CB2 Chair Condemns Ouster of ‘Friends’ from Elizabeth Street Garden
A shakeup at the Elizabeth Street Garden has given birth to a new entity that essentially forced out its independent nonprofit Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden (FESG) with the hopes of replacing it with a new 501(c)3 known as Elizabeth Street Garden, Inc. (ESG), an in-house, incorporated nonprofit.
And if that’s not confusing enough, the website is also the same except the new one is a dot-com instead of a dot-org. News of this splinter group came as a Sunday surprise for most of the board members and volunteers of the original nonprofit that created and maintained the community garden since 2013.
Joseph Reiver, son of Allan Reiver who holds the lease on of the city-owned land that garden occupies, informed volunteers and board members via email that he has joined forces with two other former members of FESG, Aziz Dehkan and Renee Green, to create a new nonprofit organization with a more aggressive approach to combatting HPD and the Mayor’s Office. The trio reportedly defected because they strongly believe the only viable option to save the garden is a lawsuit against the City seeking an injunction against HPD. But as of yet, it remains unclear what viable course of legal action the new organization can take, if any…
Since the Sunday “eviction” of FESG, the new group (ESG) has apparently seized control of day-to-day operations and programming at the garden as well as social media outlets affiliated with the original nonprofit. A new site was also launched as part of the Sunday surprise – it states that ESG’s mission is identical to the original nonprofit. However, it’s important to note the new site hosts its own separate fundraising efforts.
Terri Cude, chairperson for CB2 Manhattan, was quick to respond to the sudden and drastic administration changes. In the statement below, Crude reminds the “leaseholders” that CB2 support of the community garden, hinges on “independent management” unaffiliated by commercial or real estate holdings.
I have just learned that the leaseholder at Elizabeth Street Garden has removed Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden from operation of the garden and has installed a new group. This breaches his agreement with CB2 to support independent management and returns this essential public amenity to private control. We condemn the eviction of the Friends — the non-profit community organization that has expended a tremendous amount of energy and effort to beautify the space, provide extensive public access, and offer highly successful programming in a part of our area severely underserved by park space.
CB2 remains steadfast in its strong support of making Elizabeth Street Garden a permanent public park. Ongoing independent control of the space is vital to this goal. We call on the leaseholder to immediately rescind this unilateral action which is contrary to the public open space needs of the community and the city.
The purported conflict of interest is due to the fact that the leaseholder of the garden site, Allan Reiver, is also the owner and operator of Elizabeth Street Gallery, the high-end antique statuary adjacent to the garden site.
Allan’s son, Joseph Reiver, responded to the confusion by sending out an email to all volunteers stating that: “Allan is not on the Board of ESG – he does not hold any position in the organization. It is in our best interest to have a good working relationship with Allan (as the lease holder), but in no way does he hold any decision-making power.”
While Joseph Reiver was always part of the original volunteer group, FESG board members controlled all fundraising and programming independently of the Reiver family.
The nonprofit, volunteer-based organization Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden was born out of the need for transparency when it comes to city projects and protecting green open space in a historic neighborhood overrun by construction and gentrification. Back in June of 2013, CB2 member Jeannine Kiely approached Allan Reiver with the hope of joining forces to spearhead a campaign to preserve the block-wide vacant lot he leased from the city as park land.
It was only after that initial meeting that both Reiver and Kiely learned that City Councilwoman Margaret Chin allegedly worked on a behind-the-scenes deal to construct affordable housing and commercial retail on the site as part side of a deal tied to the Essex Crossing project.
Since the foundation of Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden, the volunteer campaign has transformed the rarely-used space into a beloved sanctuary, hosting free public events and educational programs in in a district of Lower Manhattan that has been inundated by construction projects.
Yesterday, Jeannie Kiely along with renowned NYC preservationist Kent L. Barwick who serves as FESG chairman, released a joint statement “condemning” the ouster of the original nonprofit as a “lock out,” and went on to state that: “Friends (FESG) independence and credibility is the bedrock of our strong political and community support.“
But Reiver and the new group also want to make it clear that all the original nonprofit members and volunteers are still welcome in the garden to work alongside ESG. Despite the change of guard, Friends of Elizabeth Garden remains committed to their initial goal to save the Elizabeth Street Garden as NYC parkland through advocacy and community outreach.
Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden will hold another rally this Thursday at 2 Howard Street from 11pm to 12pm to raise awareness of yet other lost affordable housing opportunity on a vacant lot while the City moves ahead with plans to destroy one of the most unique open green spaces in the city.