- Associated Press - Thursday, February 2, 2012

NEW YORK — Birds are chirping, the grass is green, and tea is being served amid blossoming bushes. Welcome to New York City in January, with a cure for cold-weather blues: a pop-up indoor park in lower Manhattan that’s open through Valentine's Day.

Despite temperate temperatures so far this year, “it’s our rebellion against winter,” said Jonathan Daou, founder and CEO of Openhouse Gallery, a company that holds a 20-year lease on the space at 201 Mulberry St.

On a recent chilly weekday afternoon, babies played barefoot in the 75-degree world of Park Here while their mothers and fathers sipped tea and ate cookies and sandwiches.

One night a movie is planned on the lawn; other days bring a ping-pong competition, a trivia contest, wine tastings and soccer workshops.

The 5,000-square-foot artificial habitat in the downtown Nolita (North of Little Italy) neighborhood is filled with trees, rocks, picnic benches and the recorded ambient sounds of Central Park in spring. There are giant cushions and even a hammock, plus a baby elephant.

But the park will be gone by mid-February.

The rest of the year, the 200-year-old former police precinct building is a stage for businesses that play on the “pop-up” retail method mushrooming around the world in recent years: a quick presentation of a product, performance or personality, with no commitment to a lease or contract.

It’s usually set up in a mobile unit that can be assembled and disappear.

Some call it guerrilla retail.

“You’re not stuck with a 10-year lease if the product doesn’t sell,” Mr. Daou said. “People are looking for novelty, off the beaten path, and this space tests the ‘legs’ of a business concept.”

The space was part of a police precinct in the late 1890s under New York Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, who later became president.

There’s nothing historic about what’s going on inside now, though. On the contrary, it’s all the rage in retail.

In New York last year, the Japanese clothing giant Uniqlo erected four state-of-the-art pop-up shops to highlight the opening of its flagship store on Fifth Avenue and another near Herald Square.

Also last year, in California, chef Jamie Oliver rolled around in his “Food Revolution” truck, a mobile kitchen classroom designed pro bono by David Rockwell to travel to communities and teach children, parents and professionals about healthy cooking and eating.

And in Germany, the prized caterer Kofler & Kompanie opened a pop-up restaurant with a rotating roster of star chefs and moving locations.

New York’s temporary urban garden may go away, but the location will continue to host various vendors.

In August, Jay-Z and Kanye West used Openhouse Gallery for the rollout of their “Watch the Throne” album. When Jay-Z tweeted “201 Mulberry Street, NYC,” thousands of people swarmed outside for a sighting, and the block was closed to traffic.

Since its inception four years ago, Openhouse Gallery has created installations for high-end clients such as the auto manufacturer Mercedes-Benz, a group of Italian leather tanneries and Google. Other setups involved skating and stadium seating for World Cup soccer viewing.

“It’s .2 acres with so much positive energy,” Mr. Daou said.

Each installation provides work for small businesses - for instance, a New York-based foliage company and companies that created artificial scents and lighting that transformed 201 Mulberry into a park in three days.

The garden is free to the public and open from noon to 8 p.m. daily.

The rest of the year, clients pay $4,000 to $8,000 a day for the venue.

It was the only warm, parklike space one family found for outings with their baby in winter.

“This is a great alternative when it’s cold or raining,” attorney Vida Cave said as she watched 6-month-old Caspian crawling on a round picnic blanket while she and her husband sat on a nearby bench.

“The baby loves watching toddlers here,” she said.

For parents, there are food and drink vendors, plus Wi-Fi and a music playlist.

In the dead of winter, Park Here has something Central Park doesn’t: In addition to natural light from skylights, there’s artificial illumination for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder.

A big Valentine's Day bash is planned before it all folds on Feb. 15.