MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY AIMS TO REDESIGN PARK AROUND PROPOSED NEW BUILDING

By Carol Tannenhauser

The Museum of Natural History is working with local groups and politicians to redesign parts of Teddy Roosevelt Park as it creates a new building that will consume a section of the park. They say they’ve created a design meant to preserve and enhance the features, functions, and character of the park, even though a quarter of an acre – 11,600 square feet – will be missing. See the rendering and explanation below.

Photo 1- July 2016 Conceptual Park Rendering

The designs were unveiled at a public “informational meeting” requested by Community Board (CB) 7 that was held at the Museum on July 21st. The changes are the result of a collaboration between the museum’s landscape architect and a “park working group,” comprised of community associations (including Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park, the original opponents of the project), local politicians, CB 7, and the Parks Department. The renderings below show the buildings as they are expected to look in summer and winter.

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The formal approval process for the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, the first major addition to the Museum of Natural History since the Rose Center for Earth and Space was completed in 2000, will begin in earnest after Labor Day. Community input is crucial to the process and could affect the design of both the building and the park.

Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park deemed the redesign, “substantial progress,” while acknowledging “a range of issues are unresolved, from a park maintenance budget to tree guards, fencing, lighting and other concerns. Moreover, monetary restitution for mature trees that would be lost to the expansion must be worked out.”

Some people, particularly those aligned with a new more aggressive opposition group, Community United to Protect Teddy Roosevelt Park, view the redesign of the Park as a Pyrrhic victory. (Win the battle, lose the war.) As the design phase of the project gives way to the formal approval process, they fight on to affect not just the park, but the building itself.

At the far end of the continuum are purists, like Rudy Van Dam, who said at the July 21st meeting, “I’ve been a resident of the UWS since 1984. I really like the Museum of Natural History. I’m a big supporter. But what I’d like to ask you to consider is how valuable your park space is. Here we have real natural history. We have trees, we have people, we have animals. Before you go in to look at exhibits and dioramas, you have life. I really encourage you to recognize how valuable park space is and take none of it.”

He was followed by an unidentified woman who asked a question several opponents have been mulling: “Does the building really need to be so large? Is there a way to reduce it further?”

There was no representative of the architectural firm that designed the Center at the meeting to answer her questions.

Still, the Museum makes a powerful case for why it needs the proposed space. In the past 20 years, the number of visitors has doubled from two-and-a-half million to five million a year. Educational and research programs, many free, have also expanded, serving more than 500,000 NYC schoolchildren a year, training thousands of teachers, and dispatching expeditions to every continent to collect specimens and artifacts, adding to the 33 million already in the Museum’s collection. (You read that right.) It constitutes what Daniel Slippen, Vice President of Government Relations for the Museum, called, “a repository and record of our life on Earth.

“It is critically important that we have a scientifically literate citizenry,” Slippen said. “Many people know we are an exhibition/tourist destination, but many don’t know we are also a functioning scientific research and educational facility, with a graduate school offering a Master’s in teaching Earth Science and a PhD. in Comparative Biology. We just don’t have the space to do it all.”

In addition to space, the Gilder Center would add 30 new connections within the museum, vastly improving the “flow and experience of visitors,” Slippen said, “by eliminating dead ends, bottlenecks, and blockades that result from the haphazard way the museum’s 25 buildings were constructed and connected over a period of 100-plus years, beginning in 1879.” (The museum was originally housed in the Arsenal in Central Park.)

 

As for the contemporary glass-and-stone design of the Gilder Center, which the unidentified woman called “an abomination,” Roberto Lebron, Senior Director of Communications for the Museum, said, “If you walk around the perimeter of the Museum, you’ll see a variety of architectural styles from different periods of time. Wherever we’ve built onto the Museum, the architecture has reflected what was consistent with the period in which it was built. We think the Gilder Center is reflective of where we are in 2016, yet it blends and is respectful of the architecture of the past.”

 

What do you think? It is the 11th hour of the design process. If you have questions, concerns, or ideas about the Gilder Center, opportunities to express them will start in September. “It’s not a done deal,” Slippen insisted. The project requires an environmental impact review and approval by several agencies, including the Landmarks & Preservation Commission, the Parks Department, and CB 7. Board Chairperson Elizabeth Caputo said, “CB 7 has not yet taken a position on the project.”

 

So, come out and see how local government works, and maybe, even, make a difference. Here is a timeline of important meetings regarding the Gilder Center that invite community input:

 

September 13, 2016……. Public Information Session re: Landmarks Application (which, according to Elizabeth Caputo, “will include very specific elements related to the design of the museum, as well as several issues related to the park itself.”)

September 20, 2016……. CB7 Joint Preservation/Parks Committee Meeting

October 5, 2016……. CB7 Vote on Landmarks Application

October 11, 2016…… Public Hearing on Landmarks Application

2017 (dates to be determined)

CB7 Public Hearing on Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Parks Public Hearing on Draft Environmental Impact Statement

We know one guy who would have something to say about this:

roosevelt

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 21 comments | permalink
    1. JDP says:

      But what about the PokeStops?

