Ecofest Fights For Survival

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by allen houston

ecofest, an event organized by the west side cultural center in city parks for the past 21 years, is fighting extinction.

in may, the organization was denied a permit to host its annual day-long celebration in central park oct. 10. the group appealed the decision in june, but that request was also rejected.

the parks department refused to grant the permit because it said the 2009 ecofest was held "without proper authorization" and that the nonprofit didn't have an official special events permit from the department. parks also claimed that the event was too large for the area of central park where it was held.

in addition, the parks department sent a letter to the organization last december stating that it owed them more than $56,000 for last year's event based on size and the normal concession fee schedule. last year's event drew more than 25,000 people to the park.

nanci callahan, director of the west side cultural center, said that it was an unexpected blow for a group that had been pushing sustainable living in new york, long before hybrid cars or organic food were in vogue.

the event hosts numerous environmental activities for children, as well as brings together green groups, hosts an eco-fashion show and displays alternative energy technologies. the event landed folk music legend pete seeger to headline last year.

"we're a small nonprofit working to make new york city a sustainable place to live," callahan said. "we're not some large corporation with lots of funding."

the parks department countered in a statement that "several issues affected the decision, including outstanding fees and lack of proper permits, but chief among them is the fact that the event is too large for the space."

after the group's appeal was rejected, it organized a protest july 8 at city hall. it's also brought together a list of powerful backers including pete seeger, borough president scott stringer, assembly member daniel o' donnell and public advocate bill de blasio.

council member gale brewer has been a supporter of the organization since she started on the council nine years ago, including helping them receive city funds and attending all of their events.

"i think that the parks department should realize that this is a tiny non-profit and that it should waive the fee," brewer said.

in the end, callahan said that she's not sure where the organization will host ecofest if the city doesn't change its mind.

"it's a difficult environment to raise funds and many nonprofits are shutting their doors right now, but we're not going to do that if we can help it," she said.

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