Milkshake Cafe, One Year Later
It’s been a year since we testified before City Council with regard to the awarding of park concessions, so let’s take stock of how the players have performed. The cast includes the Parks Committee of City Council who called the hearing after dragging their feet for one year following our much publicized lawsuit; Milkshake Café owner Scott Marcus, the Parks Department (DPR), and we citizen custodians who watch over and defend Dag Hammarkjold Plaza.
To his credit, Brooklyn guy Marcus serves a thick and satisfying milkshake, and the sandwiches (from Eli’s) are of better quality than the fare sold by the former concessionaire. The grilled burgers are on the pricy side but tasty and filling. Despite the adjacent construction site and temporary wooden fence, the café provides a pleasant atmosphere with baby strollers parked alongside briefcases. Now that the concession has a liquor license, the cafe morphs into the “Milkshake Lounge” as twilight falls. On Wednesday nights, there’s live jazz. No complaints of rowdy behavior or noise have soured neighbors or park visitors on operations, and a posting on a foodie blog notes the appeal of this park café next to a fountain with a view of the United Nations.
So with the lawsuit behind us, our relationship with the concessionaire has gone from a cold chill to “how can we make this work?” We would like to see more flowers and greenery and a lot less signage, but these are matters that can be addressed in the spirit of cooperation.
Let’s look at the real issues.
We remain resolute in our call for transparency in the awarding of park concessions. Our conviction has not wavered that funds from concessions should be earmarked for park maintenance and operations.
As for City Council, they did nothing other than hold the obligatory hearing and file the testimony. Politics as usual.
That leaves our defendant in the lawsuit: the Department of Parks & Recreation. Prior to the City Council hearing, the storm of publicity over the lawsuit had park officials bending over backwards to appease us. When we complained that we were providing essentials such as litter pick-up, fountain cleaning, and all the garden maintenance—the response was, “but we thought you liked taking care of the park—please tell us, what we can do?”
Since we know full well that Parks has a limited staff due to chronically inadequate funding, we gave them a very simple punch list: extend the garden shed with a tool cabinet, assign a park worker to operate our pressure washer, and negotiate storage for power equipment and chairs with the adjacent builders that are encroaching on park property. At the City Council hearing, we distributed photos of infrastructure in need of repair: rusty metal columns and broken tree grates.
Since the photos were embarrassing to the Parks Department, the metal was immediately painted and the worst broken tree-grates were removed (not replaced) and the space filled with wood chips. The real problem of why the metal was rusted has not been addressed: clogged drainage holes at the base of each column. We’ll give Parks an “E” for Effort.
Parks never arranged for its workers to operate the pressure washer so they get an “F” for failure to show.
How about storage? Not only were there no negotiations with the new developers of adjacent property nor any alternative designed, the entrance to the garden was decimated and our irrigation system knocked out of kilter for the entire summer. Plate glass windows have fallen on the garden and Parks officials have turned a blind eye. Another “F” -- this one for total lack of attendance.
What about the tool cabinet? Sorry, no carpenters available.
So, here we are a year later and it's the same old story. Are we giving up? No way. Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the park since it’s reopening—that’s ten years of Friends of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza turning the grey into green. We intend to celebrate and keeping on keeping on. We will make our voice heard and join with other park groups to amplify our call. The problems won’t go away and neither will we.
Meanwhile, let’s suck it up with a giant straw at you know where.
Posted by Anne Saxon-Hersh, Director of Development