New York City’s Dîner en Blanc was held on September 14th in the Meatpacking District with 4,000 exuberant attendees. It was the first time the iconic event was staged on New York City streets. Jeffrey C. LeFrancois, the executive director of the Meatpacking District and BID’s director of Operations + Community Affairs for four years, was instrumental in the event’s success.
LeFrancois, responsible for overseeing all the BID’s activities, works to ensure the Meatpacking District remains a cutting-edge, ever-evolving neighborhood in Lower Manhattan with thriving retail, commercial, and residential communities supported with strong public assets.
A graduate of Pace University in Lower Manhattan and from a small business family, LeFrancois previously worked as chief of staff to former Council Member Corey Johnson and deputy chief of staff to Assembly Member Richard Gottfried.
Dîner en Blanc New York (Eric Vitale Photography)
LeFrancois is currently a board member of the NYC BID Managers Association, advocating for issues of importance to the City’s 76 BIDs and to the thousands of businesses they represent. He also serves as first vice chair of Manhattan Community Board 4, and is on the board of Housing Conservation Coordinators, Stonewall Democrats of NYC, and the Hudson River Park Advisory Council.
Jeffrey’s distinctive coiffure is second only to his effervescent energy. Some of his favorite things in life include cooking and entertaining guests, traveling and pointing out neat urban planning attributes to his partner, perusing galleries and museums, long-distance domestic train travel, throwing pottery, sipping cortados, and enjoying very cold vodka Gibsons.
Dîner en Blanc New York (Eric Vitale Photography)
We are so impressed with your career and how you have become a major force in NYC’s neighborhood development. When did you first realize your passion for civic engagement and community?
I love cities and helping to make them better. Especially this amazing place we call home, New York. I’m lucky to have been introduced to BID work through my time working for state and city elected officials as I never saw myself in this line of work necessarily.
As for what got me into being very civic minded and engaged, my mother would say I have always been one to speak up for what matters to me and others. But it really goes back to the election between George W. Bush and Al Gore which spurred me into political action. And that was before I could even vote. Since that time, I’ve worked on candidate and issue campaigns around the country, and many right here in the city – it’s somewhat of an addiction, campaign work. For the first seven years of working on campaigns, nearly every race I worked on lost. Those losses made victory even sweeter and taught me just how hard you need to work to truly win at something.
On the day of DEB, I kept telling the team it felt a little bit like election day: we did so much work to make it all happen and it was like watching water boil waiting for it all to start, much like the torment one can feel waiting for the polls to close and results to roll in on Election Day.
I’m lucky I get to turn my love of cities into action by being able to effectuate change on the ground for our constituents, the businesses and people that make the district distinct.
Dîner en Blanc New York (Jane Kratochvil)
Dîner en Blanc in the Meatpacking District was a remarkable success. Tell us how you collaborated with co-founder and President of Dîner en Blanc International Sandy Safi to bring it to the neighborhood.
I have attended a number of Dîner en Blancs in New York since they started. As someone who loves to cook and entertain, I was marveled by the concept. Bringing it to the streets of Meatpacking was a long-held dream, and while it took years to see it come to life on the streets of the Meatpacking District, the progression made good sense.
In 2022, I was introduced to Sandy and I made an attempt to pull it off in ‘22, but our timeline was incredibly short. Given all that goes into pulling the event off, we needed more lead time. So Sandy and I kept in touch and met when she was in town. We really ramped it up in late-spring and pitched it to the city in early summer.
In Meatpacking, we’ve executed events with similar footprints and more people, but never in this way given the scope and scale of permits. I had confidence in my team and our strong relationship with the right city agencies to ensure it would happen in a way that befits Meatpacking and DEB. And I think we can all agree, it certainly did.
Dîner en Blanc (Jared Michael Siskin)
Your work with the Business Improvement District is inspirational. Please tell our readers about some of your projects.
I’m very lucky with the job I have, because I love it and we get to make a tangible difference in the city for people. My job is about ensuring the space outside is a welcoming and enjoyable experience for all who pass through the district: be they residents, workers, or visitors from near and far.
