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September 21, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

The Parks Belong to Everybody? That’s What You Think

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he is in negotiations with city council speaker Christine Quinn over the price that he and a small group of friends and associates will pay for naming rights to various public places.

Neither official would comment on the places that are being discussed, but sources close to the negotiations who insisted on anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press, told us that the list includes the following:

Fifth Avenue to be renamed Bloomberg Way; Lexington Avenue from 23rd Street to 96th Street to be renamed Avenue of the Roses after the Rose family, prominent philanthropists; Houston Street between the East River Drive and West Street to be renamed Stern Street, after Leonard Stern, who ranks 97th on the Forbes 400 list; First Avenue to be renamed Speyer Avenue for Jerry Speyer who purchased Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, the largest real estate deal in New York history.

Speyer ranks 227 on the Forbes list. He is said to be worth $2 billion. Tishman Speyer, the firm that holds title to the properties that border on First Avenue has been unable to evict as many rent-regulated tenants as his business plan called for and the property is in litigation over a J-51 tax abatement. Speyer is said to be considering dropping out of the negotiations should he lose the lawsuit.

Additional public spaces under consideration include Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn’s main thoroughfare, which is said to be the subject of a spirited bidding war between Bruce Ratner and Harry Macklowe whose roots are sunk deeply in the borough’s history. Macklowe, who was once 239th on the Forbes list is unranked this year following his financial difficulties with the General Motors Building. He became notorious when, he ordered the “midnight demolition” in 1985 of four S.R.O. buildings on W. 44th St. The infamous demolition was done without a permit at a time when developers were harassing low-income tenants out of single-room-occupancy buildings.

Macklowe’s involvement in the naming negotiations has raised eyebrows but Christine Quinn said that, “Mr. Macklowe has been a responsible developer and landlord for many years. The days that landlords seek to force tenants out of regulated buildings in New York are over anyway. On my watch and that of Mayor Bloomberg, we have passed the strongest tenant protection legislation in the Western Hemisphere.”

Other sites on the naming block are rumored to be Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, which Donald Trump is said to be interested in as a naming opportunity in honor of his father, Fred, a residential developer who got his start in Brooklyn. “Fred’s Meadow,” said a close Trump associate has a nice resonance to it.

Union Square is being eyed by the LeFrak family. But there is said to be resistance to it in light of the fact that certain portions of the park have been given over to a restaurant developer whose contract requires his approval for any further conveyances of property rights to the park.

The idea for naming streets, parks, and other public places in exchange for cash, stems from the historic water fountain in Washington Square Park, which is now officially named the Tisch Fountain. The Tisch family is a prominent real estate dynasty, long associated with New York University, whose properties border the park and in fact have in the past taken parts of it.

The deal to rename the century old fountain, which was unnamed for a hundred years was closed for $2.5 million in a secret transaction between the Parks Department and the Tisch Foundation in January 2005. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe allegedly withheld this information from Community Board 2, the New York City Council and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It was revealed only after a community activist filed a Freedom of Information Letter (FOIL) Request that the public learned of the deal.

Michael Bloomberg said that “my administration is the most transparent government in New York City history and I resent the implication that we do anything in secret. It is a disgrace to suggest otherwise. In transactions such as these, however, when negotiations are delicate, the public’s right to know must be balanced with the need to raise revenue from private sources. We have a vast untapped resource in naming rights that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars or even billions, and I see nothing wrong with waiting until the deal has been closed and the new street signs have arrived before holding a press conference to announce these changes.

It will maximize our profits and the buyers have rights too. Many are jeolous of their privacy and we must respect that. Everything we do has been checked carefully by our corporation counsel and I can assure the public it’s all legal. We have dotted every I and crossed every T.

In response to a reporter’s question whether there was any truth to the rumor that Mayor Bloomberg is exploring the possibility of a name change from New York City to Bloombergville, the mayor said, “no comment.” Ms. Quinn said that such a change would require the consent of the state legislature and “we don’t think that it will happen any time soon. Of course, I never say never.”

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