The area of Theodore Roosevelt Park where the museum is expecting to build a new building.

Some locals are pushing back against plans by the Museum of Natural History to build a new building on existing parkland next to the museum. The new Richard Gilder Center, dedicated to science education, is set to start construction next year if the museum gets the necessary permits. We wrote about it in detail here.

But some residents are pushing back, posting notices in nearby buildings and online. The online petition, which had 189 signatures as of Wednesday night, calls for the museum to abandon those plans to “save our park.” One notice posted by local resident Sig Gissler, the former administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, warns the expansion “will devour priceless green space and destroy at least nine stately trees.” The notice claims the building will be six stories high, although museum president Ellen Futter had said last month that the height was not yet clear, as it’s still being designed.

Gissler writes that the opposition movement is “in the early organizational stage,” but that he has already heard “vehement opposition.”

“The museum aims to create a center to promote scientific research and education — in theory, a commendable goal. And backed by the wealthy and influential, the museum seems accustomed to getting its way.  However, in terms of community impact and well-being, the expansion is reckless and insensitive. It should be stopped – or sharply revised to fully preserve parkland.”

The museum has not released details about the exact footprint of the new building, but it will likely take up a chunk of land just West of the current building, extending into Theodore Roosevelt Park, which surrounds the museum. That park is managed by the city, the museum and a nonprofit called Friends of Roosevelt Park. Peter Wright, the president of Friends of Roosevelt Park, had initially withheld comment about the museum’s plans. But the group has since seen some preliminary plans and now has more questions and concerns. He sent us the statement below.

“Friends of Roosevelt Park has a written MOU with the Parks Department and the Museum dating back to December, 2002…which, in a general sense, provides for the high-quality maintenance of Roosevelt Park through mutual cooperation. It would seem that this document also implies all parties’ obligation to protect..as well as to preserve..this 10 acre green space.

In the last few weeks our board was given the same presentation as several other groups as to the Museum’s plan for a 300,000 square foot expansion..and building intrusion.. into the Park at 79th Street and Columbus Avenue. But, to date, there are no concrete details available..or an architectural blueprint.. for any of us to critique. Hence, our board has not discussed the issue and reached any conclusion..or passed a resolution.

We should note, however, that it’s incumbent upon us as co-protectors of this green space..to ask why this park build over is required, why existing Museum space couldn’t be repurposed, why the Museum couldn’t build up instead of out..and why such educational and conference space couldn’t be created in a satellite facility in an outlying borough with a lesser Museum presence..such as Queens or The Bronx.

Before supporting or opposing the very general plan just presented to the community, we all need credible, specific answers to the above questions. Especially why the reduction of precious green space in our densely-populated neighborhood is warranted.”

Roberto Lebron, senior director of communications for the museum, sent us the following statement.

“Meeting the educational, scientific, and public service mission of the Museum requires a combination of approaches, including improving the functionality of existing space and creating new space. We understand that there are a lot of questions about this project, and we will continue to involve the community as the design is developed.  The relationship between the Museum’s building—existing and proposed— and the park is one of our principal concerns. And it was a key consideration in selecting two award-winning firms, landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand and Studio Gang Architects, which is well known for integrating architecture and nature, to design the new center.”

It may be an uphill battle for the center’s opponents — Borough President Gale Brewer has already allocated $500,000 in taxpayer money to the expansion.

NEWS | 21 comments | permalink
    1. TG says:

      This is unoccupiable green space, by the way, permanently fenced off, not open parkland. The current building at that location gives the many, many Columbus Ave pedestrians an unobstructed view of the building’s mechanical equipment. And I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) the museum already added back occupiable green space over their garage in the form of that dog run everyone loves.

      • JonJones says:

        TG, Yes, there are areas fenced off to the public (like much of Central Park) to conserve natural terrain, trees and beautiful floral plantings, but there is also a very large sitting area where loyal Museum-goers, Upper West Side taxpayers, other residents of Manhattan and tourists flock in masses daily- especially on weekends (farmers market is set-up right in front of this space every Sunday). Spend some time there and you’ll see only happy faces- especially those of children drawing in chalk on the footsteps of the 79th entrance. This new development would take away so much from so many. To your point about the mechanical equipment (which is hardly noticeable), AMNH could build on top of it- expanding up, not out.

        • Zulu says:

          Highly doubtful they could build up. Foundations would more than likely be inappropriate for such vertical expansion. Plus I was under the impression that it’s their land anyways to develop as they deem necessary. Besides, they’re building a science center not a strip club.

          • AC says:

            I agree, its their land and its not a strip club , , , let them develop or build as they deem fit as long as they abide by zoning laws.

            As for foundations? They will most likely drive steel pipe piles and fill them with concrete or auger piles to transfer the loads to suitable bedrock.

        • TG says:

          JonJones, you know, I misread where exactly the new building would go, so yes, there is a fair amount of paved space with benches that will go. I walk by there every weekend, so I know what you’re talking about. The people who like to sit there will be displaced. But the large influx of people at that farmer’s market and at Shake Shack on that corner might actually be a driving force behind them wanting to create a better face for that side of the museum. Last weekend I walked by the Natural History museum in London, and was amazed by how much bigger it looks than ours.

      • S. Louie says:

        ..and the trees there cause pollution…. right???

    2. GG says:

      I for one hope the opponents of the Museum’s expansion plan are able to prevail. Anyone who lives in the area and uses Theodore Roosevelt Park knows what a jewel it is and should be deeply concerned with any diminution of this absolutely gorgeous public space.

