Bryant Park today
The modern Bryant Park
By 1979, New York seemed to have given up Bryant Park for lost as an urban amenity, as well as an historic site. In 1974, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Bryant Park as a Scenic Landmark, calling it “a prime example of a park designed in the French Classical tradition… an urban amenity worthy of our civic pride.” Five years later, however, William H. (“Holly”) Whyte wrote in a report solicited by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund: “If you went out and hired the dope dealers, you couldn’t get a more villainous crew to show the urgency of the [present Bryant Park] situation.”
But by the late 1990s, actual lunchtime head counts on a sunny day would reach the 4,000 range – and the drug traffickers had been gone for a decade. The Rockefeller Brothers created the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation (BPRC), under the founding leadership of Andrew Heiskell, then Chairman of Time Inc. and the New York Public Library, and Daniel A. Biederman, a Harvard Business School graduate and systems consultant with a reputation as an innovator in downtown management. Heiskell and Biederman, in 1980, created a master plan for turning around the park. In the words of an Urban Land Institute case study, “Biederman began experimenting with a series of efforts to bring people back to the park, while also exploring how to generate revenue.”
A seven-year push combined supplementary park maintenance, temporary kiosks, and public events ranging from historical park tours to concerts, which reduced crime by 92 percent and doubled the number of annual park visitors.
Summer 1988 saw city agencies approve BPRC’s plans (drafted by Hanna/Olin Ltd.) to build new entrances for increased visibility from the street, to enhance the formal French garden design (with a lush redesign by Lynden Miller), and improve and repair paths and lighting. BPRC’s plan also included restoration of the park’s monuments, and renovation of its long-closed restrooms. That same summer, the city approved BPRC’s designs (by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates), for two restaurant pavilions and four concession kiosks, which were to generate off-peak activity and added revenue for operations. These facilities opened in stages in the 1990s.
Bryant Park reopened in April, 1992, to lavish praise from citizens and visitors, the media, and urbanists. And, as the Urban Land Institute wrote it in an award citation, “the success of the park feeds the success of the neighborhood.” Soon the chorus was joined by the business community, whose assessments helped fund the renewal and now benefit from higher rents and property values.