The park was established in 1978 as Washington Market Community Park, a result of local activism which aimed to bring much-needed green space to lower Manhattan.
In 1962, much of western Tribeca was restructured and developed as part of the Washington Street Urban Renewal Plan. By the early 1970s, the site on which the park is now located was listed in the plan as a “public open space,” but neighborhood activists wanted it turned into a park.
Through community effort, a temporary park was put into place that encompassed much of the current footprint (including the tennis and basketball courts) as well as the areas now occupied by the Borough of Manhattan Community College ramp and the base of Tribeca Bridge.
In the late 1970s, a federally-funded Community Block Development Grant was obtained from the city and used to design and build the existing park. Lee Weintraub, then an architect with the city’s Housing Preservation and Development Corporation (HPD), was assigned to design the park. A not-for-profit corporation, Washington Market Community Park, Inc, was created in 1978 to oversee the park, to be run by a Board of Directors elected by the community.
As the park neared completion, however, there still remained no source of funds for maintenance. HPD was receiving proposals for nearby urban renewal parcels, including Parcel 5B (an empty lot on Greenwich Street between Warren and Murray streets) and Parcel 5C (west of which later became PS 234). HPD decided to ensure the long-term funding of the park by making its maintenance an obligation of the developer of one of these sites.
Beginning in 1982, an interim plan was enacted to provide maintenance funds for Washington Market Community Park via a revenue stream from the parking lot which had leased Parcel 5B. This agreement was designed to provide funding until such a time as Parcel 5B was developed, at which point the developer would be required to fund the park for another 40 years. The interim funding mechanism remained in place until 2001, with a separate Board of Directors called the Parks Maintenance Corporation (PMC) in charge of allocating the funding.
In 1999, the City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation took over control of Washington Market Community Park from HPD. One reason for this change was to protect the park, which was still mapped simply as a “public open space.” This designation could have been easily changed to allow development of the site. The Parks Department took HPD’s seat on the PMC board and authorized the elected board of directors of Washington Market Community Park, Inc. to continue to oversee maintenance of the park, to run programs in the park and to make policy decisions subject to their supervision.
Shortly after the park became sheltered by the Parks Department, Parks Commissioner Henry Stern recommended that the park be expanded as part of the planned narrowing of Greenwich Street, due to occur through the Greening of Greenwich Street project. Architect Lee Weintraub proposed a design that would quadruple the children’s play space in the park. Community Board 1 approved the final plan in September 2000. A new perimeter fence was installed that fall as phase one and the improved play space construction began in 2001. A surplus had been saved in the PMC account to fund the nearly $1 million playground construction project, aided by a $247,000 grant from the city.
On September 11, 2001, the park was damaged by the attack on the World Trade Center, several blocks south. Covered in debris, the park was used as a lot for emergency vehicles and as a power station. The playground had to be closed for several months, delaying the construction and improvement project.
In November 2003, the new playground was completed and opened to the public. In 2004, The Minskoff Group purchased Parcel 5B for the development of a large condominium and retail project. As a condition of their purchase agreement, a negotiated lump sum was paid to the Parks Department to provide a maintenance fund for the park. This money was placed in a dedicated grant line account at the Parks Department, solely for the use of the park until the funds are depleted.
The PMC board was dismantled at this time. Although the Parks Department allowed the community-elected board of directors to continue their involvement in park policy and programming, they no longer gave the board budget oversight or supervision of a private maintenance staff. A full-time crew from the Parks Department was transferred into Washington Market Community Park in the fall of 2004.
The next two years involved much transition for the park, including the abbreviation of its name to Washington Market Park. The board of directors, then led by president Fraya Berg, closely guarded the community’s history of involvement in this park while developing a new partnership with the Parks Department.
New community members were elected to expand the board to 20 directors. In 2006, the Board of Directors voted to change their name to The Friends of Washington Market Park and to reinstate the former 501(c) (3) status as a not-for-profit corporation. Paperwork was filed in 2007 to allow the Friends to begin private and corporate fundraising to support their programming and the further enhancement of Washington Market Park.
July 22, 2015
“From Dump to Jewel: How Washington Market Park Took Root in Tribeca”