Helen Rosenthal speaks to the crowd at a meeting on the Museum of Natural History’s expansion project.
Council member Helen Rosenthal was booed at a meeting about the Museum of Natural History on Tuesday night as audience members criticized her for supporting the museum’s expansion plans, according to people who organized and attended the meeting. The Town Hall meeting was held by the group Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park, which opposes the building construction, and it attracted about 350 people, said organizer Sig Gissler.
Rosenthal helped the museum secure $16 million in City Council funding for a new educational building it is planning to construct. The new building is expected to be built largely inside Teddy Roosevelt Park, which is adjacent to the museum. The design hasn’t been released so it’s not yet clear how much of the park it will take up. The diagram below shows the general area where the museum will be placed in red. We have more images and an explanation of the project here.
Gissler, the leader of the Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park group, said that many of the speakers asked the museum to re-purpose existing space inside its current buildings instead of building a new structure.
Locals also expressed anger that local politicians — including Rosenthal and Borough President Gale Brewer — had pledged significant taxpayer contributions to the project before it was presented to the community.
“One area resident read a form email that he had received, I believe back in July, from Councilmember Helen Rosenthal where she stated her support of the AMNH expansion,” wrote neighborhood activist Joseph Bolanos, who attended the meeting. “That lit the fuse.”
“More people stepped up and heated up the indictments of elected officials and how they are supporting their donors in this issue and not their community constituents. The crowd was on fire and the applause was non-stop… In 17-plus years of community work, I’ve never seen an elected official slammed, in their/her presence, like I did last night.”
Rosenthal explained her position, noting that she wants to make sure the museum protects the green space, keeps the area accessible to people with mobility issues and doesn’t make traffic worse. In an email, her spokesperson wrote: “There will be several points when the community can be involved in the evolution of the construction design, including a community meeting held by the Museum, two Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scoping meetings, and meetings held by Community Board 7. This is still very early in the process, and Helen looks forward to hearing more input from the community once we see the Museum’s plan.” Here’s a letter she wrote to the museum explaining her position.
A museum spokesman wrote that several museum officials attended the town hall to listen.
“Many of the issues raised were not new and the project team has been and will continue to consider them as they work on the conceptual design.”
“We understand the concern for Theodore Roosevelt Park and we share it. We do not propose this project casually. The Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation will help meet a critical need in our society for more and deeper science education both in the formal school context and for all visitors and society at large.”
Gissler told us that the group may resort to demonstrations or lawsuits if necessary. “As far as Defenders are concerned, all options are on the table as we move forward.”
Photos by Joseph Bolanos.