Bryant Park, NY: Publicly Owned, Privately Managed, and Financially Self-Supporting
A green oasis, Bryant Park is located in midtown Manhattan, between 41st and 42nd Sts. and Fifth and Sixth Aves. Built in 1911, the eight-acre park abuts the New York Public Library and serves as a haven for office workers from the nearby highrise buildings. In the 1970’s, however, the park was suffering from deferred maintenance by a beleaguered City Parks Department, and had deteriorated into a haunt of drug dealers and users. Beginning in 1980, the park underwent extensive re-design and restoration, and is now one of the most active and loved spaces in New York City. It features a great lawn, framed by flowers, trees, and a gravel walkway; among its amenities are benches, movable chairs, six kiosks, 11 entrances, ornate lighting, two monuments, restrooms, tables for chess and backgammon, a petanque area (boules), and the historic Josephine Shaw Lowell Fountain. The park also has two restaurants, one of which is located on a terrace.
Owned by: New York City Parks Department. The City grants permits for events at the park and provides landmark oversight.
Managed by: The Bryant Park Restoration Corp. (BPRC), a business improvement district (BID). During the summer, the park employs about 55 people who managing security, sanitation, gardening and special events.
Maintenance: As many as 20 sanitation workers are employed by the park during the summer, while 12 work in the winter. A four-person horticultural staff supplements this force.
Security and Hospitality: The park enjoys 24-hour security. Two uniformed BPRC officers are present at all times in the park.
Programming includes events such as the “Seventh on Sixth” fashion shows; the JVC Jazz Festival; the “New York Times Young Performers Series”; lunchtime concerts by Juilliard students; Monday night movies in the summer; the “HBO Film Festival”; the Kaleidoscope Circus; boules and chess games. Year-long attractions are the Bryant Park Grill, the Bryant Park Café, and six kiosks. The kiosks include Foccacia Fiorentina (pasta and sandwiches), Simon Sips (coffee), Ben & Jerry’s (ice cream), and Café Crème (crepes, sandwiches and beverages). Bryant Park can be rented for private events, provided they are open to the public and approved by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and BPRC.
Marketing and promotion: The park markets itself. In fact, the BPRC’s most difficult problem is deciding which events to host, since there are more requests than can be accommodated.
Bryant Park’s difficulties are principally the result of its success. The biggest problem for the park is having to turn down events. In fact, the park has become such a popular venue that large areas are taken up for a week or more at a time by happenings with admission fees. Of difficulty also is negotiating any significant changes or major capital improvements of the park, as these must be approved by the Landmarks Commission.
The fiscal 2000 operating budget of Bryant Park was almost $2.9 million.
Capital investment: The $18 million park redesign/restoration was completed in 1995, after almost 15 years of planning. It was funded from a combination of grants, BID assessments, state bond funds, city capital funds, and private venture capital. More recent improvements of the park include a $160,000 restroom renovation and a $5 million investment in construction of the Bryant Park Grill. On a yearly basis, 400 chairs must be replaced from wear-and-tear, as well as the 6-8 that are stolen. BPRC keeps the number of chairs in the park stable at around 2,000. In addition, it has also undertaken the task of improving park elements long left in disrepair, including sidewalks, bluestone paths, limestone balustrade, etc.
Lessons from Bryant Park
Given the right location and design, a public space with professional programming and management can be self-supporting and even profitable.
Daniel Biederman, Executive Director
Bryant Park Restoration Corporation
Web Site: www.bryantpark.org