NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM EXPANSION PLAN CALLED ‘SPECTACULAR,’ PASSES FIRST HURDLE

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A rendering of the center, as viewed from 79th and Columbus.

By Carol Tannenhauser

“It’s spectacular…it’s appropriate…and we should move ahead.”

That was the consensus of Community Board (CB) 7’s joint Preservation/Parks & Environment committee, which voted Tuesday night to approve the plans for the Museum of Natural History’s proposed Gilder Center, and the redesign of Theodore Roosevelt Park, with two recommendations: that the building strive for a “zero-carbon footprint”; and that a strategy be developed to prevent the overflow of visitors to the Center from overwhelming “dedicated park-goers.”

The committee was charged with reviewing the proposed Gilder Center from a design perspective, evaluating its “appropriateness” to both the Museum, which is an historical landmark, and the “historic district” in which it is located. The committee’s resolutions of approval and recommendations will be passed on to the full board for review and a public hearing and vote on October 5th.

What is actually being reviewed is the museum’s application to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). LPC has the final say on the “appropriateness” of the design, but strongly considers the input of the community board. The LPC will hold its public hearing and the final, binding vote on the architectural appropriateness of the Gilder Center design on October 11th.

Then, the focus shifts to the “Environmental Impact Statement (EIS),” which, driven by the Parks Department, will explore such issues as congestion, pollution, transportation, school buses, and food carts. A public hearing on the EIS will be scheduled in 2017. If the project proceeds as planned, the Gilder Center should open in 2020.

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From left to right: Ann Siegel, a senior VP at the museum; Architect Jeanne Gang; and Museum President Ellen Futter.

Opposition by a core group of community members remains strong – and, at times, rude. Cary Goodman, one of the leaders, somehow saw fit to yell out Museum President Ellen Futter’s salary. Hisses could be heard whenever the president began to speak.

amnh-speakerMost people were civil and thoughtful. Several questioned the size of the center, a five-floor, glass-and-stone building, with a soaring center atrium. “I question how this huge volume of space relates to the context and the footprint extending into the park,” one committee member said, to enthusiastic applause.

Architect Jeanne Gang responded:

“The building is more than just the fact of its square footage,” she said. “That space is needed to make the building be about discovery…to use natural daylight all the way through every floor…to make the connections between floors. So, it’s not just a question of fact. It’s a question of how you make architecture that is inspiring and mission-centric. There’s actually a collections core in the Gilder Center that goes the entire height of the building, revealing collections to the public that were previously hidden from view.”

October 5th, folks. We’ll let you know when and where. A historic decision is being made about a world-class cultural institution, right in our own backyard.

NEWS | 14 comments | permalink
    1. dannyboy says:

      ding that “two recommendations: that the building strive for a “zero-carbon footprint”; and that a strategy be developed to prevent the overflow of visitors to the Center from overwhelming “dedicated park-goers.” is very heartening.

      It is great when differing positions can be considered and accommodated.

    2. the_the says:

      This is going to be a great addition to our neighborhood.

    3. john charles says:

      Dear Friends, Neighbors and Park Preservationists –

      Last night hundreds of people packed the community board for a meeting on the museum’s toxic plan to bulldoze Margaret Mead Green and annex more of Teddy Roosevelt Park.

      Community Board 7 failed its constituents in every way conceivable. Despite the high heat and humidity, there was no air conditioning and the windows were shut. At the start of the meeting, there was no sound system or microphone. The chair allowed the museum to exceed its time limit while forcing opponents to adhere to one minute for comments. When the meeting ended, the committee members ignored their neighbors by voting unanimously to support the proposed plan, despite the overwhelming sentiment against it.

      This shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Community board members are NOT ELECTED. They are nominated by the city council member and appointed by the borough president. If they don’t go along, they can be removed.

      In our case, the council member, Helen Rosenthal, has already appropriated $100 million of our taxes for the proposal. Borough President Brewer has added millions as well. These ‘leaders’ have been telling everyone that approval of this inane plan is “a done deal” even before an application had been submitted.

      The museum’s lobbyists, Manatt, Phelps, Phillips got to Brewer and Rosenthal .Rosenthal and Brewer got to the community board. The neighborhood got nothing.

      But, everyone got to see how powerful opponents of the application can be. The criticisms came hard and often. We talked about the climate crisis, which will be exacerbated by a giant, fossil-fuel burning building. We talked about the inappropriate size and form of the building, which many have described as a monstrosity. We talked about the loss of our treasured park land.

