Court approves restaurant for Union Square Park

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Union Square. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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Union Square Park can have a restaurant after all.

Today, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the Parks Department can move ahead with a plan to allow a seasonal restaurant to open in the park's recently renovated northern pavilion.

"We conclude that plaintiffs fail to state a claim for a violation of the public trust," said the court in its decision.

In 2012, the Parks Department signed an agreement with Chef Driven Market to allow a restaurant in the park's northern pavilion, which the department had recently renovated.

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The 15-year agreement would allow the restaurant to operate from mid-April through mid-October, from morning until midnight, near the spot where Luna Cafe used to operate, until it closed in 2007.

In exchange, the restaurant would pay the city an annual fee starting at $300,000 (and rising to $450,000 in the final year), or 10 percent of gross revenue, whichever was bigger.

The restaurant also agreed to fund at least $700,000 in capital improvements, to submit all menu items to the Parks Department for approval, and to include relatively affordable breakfast, brunch, and dinner options. The restaurant also promised that outdoor seating would be open to the public.

Critics argued that the restaurant was a non-park purpose and filed suit.

The suit then wound its way through the state's court system.

Today, the state's top court ruled that while "[p]laintiffs have a different view of the best use of Union Square Park and its pavilion in particular... this difference of opinion, without more, does not demonstrate the illegality of the Department's plan."

"We are obviously disappointed," emailed Geoffrey Croft, one of the plaintiffs. "The proposed restaurant would take away desperately needed play space from children and the community as well as impact the pavilion's free speech uses. We sincerely hope the mayor will make the right decision and return the historic pavilion to the children and the community instead of allowing a Bloomberg-era high end restaurant which is clearly not needed."

A representative for the Parks Department had no immediate comment.

UPDATE: In a statement, Law Department senior counsel Deborah Brenner called the court's ruling, "a win for the community."

"The café will offer affordable, high-quality food for park-goers, including breakfast for as low as $1.95," she said. "And prices may not be increased without the City's consent. Moreover, this project has tripled the size of an adjoining playground for children and families."