    3. Screamingparrot says:

      It has nothing to do with whether it’s occupied by the public or available to the public or not. Greem spaces provide ecosystem services. These are old growth trees provide shade and cooling for the area. It supports animals and specifically birds. This green area really adds to the livability of the area.

    4. Screamingparrot says:

      Zulu and AC, Theodore Roosevelt Park is a public park. The state obtained the land in 1929 and it’s part of the NYC parks system.the museum owns some areas around the building but most of it is NYC parks dept.

      • AC says:

        I believe you might be right to a certain extent. However, this administration is kind of shady and might be turning a ‘blind eye’ to what’s going on here. Building on Public Land, in particular Park or ‘Green Space’ area should always be a NO NO, the fact that it even got this far (plans submitted for review and approval), lends me to believe , , , city politics as usual!

    5. Jeremy says:

      Countdown started for a lawyer-parent of a kid at the school on the corner to file suit about dust and dangerous cranes.

    6. UWS parent says:

      I am “a lawyer-parent of a kid at the school on the corner.” My apartment building faces the Theodore Roosevelt Park and my son spent countless hours playing around that metal statue in that area next to the building at 79th and Columbus when he was a preschooler. It would sadden me to see that area disappear. At the same time, however, I always thought that area was underutilized. Really, not that many people frequent that area or sit there. It’s mostly caregivers with children. I would love to see the museum expand itself in the education department and always thought the museum could do much more for NYC students and teachers. If it can be done by repurposing existing space in the museum, that would be ideal. However, I would be okay with losing a limited amount of space in the park if it were absolutely necessary.

      • Jeremy says:

        Dammit. There goes the stereotype. 🙂

      • Mike says:

        A greenery park’s passive beauty does not equate with underutlization. We don’t want a ‘compromise’ but what remaining areas natural beauty, where ever it may be, is a premier social asset and its footprint ought to be defended and protected with extreme prejudice. And who the heck is Richard Gilder?? Another hedgefund hyena seeking social distinction via $$$? Suggestion, ‘science education’? Let’s get correct resources into our existing schools for our kids’ IQ’s. I live on 80th Street and I support and commend our board for their initiative in shitcanning this one. Peace.

    7. Alan H. Pesetsky says:

      The museum was originally planned to occupy the entire block:


    8. Sophie says:

      Yes, a few benches, trees, and flowers will be sacrificed. But think about what we — the neighborhood and NYC will gain from it — more education space to get kids and adults EXCITED about science and nature, to want to protect and conserve it. Is the bigger vision worth the small sacrifice? I think so.

      Also, the new building will have a ROOFTOP that should be accessible with general admission, which is free. If you visit the terrace next to the planetarium now, you’ll see dozens and dozens of kids playing with the fountains, for FREE. It’s an amazing space with lots of tables, chairs, and benches, as well as grass and flowers.And you don’t even need a ticket; just walk right in.

      I think all of us will be gaining much more with this new building. I hope that the people who are opposed to it would take a moment to think beyond themselves and their own needs.

      • UWS parent says:

        I totally agree with this. On my school’s parent Yahoo board, someone posted a petition opposing the new building, saying “We need to keep that grassy area for our neighborhood!” I thought, wow, that’s a pretty selfish comment! And I think only a tiny % of our neighborhood actually uses this “grassy area” which actually isn’t particularly grassy. Sure, that area is nice to look at, but there are plenty of other grassier areas to look at around the museum. I walk through Roosevelt Park almost everyday. The area along 81st Street is lovely, as is the area running along Columbus around where the Nobel Prize monument is. I believe, and hope, the museum only intends to build into that area furthest away from the street, back where that metal sculpture is. It’s a quiet space that very few people actually visit or even notice. Surely the benefits of the new building greatly outweigh the costs of eliminating this mostly unfrequented area.

      • S. Louie says:

        Ok..let’s sacrifice real world oxygen creating foliage in the name of kids science education.

        Seriously…We can’t do it another way like building a NEW modern science center in an already made concrete space???

        I could name a few ugly non-landmark worthy buildings that could go. I could ALSO show you a few buildings of EMPTY unaffordable housing on the UWS that were built a just a few years ago…that to this day…remain only 30% occupied.

    9. Arlene Kurtis says:

      I played in that little patch of park as a child. While the rest of the green space around the museum is in constant use by visitors to the museum and planetarium, this is actually the only space for local residents to sit and
      play. It would be shame to lose it.
      Arlene Kurtis

    10. S. Louie says:

      Why don’t they knock out some of the walls on the inside and respace old outdated areas with a new science area dedicated on making science fun and easier to understand? There is a lot of space in that building!!!

      Is it used efficiently? NO. The Gem area could be downsized…even though I love the “dark” theme of it with the multi level walk around.

      I was in there recently and the Earth section is still throwing the Pangea theory!! When newer evidence exists and demonstrates it’s an “expanding earth” along with the other planets and moons. This is why the continents fit on both sides!!!! The earth was one crust and as it expanded it broke apart.

      Another example of how old and outdated some of that museum is.

    11. Jackie says:

      If only the city would assist in getting rid of the hundreds of rats who live in this green space. At night they get so confident you almost walk right over all of them. It is disgusting and sad. In the dog park the other night a dog caught a rat in its mouth. Horrendous.