It's no accident Parks commissioner Adrian Benepe grew up to be a leaf lover. His father, Barry Benepe, 79, co-founded the city’s greenmarket network more than 30 years ago, filling parks like Union Square with farmers' goods at a time when they were better known for yielding dirty needles than heirloom tomatoes. (There are now 30-odd markets citywide.) Benepe père then helped found Transportation Alternatives, and for all this urban do-gooderism, the Rockefeller Foundation just awarded him one of its first Jane Jacobs medals, which come with a nice $100,000 prize. The now-retired Daddy Benepe (who lives, appropriately, on Jane Street in the Village with his wife, Judith) talked to New York about the greenmarkets’ gritty early days — and picked a few bones with his son.
It is, finally, just the sort of weather that makes a vigorous young New Yorker want to frolic — or at least eat and drink — in the great outdoors. Like, for example, at that bar-and-restaurant place inside Union Square. (It's technically called Luna Park.) But wasn't the city planning to do some renovation at the north end of the park, something with that restaurant? Indeed, and yesterday Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe caught us up on the planning. In 2004, he announced plans to complete the Square's beautification by joining the park's two playgrounds and creating a year-round eatery where that weird fortresslike structure now stands, near 17th Street. But after local sputtering, Benepe confirmed to us, Parks has ditched the controversial year-round part.
In Central Park today, city officials will reopen one of the city's oldest troves of bling. The Bethesda Arcade — that archy thingie under the big staircase down to the Bethesda Fountain — was the only major architecture in Olmsted's 1843 park plan, and it was covered in intricate, custom-made ceramic tiles. And those tiles, over the years, wore and broke. A $7 million renovation has restored them to their original beauty and luster. "It's a combination of spectacular detail," Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe told us, explaining the investment, "and one of the most romantic spots in New York City." Excellent. It's also, we'll add today, the rare spot from which you can enjoy the park even in the pouring rain. —Alec Appelbaum