Union Square: Public programs are bigger and better than ever

More than 1,200 attendees gathered to eat, drink and celebrate the 20th anniversary of Harvest in the Square this past fall. Photos courtesy Union Square Partnership
More than 1,200 attendees gathered to eat, drink and celebrate the 20th anniversary of Harvest in the Square this past fall. Photos courtesy Union Square Partnership

As the Union Square Partnership business improvement district prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary, its public programs are bigger and better than ever before.

While the district has a long history as a natural public forum, never has it been more popular than it is today. Union Square is one of New York City’s most highly trafficked neighborhoods, with nearly 383,000 daily visitors on a busy Greenmarket Friday and more than 1 million shoppers visiting UrbanSpace’s holiday market each December. The area’s rapidly expanding retail landscape, paired with its popularity as a home for tech, advertising, media and information companies, has further driven the increase in daily travelers.  

“Union Square has always been a truly mixed-use neighborhood: People come here to work, play, eat, shop, work out, or just enjoy spending time in the park,” said Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership. “With the volume of people coming to the area for all different purposes, we want to ensure that our public programming is geared toward variety, so we can offer something for everyone and enhance their experience in the district.”

To highlight the abundance of athleisure retailers, studios and gyms in the district, the Partnership presented its second annual Union Square Sweat Fest this winter. Following last year’s successful program, the weeklong health and fitness festival was expanded for 2016, adding more classes and giveaways for participants to enjoy.

On Feb. 20, Sweat Fest opened with three classes led by well-known celebrity trainers. During the program, more than 1,000 participants enjoyed complimentary classes and giveaways provided by more than 50 local businesses, including Bandier, The Fhitting Room, Paragon Sports, Swerve and more. Some of the neighborhood’s newest arrivals, including Lululemon, Athleta and ivviva, participated in the event series, as well.

Sweaty Betty hosting Elements Fitness Barre during the Second Annual Union Square Sweat Fest this past February.

The fun continues this summer with the return of Summer in the Square, the Union Square Partnership’s summer-long event series. On Thursdays from June 16 to August 11, Union Square Park will be the site for a variety of free fitness classes, music, special performances, movie screenings and kids’ activities.

Fitness classes will take place on the plaza in the early morning and in the evening, while children’s performances and activities will be programmed throughout the day. Summer in the Square attendees can enjoy music and dance performances in the afternoon and evening during their lunch break or on their way home from work. After debuting movie screenings in Union Square Park last summer, the Partnership is presenting two feature films at Summer in the Square this year. Moviegoers will gather on the north plaza at dusk for beloved musical “Grease” and cult classic “The Goonies.”

“More than 10,000 people participated in Summer in the Square activities last year, and we knew we had to keep growing the series,” said Scott Hobbs, deputy director of the Union Square Partnership. “Working with our community partners to make this free programming possible is a great opportunity to showcase the strength and diversity of our local business community.”

When the weather cools off, foodies will look forward to the 21st Annual Harvest in the Square, scheduled for Thurs., Sept. 22. Last year’s festival featured more than 50 local restaurants and more than 15 wineries and breweries, drawing 1,200 attendees to celebrate the neighborhood’s vibrant restaurant culture. Harvest serves as a vital fundraiser for the Union Square Partnership’s extensive community programming and its work to beautify and maintain Union Square Park.

For families spending time in the city, Union Square is the go-to location for kid-friendly activities. The Fall for All festival will come back to the square this autumn, offering interactive games, refreshments and family fun. At the start of the holiday season, Picture Perfect in Union Square will offer professional portraits and holiday entertainment, kicking off the opening of the UrbanSpace holiday market in Union Square.

“Our public programs truly showcase the strength and camaraderie of our business community,” said Falk. “They have grown and diversified in tandem with our district, and we’re looking forward to making them bigger and better than ever this year.”

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