bromancing the restaurateur: an homage to Danny Meyer

if not The Man Who Made (modern) Madison Square, at least The Man Who Pushed
I’ve been sitting on a “Living Around” feature about Madison Square and environs from the Sunday New York Times Real Estate section nearly two months, A Square Comes Full Circle, May 11 (!). Although I absolutely agree with the money quote that follows I am absolutely flabbergasted that they did not mention the one man who (in my understanding) did as much as any other individual and more than nearly every other individual in making this happen:

A major catalyst for growth was the changing perception of the seven-acre park, which was derelict in the 1990s but one of the city’s green jewels by 2001, after a $5 million renovation; it is now watched over by the nonprofit Madison Square Park Conservancy.

I lived in a loft nearby for this transition from derelict to green jewel; it is impossible to overstate the difference in appeal of the Park, before and after. Back in the day, I knew people who knew people, and the word on the street was that the major driver behind what became the MSP Conservancy was Danny Meyer, beginning soon after he opened Eleven Madison and the (since closed) Tabla on the east side of The Square. He got the major businesses around The Square to, first, buy in to the idea that their employees would be happier with a green jewel outside instead of a derelict patch, and then to contribute money to get this started.

My understanding is that Meyer did much the same thing at Union Square after opening the Union Square Cafe, but that was a much more difficult endeavor, in a different economy and with many, many small businesses around that square. For Madison Square, the major potential donors were easy to spot, either with their names on the buildings (NY Life, Met Life) or as major tenants (Credit Suisse, which was probably First Boston, then CSFB in those days).

Because we knew people who knew people in those days, we got guested to some swanky early Conservancy events, each one with a significant Danny Meyer presence.

No one person or thing causes a result as broad as the change in the area described in the New York Times. But Meyer opening two high-end restaurants in under-utilized lobby space was itself a major catalyst. Him pushing Big Money was another. The immediate result in The Square is an incredible variety of uses, rom kid playgrounds to seating among beautiful plantings to art exhibits to music (and, yes, the the Shake Shack); the more peripheral results include the residential conversions and construction (not all of which qualify as lofts, alas) and the definite improvement in the quality of life of those working and living nearby.

He didn’t do it alone, but he did a lot. Take a bow, Mr. Hospitality Group. Thanks.

© Sandy Mattingly 2012

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