board 2’s longtime Parks Committee chairperson, and how he so adroitly worked with all parties on issues to achieve solutions. With that approach, there will be progress — and surely a magnificent redesign for a deserving park that is so important to the Village and to the world.