A guiding principle for how we think about the district is putting people, pedestrians, as it relates to how we plan and position the district. Coming out of the pandemic, we worked to position the district as a pedestrian paradise, with our sprawling plazas and open streets program. Fast forward to today, and that holds true, only we’ve added to our plaza program and have brought more pedestrian-centric planning elements to the district.
Last year, we released our Western Gateway Vision Plan, which analyzed the far western edge of the district. So much has changed over there: the Whitney is now home on Gansevoort Street, Hudson River Park has opened three new piers in as many years along our shores of the Hudson, and dozens of new businesses have opened. The vision plan includes a lot of significant projects, but they can be taken individually so change can come incrementally, but also be noticeable. When we do something in Meatpacking, we want it to be felt and seen.
Gansevoort Landing, our newest plaza just south of the Whitney Museum, will play a key role in connecting the district with Hudson River Park’s newest pier, Gansevoort Peninsula like never before. It reclaims under-utilized roadway to provide people with a place to pause before figuring out the next step of their journey. As a part of the project, the state is installing a new crosswalk across the West Side Highway off of our landing, which will provide a safe connection point for locals and visitors like never before.
Beyond our place-making efforts, we also do a lot of programming. On October 21, we’ll host our annual Treats in the Streets event, another district-wide activation with family friendly activities, music, trick or treating at stores, a dog costume runway contest on Little West 12th Street, Drag Queen Story Hour, and pumpkin painting. Earlier this year, the BID did its first large scale pride program, transforming 4,000 square feet of vacant retail into a gallery, coffee shop, and programming space. IT featured the work of eight prominent photographers who captured queer life in Meatpacking in the 80s and 90s. Queer performers were brought in to entertain four nights a week during the run, and we also produced a 54-page zine with interviews, stories, op-eds, and pictures.
Meatpacking is a special, distinct place, it always has been – and I’m not just saying that. Several factors make it so, but I think one of the most significant is its geography: we’re a mix of the Village and city grids, nestled in the far west side a stone throw from the subway but somehow still distant with an historical backbone that’s perfect for showing off the best of the 21st century.
We know that Dîner en Blanc in the Meatpacking District was a very busy night for you. Can you share with us some of your impressions of the event?
There really had never been an event like it in the district or in the city before. It was hard to get folks at agencies to understand that people literally bring everything with them!
Something else we learned, and it was a good exercise, is that as we messaged out to the district this large scale event was taking place we learned that at least five businesses were having big events that night, too. Which was really exciting because everything still happened as it was supposed to, there just happened to be a chic dinner party of nearly 4,000 taking place on the streets outside.
Another first this year for DEB is a follow up to all attendees that shared more about the district, with links to our newsletter and website with the hopes that they’ll come back and enjoy more time there.
What comments have you gotten from friends and colleagues about Dîner en Blanc?
More than anything, huge notes of congratulations because people who know me well know this was a dream. It really was a shining moment for the city, and everyone should be proud of that. The mayor certainly was as he made his way through the crowd!
We love to visit the Meatpacking District. What would you like people who are not familiar with the neighborhood to know?
There’s more than you think. Whether you’re coming for a cup of coffee on the plaza or grabbing a fancy lunch followed by a shopping spree, it’s a place you can wander and enjoy. We also joke that it is not your parents or your sister’s Meatpacking, because as with all neighborhoods in the city, things have changed.
What do you see as the future of the Meatpacking District and how do you think it is setting the pace for other neighborhoods in the city?
More exciting firsts and creative ways of forging partnerships to do big things in our small corner of the city.
We like to think outside of more than just the sidewalk, and more neighborhoods should do that, and indeed many are. Change is scary for a lot of people, and it is also a constant in New York. And complaining about change is a renowned pastime for New Yorkers. I like to think the change we bring to Meatpacking elicits excitement and curiosity, not fear.
Something the pandemic taught us is that you have to be willing to just try things, even if you’re not 100 percent sure they’ll work or be successful. Given New York’s entrepreneurial spirit, I think we need more of it and at our core, we’re heading in that direction.
Top Photo: Jeffrey C. LeFrancois with Mayor Eric Adams (Credit: Jim Fryer & Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media)