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Fashion Week may find other location by 2015

When Fashion Week moved from Bryant Park to Lincoln Square in Fall 2010, residents were up in arms - from the noise, the crowds and the invasion of Damrosch Park, the 2.4-acre public park adjacent to Lincoln Center and home to private events like the Big Apple Circus and New York's Fashion Week, 10 months out of the year.

Last year, the city removed 67 trees from the park to make way for Fashion Week in the fall. At the same time, according to the non-profit watchdog group, NYC Park Advocates, the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation signage and plaque commemorating the Damrosch family was removed. The Damrosch family was the benefactor of the park, which opened in 1969.

The anger and frustration of the community has finally reached its peak.

The New York City Parks Advocates, in conjunction with the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, an environmental consultant agency, have filed a lawsuit against the city, the parks department and Lincoln Center for the illegal usage of public land for private purposes most of the year.

"This is illegal," said Geoffrey Croft, a representative from the NewYork City Parks Advocates. "In doing this, they're prohibiting the general public from accessing public park land."

The lawsuit cites the Public Trust Doctrine as the basis for complaint. According to the New York State Public Trust Doctrine, legislative approval is required for the alienation of or change in parkland usage. The usage of a park has to be deemed a "recognized public use." The plaintiffs claim that Lincoln Center has been allowed to take over the park for use of private events.

"Money is being illegally diverted to Lincoln Center that should go to the public parks," said Croft. "And the city's response to all of this is that Fashion Week is good for the city, it brings in money. No one is saying not to have Fashion Week, but it doesn't belong in a public park."

According to the lawsuit, approximately $9 million each year from Damrosch Park and the garage beneath the park has been diverted to Lincoln Center.

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts refused to comment on the lawsuit, as did the Parks Department. In addition, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week declined to comment on the record. Sources close to the issue said, however, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is looking for a new home by 2015.

"The City will review the suit thoroughly," said Kate Ahlers, of the New York City Law Department. "Fashion Week is an important part of the City's cultural and economic fabric, generating $865 million each year while also creating fashion-related jobs?..And Lincoln Center maintains a close relationship with the City, presenting hundreds of free events each year."

However, when pressed for a response on the funds allegedly being diverted to Lincoln Center or the underground parking garage, Ahlers declined to comment.

One of the major components of the park, according to the New York City Parks Advocates, is honoring the Damrosch family. In a ribbon cutting in 1969, Robert Moses presented the Damrosch family with a plaque that was to be displayed in the park.

"Juilliard wouldn't be here without my family," said Sidney Urquhart, the granddaughter of Walter Damrosch. "My family's feeling was to give back to the city that had welcomed them. To give the city something so wonderful and yank it back and turn it into a cash cow is terrible," she said. "The park has been trashed."

Croft said, at the very least, the community wants its public lands back. The 67 trees cut down before Fashion Week last fall were diseased according to the Parks Department. On its website in July 2012, a few months before the trees were taken down, the latest inspection listed the status of the trees in the park as "unacceptable."

Still, the community was angry to see what residents have called ''arbicide."

"We don't feel like this is even a park anymore," said Croft.

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