Saturday, June 23, 2007

Busy Day for Red Hook Vendors: Season Extended & Parks Commissioner Releases Statement

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There is much news to convey about the embattled and threatened Red Hook vendors this morning as it was a busy Friday for them. First, as we noted yesterday afternooon, Sen. Charles Schumer announced that the Parks Department had agreed to allow the food stands at the Red Hook Ballfields to remain open through October 28 rather than being shut down right after Labor Day. Then, within about 40 minutes of that announcement, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe send out a mass e-mail to everyone that had emailed regarding the plight of the vendors.

Red Hook Vendors Committee Director Cesar Fuentes, who has been leading the fight to protect the vendors, issued a statement late last night in which he thanks Sen. Schumer, but said that the long-term issue of the vendors' survival continues. "As this waiver permit brings a solution to our short-term concern," Mr Fuentes said in the statement, "our long-term concern still remains undecided."

Here is a bit more from the statement:
We would like to acknowledge Parks Department's diligence on this matter and 'people first' approach to an otherwise ordinary fiscal issue. We understand the Department's need to comply with city regulations concerning concession permits & are willing to abide by any standard guidelines set in order to obtain a long term permit for operation. In short, we are not requesting any special treatment from the Parks Dept in order to obtain this permit.

We define ourselves as a public market with defined public goals, operating in a public space, and serving only locally owned and operated businesses. This is the textbook definition given by the non-profit organization Project for Public Spaces (PPS) in their book "Public Markets and Community Revitalization." This organization has provided a letter of support for our committee, and in it, has also recognized our affair as a public market by definition. This is important when considering the type of permit to be designated for the operation our affair, especially if it differs greatly in definition and nature, from generic concession establishments.

Thanks to Council member Gonzalez, Senator Schumer, and Assemblyman Ortiz for coming to our aid promptly and willingly, for your intervention, advocacy, and support. Our appreciation to the newsmedia, and our gratitude for your positive portrayal of our mercado.

Above all, our heartfelt thanks for all your support -our patrons, food bloggers, cyber activists, and friends (Specially Josh, Bob, and Ed). Without your advocacy and staunch support through emails, petitions, and determination to preserve this humble affair, we would have not aimed so high nor come this far.
The Benepe e-mail, meanwhile, says that the permit will not go to the highest bidder, and that factors such as the value of the bidders proposal and their experience will be factored into the decision. Presumably, then, the Parks Department could write the Request for Proposal in such a way that the existing vendors would have an advantage. This is a good thing, and we wonder why the department waited this long to point it out.

Here's some of the content of the Benepe e-mail/statement:
The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation has been issuing "Temporary Use Authorizations" to two separate groups to operate a food market at the ballfields in Red Hook Park. We began the process a few years ago in an effort to legalize the vendors at Red Hook, helping them become a permanent fixture in the neighborhood, and the park users have benefited from their presence. They enhance and diversify the Red Hook neighborhood, and particularly our ballfields, by serving great food at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, once it became clear that the Red Hook markets would regularly be open for more than 29 days a year, we could no longer legally renew their temporary permits without opening up the concession to the public solicitation process.

I would, however, like to correct a common misperception that we are offering the site to the "highest bidder." In order to comply with the concession regulations in the New York City Charter, we will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP). This will allow Parks to evaluate proposals based on qualitative criteria such as operating experience and planned operations. We plan on releasing a RFP shortly for the operation of vending markets at the various ballfields at Red Hook Park; the term of the license will be six years. This process will give the selected vendors the permanence and regularity that they deserve.
One certainly hopes the process works to give the Red Hook vendors "the permanence and regularity that they deserve."

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