      And, the fight against this land grab is just beginning.

      We can’t rely on our council member or her community board to help us.

      WE NEED THE MAYOR to get involved.

      Please take a minute to call him when you finish this email: (212) 788 – 3000.

      URGE him to reject this application and convene a meeting between the museum and the 4,300 neighbors who oppose this proposal.

      Cris and Cary

      • Concerned says:

        John Charles –

        A point and a question. My understanding of the CB position is a little different. You do not need to be nominated by a council member. Each year the office of the BP puts out applications for opening CB positions. The application is available on the BP’s website and anyone can apply (whether the system is rigged to handpick certain people that I can’t tell you).

        My question is this (and forgive me if it has been asked and answered, but I am just starting to pay attention to this issue) – is the park a city park or is the park private property (owned by the museum or someone else)

      • Jay says:

        4300 neighbors oppose this project???? I think you have your decimal point off. Probably more like 43…

        Sorry. NIMBYism lost on this one. Better to move on to the next Citibike expansion or something.

      • UWS resident says:

        Please, stop.

        If you and the other opponents don’t live across from the future construction, would you really care whether or not the museum expands?

    4. MJ says:

      I, for one, don’t think the building is a monstrosity at all. I think the architecture is unique and interesting — I like the glass and natural light incorporated in the design. I don’t think folks like Cary Good yelling out salaries is particularly useful to the discussion and prefer the folks who have been working with the museum to navigate this situation.

      That said, I continue to have real concerns over what happens to the Margaret Mead green and Teddy Roosevelt Park. I love that little park and it is a haven from the noise and congestion of Columbus Ave. It’s the “quiet” side of the museum — no buses, no kids, no crowds. Just trees and park benches in the middle of an otherwise busy street. It’s an oasis. For those of you who say “Central Park is just another avenue away” — you fail to understand the role these green spaces play in a busy, bustling city like ours.

      Also — and maybe most importantly — it is public park land, leased by the museum, but OWNED by the residents of NYC. That means this is YOUR lawn, YOUR green, YOUR trees and I for one don’t think the museum should be allowed to do whatever they want with it. That’s not how this works. They do NOT own that land. WE do.

      I also don’t reject that the museum needs to expand. I think science education is important. But questioning the museum’s expansion isn’t NIMBYism. This is about honoring how the public uses OUR green spaces and the museum wanting to take that away without so much as a by-your-leave. I applaud the push from the community to keep the footprint as small as possible, save some of the old and lovely trees and hopefully open up other parts of the lawn that are currently closed off.

      I feel that the community and the museum can come together on this, but I don’t think large corporations in general have a tendency to do what’s in the public interest. A check and balance from the community that ACTUALLY OWNS AND USES the land they want to encroach on is perfectly reasonable and necessary.

      All this hopping up and down screeching NIMBYism every time someone questions the expansion is silly and misses the entire point of the discussion.

    5. Paul RL says:

      The expansion is quite spectacular, and will be a well-needed boost for the whole Upper West Side. Bravo, AMNH, and kudos to CB7 for recognizing a good thing when they see it!

    6. Wijmlet says:

      Spare the beautiful trees and garden!

    7. Dee Rieber says:

      It is a sad day on the Upper West Side when our Community Board rubber stamps a proposed plan which uses our public funds and asks us to concede 11,500sf of OUR park space and a small forest of seven trees. This area now serves as a peaceful respite on the west side of the Theodore Roosevelt Park. This plan can well be done within the current footprint without the loss of public space and property. Why has the Museum choosen to alienate the very citizens that are responsible for it’s success for well over a century. Are they in financial trouble and see the event space, which is part of this development as a way to boost revenue? I do not get it!

      • dannyboy says:

        “Why has the Museum choosen to alienate the very citizens that are responsible for it’s success for well over a century.”

        they got a bunch of benefactors to satisfy with this. you ain’t one

    8. adbwest83 says:

      I can’t believe all the hysteria. We are in the 21st century, and things change. About time people approaching from 79th street will get something fabulous to look at. Let’s hear everyone, of course, then step back and applaud change done with taste and care.

    9. Chris says:

      How about a trade? The MNH can take the parkland it needs if it opens up the fenced-off expanse of lawns along 77th St and turns those into parkland.