Promoters eye Vannie as music festival site

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Van Cortlandt Park hosts thousands of people each season for famed cross-country races and outdoor performances by the New York Philharmonic.

But the attraction might not end there, as a promotion group that has hosted a multi-day concert series on Randalls Island for years are eyeing the possibility of moving their event to Vannie this summer.

Founders Entertainment, which manages the annual three-day music festival Governors Ball could attract 50,000 for each of those three days over one long weekend in June.

Governors Ball, named for its original home on Governors Island, has been hosted on Manhattan’s Randalls Island since 2012, drawing tens of thousands of people and dozens of music artists over nine years, including Kanye West, The Killers, and Vampire Weekend.

After hosting years of successful festivals on Randalls, Founders Entertainment decided to look around at New York City’s other parks, founder Tom Russell said. He grew up playing sports on Vannie’s 66-acre Parade Grounds and thought that the space — long used for sports and recreation — would be perfect.

Yet, some neighbors — and the city’s parks department — disagree.

“50,000 people is a sold-out Yankee Stadium crowd,” said Laura Spalter, a member of the Broadway Community Alliance, who also serves as vice chair of Community Board 8. “We don’t believe that Governors Ball belongs in a residential neighborhood.”

This year’s festival is set to begin Friday, June 5. Each day, music would begin at 11:45 a.m., concluding at 11 p.m., with more than 12 hours of performances.

Russell presented his proposal to CB8’s parks and recreation committee at its December meeting, though, at the time, his permit for hosting the event at Vannie already had been denied.

“Van Cortlandt Park is the one we identified as the best of all the options,” Russell said. “The actual square footage of the Parade Grounds is massive. It’s about a million square feet bigger than Randalls Island Park. It’s bigger than the Great Lawn. Size-wise, it could more than accommodate our event.”

The ease of arriving at the park’s western edge of a subway was a draw, too.

“From an accessibility perspective, the 1 train going right there — and it being the last stop on the 1 train, where there are two tracks so two subways could be there — allow for the bulk numbers to be able to come in and come out,” Russell said.

The parks department disagreed, however. Late last month, Founders’ first application for a permit was denied.

“Their reasoning was pretty straightforward,” Russell said. “It was that the park has never been used for a event like ours, historically. It’s a much bigger event than has ever taken place there, and historically, the only place that could accommodate an event like ours has been Randalls.”

Russell plans to appeal the denial, but his organization still wants to lock down a venue by early January, according to the published minutes of the CB8 committee’s December meeting.

“We are New York City’s homegrown music and arts festival,” Russell said. “I’m a born and raised New Yorker. I know this is impacting born-and-raised New Yorkers who live out there. I want them to want this, and it’s my job to win them over.”

He’s already reached out to neighboring business owners on Broadway alongside the park, talking about how they felt about other large events that happen at Vannie. Many told him they were in favor of the event moving to the Bronx, he claims.

“Mostly because summer is their slowest season, and they could use some additional foot traffic and attention,” Russell said. “Additional business would not just come from our attendees, but from our staff, who would be there during the load in and load out.”

The concert has worked with local vendors before, he said, mostly from Harlem, and it’s possible that local businesses would have opportunities to set up shop selling food inside the festival.

The load-in and load-out periods were a sticking point for Spalter. While the festival itself lasts only three days, the Parade Grounds would be more or less closed between May 26 and June 12 for setup.

“We oppose the fact that it’s a private, for-profit company,” she said. “As philanthropic as they are, you’re still taking away precious parkland from families and children in June, and all the playing field. We oppose the taking of public parkland for this use.”

Russell told the committee he would work to ensure some of the grounds remained open while work was underway.

Spalter also is concerned about damage to the park. In 2012, the southern end of the Parade Grounds was reopened after a three-year renovation. Founders Entertainment said that it would take measures to protect trees and historic buildings in the park, and would pay for any damage incurred during the festival.

“It will damage the park,” Spalter said. “We feel this will be very costly, a costly disruption that will not be easily fixed. Sometimes it takes years for damage to infrastructure to even show up.”

After word of the proposal began circulating in late December, CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty and parks and recreation committee chair Bob Bender wrote a letter to Russell reaffirming their concerns about the concert and inviting him to attend the committee’s February meeting to present his plan once again. For Ginty and Bender, an event of this size typically would require review by the executive committee and the full community board.

Russell intends to accept the invitation.

“A lot of people we’ve been talking to have been really excited about this,” he said “From local businesses, to local residents, friends of ours. We’re excited to continue that discussion. But I want to be clear that we aren’t going to do this unless the community wants this and is supportive of this.”

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