Washington Market Park launches first-ever annual fund

The Friends of Washington Market Park, which plans all the events in the park and advocates for park improvements, has launched its first ever annual fund to support its events budget. To contribute, click here. Since the Friends is entirely volunteer run, all donations go exclusively to the raw cost of events and the “talent” — the long-running Halloween parade, kids concerts, movie nights, the Pumpkin Carving Contest, Lady Bug Day, Santa’s visit, and more.

And since I have been on the park board since 2005, I can write this from experience — but I gleaned the current plans and fundraising goals from the president of the Friends, Tribecan Erica Martini. The park has something a convoluted history, but I think it’s worth starting at the beginning to understand how we got here. Also NB: the Friends is also seeking new board members. Email info@washingtonmarketpark.org if you want to get involved.

The park was created by the city’s housing agency, Housing Preservations and Development, in the late 1970s as a public space that was run entirely by a private non-profit — Washington Market Community Park Inc. — with maintenance funds coming from a parking lot leased on city land (now the site of PS 234 and 101 Warren). That monthly maintenance agreement was dismantled in 2004, when The Minskoff Group acquired the site to build 101 Warren. The monthly fund was renegotiated into a lump sum that was intended to last 40 years — and time, as we know, marches on.

In 1999, the park was transferred from HPD to the Parks Department and not long after that, in 2004, the community group that ran it was more or less dismantled and all budget authority was assigned to the city.

When I joined the board in 2005, a new group of neighborhood volunteers was trying to detangle the mess that was the former non-profit. There were back taxes to pay and lawyers to engage so the non-profit status could be reclaimed. The Friends of Washington Market Park was formally established in 2007 with the mission to run the events in the park and work with the Parks Department to prioritize repairs and enhancements.

For the next decade and a half, the Parks Department assigned some of that lump sum — about $20,000 — to the Friends to run events. But about five years ago, the group decided to try to raise the funds themselves so that the park, which still has its own funding stream thanks to the Minskoff lump sum, could stretch that sum to last as long as possible. Eventually, the park will have to depend on the city’s overall budget for maintenance.

The Parks Department allows the Friends to book the gazebo and accept donations for reservations there, and the Friends has run several discreet fundraisers: one for the basketball nets, one for the butterfly garden, and one gala evening several years ago. (Funding from Councilman Chris Marte will repave the paths and replace the benches this summer; former Councilman Alan Gerson and the LMDC paid for the restrooms years ago; the fashion company Les Deux recently renovated the tennis and basketball courts; the new trash cans were hand-me-downs from the Friends of Duane Park.)

So here we are. The Friends’ yearly expense budget lands at about $25,000 total for all the events and a few smaller beautification items, like additional plantings or special projects, such as charming picnic tables painted by Frank Ape. Funds saved during the pandemic are dwindling. So the group decided to start an annual appeal tagged to the glorious tulip season in spring, when the thousands of bulbs that gardener Richie Haugland plants each fall start to emerge.

Donate here to support events in the park; email the Friends if you have the time and energy to chip in.