    2. NYWoman says:

      Thanks for a great indepth review! Great writing. This continues to be a thoughtful and well thought out plan that integrates the needs and concerns of NYC. It has to pass through several entities that consider historical, environmental, and neighborhood impacts. Science and education constantly evolve: our buildings and grounds should reflect the progress of both. I’m thankful the Gilders continue to make a positive impact on all the children and patrons of the museum.

    3. Pedestrian says:

      In case no one noticed it really doesn’t matter what the citizens of NYC think. As with most major projects in NYC the fix was in before the first public notice was given. Reading the description of the redesigned park you’d actually think there will be more space for humans but don’t bet on it. A major donor wants his name on a building and that’s it.

      Once parkland is gone it’s gone and this won’t be the last we hear of the need to gobble up more.

      • Zulu says:

        I’m really miffed by the opposition to this project. I did a quick search and it shows that the land was secured by the museum back in 1872. Since then they’ve been slowly expanding with various buildings on their land.

        They’re proposing an expansion to the museum not a private development. Of course land (theirs) will have to be used for that. It will benefit the community and promote science learning amongst the younger generations. What’s not to like? Yes, a few trees will get the axe but come on, Central Park is only a block away.

        • Conflicted says:

          “I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.”
          ― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

          • dannyboy says:

            “‘Moreover, monetary restitution for mature trees that would be lost to the expansion must be worked out.'”

            Restitution to Mother Nature or direct payoff to God?

      • Zulu says:

        Ok, so I did a little more research and found out that the land is in fact City owned. However, I still stand by my position, since this parcel of land was designated for the use of the museum which dates back to 1869.

        Given that the expansion will foster science education at various levels and considering our decreasing levels of science proficiency amongst our population I see this expansion as a much needed infrastructure development.

      • dannyboy says:

        “There was no representative of the architectural firm that designed the Center at the meeting to answer her questions.”

        Community Oriented.
        Not!

    4. Paul RL says:

      Love the new park plan and love the expansion. Great news for the Museum and the UWS!

    5. Ish Kabibble says:

      Any discussion on the Bull Moose Dog Run?

      • Michelle says:

        I’m curious about this, too!

      • John says:

        The dog run will be unaffected. The proposed changes only affect the western side of the park between 78th and 80th streets.

        • Dr. Cary Goodman says:

          The dog run, like the nearby schools, Central Park and the entire neighborhood will all be impacted. The museum admits that it will involve three years of construction and blasting to create the building. It is naive to think that the dog run area of this great public park will be “unaffected.”
          However, if u still think the dog run is safe, why not ask the museum to put the dog run question in writing?

    6. Dr. Cary Goodman says:

      This is a toxic plan and it should be rejected by the Parks Commissioner. He is mandated by the NYC Charter to safeguard all our parks. If he doesn’t he should resign or be removed from his job.

    7. Jeremy says:

      What does “Moreover, monetary restitution for mature trees that would be lost to the expansion must be worked out.” mean? Are the trees’ families threatening to sue?

      • Jay says:

        It’s just meaningless NIMBY speak. They are grasping at straws to look crazier than the last crazies.

    8. Claudia DiSalvo says:

      Dan Slippen,your statement lifts the curtain. Now we know your intentions. Dan, Your new SCHOOL needs to be built off site and not on the corner of W.79th St. & Columbus. This new initiative is in violation of the AMNH mission, It never included a graduate school. And with your statement.. “a functioning scientific research and educational…, with a graduate school offering of a Master’s in teaching Earth Science and a PhD. in Comparative Biology.” Theodore Roosevelt Park, a neighborhood park does not have the acres required for your SCHOOL…So You have now revealed your true intention under the guise of working out the flow issues the Museum has had and has poorly managed over the years. That is why questions went unanswered at the meeting and others when asked, “Is this the end of the building?…”The question will not be answered because you have revealed in your statement that your objective is to eventually in your next building phase take the remainder of Theodore Roosevelt Park in order to expand the proposed Gilder University. The University needs to be built elsewhere on its own campus with room to grow. Roosevelt Island would be a good place to start.
      And as to your comment of building a “literate science citizenry”, the $125 million plus tax payer dollars gifted w/o a public hearing to a private institution (AMNH) could be sent to the DOE where a state of the art STEM initiative would develop and evolve far less expensively reaching one million school children in existing schools. New Yorker’s and Community Board 7 need to weigh in on the misuse of tax payer dollars during the September meetings and they MUST NOT be held at the Museum. They need to be held in a neutral location. We have had enough of the museum’s Dog and Pony Shows. And is it that this is a ‘done deal’ that the Chicago based architectural firm of Gang Associates were not at the meeting to answer questions.

    9. Maria Fernandez says:

      Taking away public parkland in this borough of increasing congestion and construction will work against the health and well being of everyone. The building will block the sky, cast shadows and diminish open space. All are vital.

    10. peter wright says:

      Little known fact: the Museum’s past building and its current plans have actually increased Roosevelt Park’s original 10 acre size by 3/4 of an acre.
      How so ? The new Rose Space Center includes a garage with a roof top garden (The Arthur Ross Terrace). which was built over the old ugly asphalt parking lot. It’s one acre in size, attracts small children in droves mainly because of its water feature and safe distance from any street traffic. And the Museum, not the Parks Department, pays for its maintenance ! The Gilder Center will take 1/4 of an acre…thus leaving the neighborhood, not with less park, but with a net gain of 3/4 of an acre.