As soon as officials ended two years of street construction by giving the newly-renovated Astor Place Cube a ceremonial first spin, the sculpture and surrounding plaza were pimped out to HBO, transformed overnight into a two-day promotional orgy for Game of Thrones DVDs.
Why? Because in New York City, we rely on corporate events to fund public space. Your long-awaited Cube spin will just have to wait.
The transformation could not have happened faster. Wednesday morning, officials celebrated the iconic public artwork, officially known as The Alamo, and extolled the virtues of public space. Twenty-four hours later, the plaza was taken over by crews assembling Westeros-themed structures promoting the DVD release of the sixth season of Game of Thrones.
The plaza is managed by the Village Alliance, a local business improvement district, which has an agreement with the city to keep the space clean and stores tables and chairs each night.
Will Lewis, the Alliance’s marketing and events manager, said the Game of Thrones event, scheduled to occupy on the plaza until Sunday evening, wasn’t originally intended to happen immediately after its grand opening, which had been delayed from an earlier date.
“That’s just really unfortunate timing,” Lewis said. “It’s just two things that came together that were planned separately… Nobody would ever want to plan it that way.”
The mayor’s Street Activities Permit Office, or SAPO, says the Game of Thrones event was registered in its system on September 12 and received approval from the BID and the Department of Transportation on October 28.
How much money are the city and the BID receiving to rent out public space for a DVD promotion? Lewis said he didn’t know, and HBO refused to comment on payments and permits. (The Voice has asked SAPO for revenue information.)
“When it was announced a couple weeks that the Cube was being reinstalled, we immediately regrouped to make sure our event incorporated the Cube in a way that was both celebratory of its return and that fit into the overall design that we had carefully developed over the preceding months,” an HBO spokesperson says. “Astor Place residents and tourists who want to see the Cube are still able to do so, while also checking out a free public event that is expected to drive thousands of people to the area over the next two days.”
Lewis said the Alliance agrees to events on a case-by-case basis. “If it can work on the plaza and we think it fits, then we say yes,” he said. “There are two golden rules that are non-negotiable: they have to be free events and they have to be open to the public.”
Over the summer, the plaza hosted an arts and crafts workshop inspired by the Cube, a weekend performing arts lineup, outdoor fitness classes, and a city-sponsored emergency preparedness fair. Later this month, there will be a celebration of the East Village’s mosaic light poles.
None are commercial promotions like this weekend’s HBO event, which encourages people to register online for timed entry to the “fan experience.”
“It’s difficult to say how Astor Place will work in the future,” Lewis said, leaving the door open to adjustments in how the plaza is programmed. “First and foremost, it’s a public plaza and it’s there for the community.”