Pop-up case study: Creating New York’s first pop-up park with Park Here

New York winters are nasty, brutish and long. While there are pleasant ways to enjoy the city outdoors – Rockefeller’s tree and skating rink, for example – finding a creative indoor escape is tough. After New Year’s Eve in 2011, Openhouse created its most dynamic pop up to date with Park Here, a month-and-a-half-long indoor park. “The whole point was to go for a tranquil oasis away from the busy, cold, New York City winter,” Michael Murphy of Openhouse says.

Park Here was a nice alternative, not just from winter, but also from the endless string of shopping pop ups around Christmas. Instead of more sales, Openhouse created an indoor space that was free to the public during the day and full of private events at night. Starting in early 2011 and ending on Valentine’s Day, Openhouse dressed up 201 Mulberry with fake grass, trees, a reflecting pond, Seasonal Affective Disorder lamps, park benches, picnic tables, and a seesaw. The murals showed a forest scene, and the speakers twittered with the sound of springtime birds.

As New York Times journalist Ariel Kaminer wrote about the pop-up park, “It shouldn’t fool anyone. And yet it does: office workers looking for a break, couples looking for each other’s arms, the daily yoga class in the corner and, of course, the inevitable stroller brigade, all just relaxing and playing and letting down their guard in a way they would never do if the fake foliage was not there.”

Great pop up concepts attract diverse collaboration
When Openhouse’s team reached out before Park Here, partnerships came easily. North Carolina-based Magic Murals provided the forest murals at a nominal cost. Openhouse purchased the fake grass at a wholesale rate from Legendary Turf out of New Jersey. The SAD lamps came from Northern Lights Technologies out of Canada. American Foliage & Design Group hooked up the trees, pond, big fake rock, picnic tables and benches for free. Openhouse reached out to Dutch lounge-chair company Fatboy to provide a suite of comfy chaise bags. Park Here included ten lounge bags from the Metalowski line whose earth tones had “the best visual impact,” says Whitney Shanks of Openhouse. Fatboy gifted the line and Openhouse paid for shipping.

Turning a pop up space into a pop up park
Once all the pop up features were in place, visitors treated Park Here like, well, a park. “Naps, make-out sessions, totally outrageous kids, Twister, elaborate picnics,” Shanks says. The only part of the space that still felt like indoors were the bathrooms, which Shanks says will be decked out in the future. Another feature she’d like to add are small hills to break-up the flat ground. Murphy says another way to improve Park Here is to dedicate certain times for lawn games like bocce ball and croquet. Openhouse kept a bocce set throughout the month and a half, and while fans requested play, it was typically on weekends when Park Here was at its busiest. “Maybe a bocce hour in the future, or lawn-games day,” Murphy says.

Incorporating daily activities like yoga and Pilates
Every weekday from noon to 1 pm, Openhouse partnered with YogaWorks to host yoga classes. Tickets were pre-sold on Lifebooker.com for $15 per class, and five to ten people showed up each day. Walk-ins popped in, too, but didn’t pay. Glaceau sponsored the yoga hour and provided participants with bottles of water. As an added perk, smartwater handed out one-week passes to YogaWorks. Openhouse also hosted a morning Pilates class with Real Pilates’ celebrity trainer Alycea Ungaro. Again, Lifebooker.com pre-sold tickets – this time for $25 (15 people showed up).

Looking back, Openhouse realizes that even during their lunch hour, New Yorkers are busy. Corralling more involvement is much easier on holidays and weekends (On Presidents’ Day, 25 people showed up to yoga.) “Doing it during lunch was hard,” Shanks says.

Food for the folks – popular only on weekends
Like yoga, food was a hit only on weekends. “We tried to get weekday vendors but no one would do it because it wasn’t really busy enough,” Shanks says. On weekends, Openhouse brought on six or seven vendors and kept its audience updated on the fare via Facebook. Luke’s Lobster, Mexicue, Nolita Mart & Espresso Bar, Robicelli’s Cupcakes, Intoxicating Confections, Macaron Parlour and Baking for Good were some of those involved. Each business paid daily rent, had full control over their prices and didn’t have to give up any cut of their profits.

Private wine + chocolate tasting and flower-arranging
Openhouse recruited Nolita’s Eat My Chocolate to host a chocolate and wine tasting. Openhouse paid a supplies fee and made a small profit off ticket sales. Eat My Chocolate gained exposure and got another chance to showcase Raine Thieme, the owners’ 13-year-old daughter who’s a budding expert in cocoa. Naked Grape sponsored the wine, the park and discussed their wines during tastings. Twenty New Yorkers came for the tasting, which cost $60 for the hour. For flower arranging class, Openhouse brought on Belle Fleur and sold tickets for $195. Everyone went home with clippers and a bouquet.

An intimate partnership with Urban Daddy
After seeing Openhouse’s Park Here in action, Urban Daddy and Openhouse formed a tight partnership to host Friday Night movies. They paired crowd-pleasing films with palette-pleasing meals – for instance, Wedding Crashers was served with Little Owl picnic baskets; Dangerous Liaisons with Bar Boulud, Dazed and Confused with Shake Shack and Kung Fu Panda with Nobu. Tickets sold for more than $100, but Urban Daddy’s high-frequency users were invited gratis.

Greg Spielberg | February 14 2011