By Geoffrey Croft
George Vellonakis, the controversial NYC Department of Parks & Recreation (NYC Parks) landscape architect behind the much-vilified $30 million renovation of Washington Square Park, has recently been appointed to head the historic park.
On May 15th, Vellonakis became the Washington Square Park Administrator, a City job, as well as the Executive Director of the private Washington Square Park Conservancy. He replaces Sarah Neilson (who left in 2016)—the former Chief of Staff for Jonna Carmona-Graf, who is the Chief of Capital Program Management at NYC Parks.
With these developments, Mr. Vellonakis has stepped down as a landscape architect for NYC Parks after more than 35 years. His appointments will certainly ruffle a few feathers.
Vellonakis, the then-unlicensed landscape architect—and licensed real estate salesperson for Brown Harris Stevens—was responsible for the controversial re-design of Washington Square Park during the Bloomberg administration (he subsequently received his landscape license after his lack of licensure became widely known).
The renovation plan drew considerable public opposition. Controversial elements included: (1) moving the fountain to align with the arch (it had been in the center of the park since 1870), (2) reducing the size of the fountain, (3) eliminating the park’s popular mounds, (4) installing a wrought iron fence to close the park at night, and (5) removing numerous trees. The City was forced to make several concessions after community backlash; the park’s infamous nine-year renovation was completed in 2014.
The formation of a conservancy for the park also raised the ire of the public; it was established behind the scenes with the help of actor John Leguizamo’s wife, Justine, and socialite Veronica Bulgari. The role of a City employee simultaneously holding a park administrator job while serving as the head of a nonprofit affiliated with the same park has raised serious conflict of interest issues.
Washington Square Park Designer Nabs Dual Role
By Geoffrey Croft