The Global Citizen Festival has been held nearly every year since 2012 on the Great Lawn, but this year the festival coincided with a period of heavy rain in New York City. The day of the concert, Sept. 23, saw about an inch of rain fall on Central Park. The downpour, combined with the heavy equipment used to stage the show, and all the foot traffic involved, “fully destroyed” a third of the Great Lawn, according to the Central Park Conservancy.
The Great Lawn typically closes during the winter for maintenance, shuttering around mid-November and re-opening in April. It’s still expected to open next April, but because of the Global Citizen damage, it will have to close about six weeks early, the New York Times reports.
The Conservancy, in a statement shared with Rolling Stone, said it was “very disappointed that the iconic Great Lawn is now closed and unavailable for New Yorkers to enjoy this fall. The use of heavy equipment and intense foot traffic in the saturated conditions from the Sept. 23 concert damaged a large portion of the lawn and fully destroyed a third of it. Our team is now working to restore the lawn, hopefully in time to reopen this spring.”
Simon Moss, a Global Citizen co-founder, tells Rolling Stone that organizers were aware of the weather and, leading up to the event, ramped up discussions with the various city agencies it collaborates with. “In consultation with the city, we identified some mitigation measures that we could take, including putting down more flooring and making sure that we had lots of messaging about both rain or shine and holding gates if necessary, and how to safely run the event,” he said. “On the day of the show, we met every hour from 9 a.m. to say, ‘Are we good for the event to proceed?’ … They gave the go ahead to proceed and we delivered a fantastic event that we’re really proud of.”
Moss added that Global Citizen “always has and always will pay for any damage that gets done to the park. That’s something we’re on the public record as having done and said for many years ever since we started.” That includes, he added, a $100,000 bond to New York City in advance as “a down payment on any damage.”
The Conservancy and the New York City Parks Department haven’t done a full assessment of the damage yet, but NYC councilwoman Gale Brewer — whose district includes Central Park — estimated the cost of repairs at about $1 million.
Moss said he wasn’t sure where that number came from and said the real assessment won’t be done “for another couple of weeks.” He continued: “We’re obviously concerned, as are all New Yorkers, about making sure that the Great Lawn stays great. We know the Conservancy and the Parks Department decided to shut the Lawn a couple of weeks earlier than they normally would. And we understand from conversations with the Conservancy and Parks, that because of the rain damage, there are going to be some areas that are going to require re-seeding and re-sodding. And we’ll work to make sure we pay for any of that damage that we caused.”
Brewer, in an interview with The Times, acknowledged Global Citizen’s efforts to cover the cost of repairs, but stressed, “It’s fine to pay for it. But what about the people who can’t use it? You can’t pay for that.” She also sent a letter to Mayor Eric Adams criticizing the decision to hold Global Citizen Festival “despite torrential rain,” and urging him to move the event elsewhere in future, such as an arena or stadium.
Moss, meanwhile, defended the Great Lawn as the ideal location for Global Citizen Festival, saying: “We can create space for tens-of-thousands of New Yorkers to earn their way into the show for free by taking action. And as New Yorkers, who can’t afford necessarily to buy a $200 ticket to go see a show at [Madison Square Garden, we can do it for free on the Great Lawn because the long standing partnership we’ve had with the City of New York, the Park Conservancy, and all of the stakeholders. We are proud to have called Central Park our home over the last decade, but we’re looking forward to continuing to call it our home in the decades to come.”
A Parks Department spokesperson also insisted the agency still maintained a “positive relationship” with Global Citizen and that it was “confident any damages will be remedied expeditiously.”
This story was updated at 11:53 a.m. ET with quotes from Global Citizen co-founder Simon Moss.
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