By Jim Fouratt
There are secrets Greenwich Village holds that are whispered into ears about who and what is going on here. We want to share with you the topics being discussed locally.
Lulu Bank Street spotted me sitting in the unnamed park that was to have been the AIDS Memorial Park. Lulu came over, sat down, and asked me, “Do you see what’s going on over there? Do you see what’s happened in this tiny little park?” I looked up and saw what she was upset about. A group of men had taken the park’s chairs, moved them to the non-public garden space, and were disrupting the plant life so carefully planted. I said, “Yes, Lulu I see that.” Lulu looked around and then whispered in my ear, “They are dealing drugs. They sit there and people come and pick up drugs from them.” I looked back at the grouping and saw no traffic at the moment. But I knew that Lulu, who had lived here for a very long time, was not one to be easily outraged by behavior in Greenwich Village. I thanked her and made a note to watch to see if in fact what she suspected was true. Observing over a couple of days, I did see a number of people come and go from that spot. Some looked like messengers on bicycles. I wasn’t close enough to confirm exactly what was happening, but I understood why Lulu was suspicious.
Let’s talk about that park for a moment. The Rudin family, major real estate developers, had their eyes for years on the site that St. Vincent’s Hospital owned, to build luxury condos. They once had a plan to buy the land and relocate the hospital. They would apply for variances that would give them extra floors, more floors than St. Vincent’s had been given by variance on height because it was a medical facility. I am told that, after a backroom negotiation lunch led by then-Village City Council Member Christine Quinn and her friend and appointee to Community Board 2, Brad Hoylman, (now New York State Senator) and others, including District Leader Keen Berger (New York State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick’s protégé), Quinn negotiated that the Rudin family give to the City of New York the land across the street from the actual hospital to build a park and pay for it in exchange for the higher variance. It was to be turned over to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks and Recreation) the day the Rudin family received the variance. But the Rudin family did not comply. It held on to the land so it could control the look of the park. By doing this, the Rudins avoided the public process of Parks and Recreation, which would have had a public hearing on the park’s design and naming.
When word got out that there was to be a new park, a group of gay men organized to demand that the park in fact be an AIDS Memorial Park. My understanding is that they envisioned a memorial for the thousands of men and women who had died of AIDS in New York City, many in the AIDS floors of St. Vincent’s. They also wanted to build an underground research library to educate the public about what exactly had happened here in Greenwich Village at St. Vincent’s Hospital during the pandemic. But there was opposition from some community members led by Marilyn Dorato, the Quinn-sponsored Executive Director of Greenwich Village’s Block Associations organization. Dorato insisted it be a children’s playground. Brad Hoylman, whose day job was legal counsel for the real estate industry lobbying group, intervened. He was in favor of the AIDS memorial plan and placated Dorato by saying that there would be no research center.
The AIDS Memorial Group then sponsored a worldwide design competition for the AIDS Memorial. It became clear that, with the Rudin family still in control of the design, the park land had not been turned over to the City. They came in with a design placing the memorial on the farthest end of the park. When construction began, the land had still not been turned over to Parks and Recreation, so the department could not provide input. Within public procedures, the AIDS Memorial Group began fundraising to pay for the monument; over $6 million were raised by the completely volunteer-based group. When the Rudin park was about to open, the family rejected the name ‘AIDS Memorial Park’ and renamed it ‘St. Vincent’s AIDS Memorial Park’ and placed signage reflecting that.
New York City Council Member, Corey Johnson, two days before the scheduled opening, raised holy hell. Word got out about the name change and Tova 11th Street, who had been active in the Committee to Save St. Vincent’s, proposed that a plaque be placed on the condo building stating: “On this land was a hospital that served the public regardless of economic ability to pay. It was called St. Vincent’s Hospital.” This was rejected. Last I heard, the land was still in the Rudin name and no final park name had been settled on.
Just one more Village intrigue. Stay tuned. Tips? Send them to villagebird.on.the.Wire@gmail.com.