IT’S CRUNCH TIME FOR MUSEUM EXPANSION PROJECT AS NEIGHBORS DEBATE NEW ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY


A rendering of the new museum entrance on Columbus Avenue as seen from 79th Street.

By Carol Tannenhauser

The American Museum of Natural History is confident the “pros” of its new museum building will vastly outweigh the “cons”.

The Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation will enlighten hundreds of thousands of children and adults, allow the museum to showcase thousands of unique specimens from its vast collection, improve circulation through the museum, and create a brand new entrance on Columbus Avenue.

It will also force residents to endure three years of construction, reduce the overall area of the surrounding park, and only add to the traffic problems in the area.

Next week, the impact of the Gilder Center on the surrounding neighborhood, and plans for mitigating “significant adverse impacts,” will be subject to public scrutiny, following the release by the Parks Department of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the project. As you can see below, it’s pretty enormous. The entire study can be accessed on this city website.

The DEIS cannot be finalized and submitted to city and state agencies for approval and funding purposes without public input. A public hearing is set for June 15th, at 6 pm, in the LeFrak Theater at the museum.

Despite the museum’s success in assuaging the concerns of some opponents, the plan remains controversial with some community members.

Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park has retained counsel, calling the DEIS “a public relations narrative…[that] has thus far been effectively sold to the City of New York.”

“You should be leery of Environmental Impact Statements, because what happens today is, developers hire professional consultants who are beholden to those developers and who tailor their conclusions in order to achieve the outcomes the developers want,” said Michael Hiller, a lawyer for the Community United group.

But a spokesman for the museum refuted that notion.

“NYC Parks, not the Museum, determines when the DEIS is sufficient and complete,” responded Roberto Lebron, Senior Director of Communications for the Museum. It was vetted by the Parks Department, the lead agency for the project, and other expert City agencies.

“The DEIS starts with where we are in 2017,” explained Ed Applebome, the environmental consultant who prepared it. “It projects to 2021, when the project could be completed. There are two conditions in 2021: what’s it like without the project and what’s it like with the project. The differential forms the basis for assessing impacts.”

The DEIS identifies three areas that would potentially suffer “significant adverse impacts” if the Gilder Center proceeds as currently planned: historic and cultural resources, transportation, and construction.

The first cannot be mitigated. Reducing the Gilder Center’s footprint in the Park requires that the museum “build inward,” demolishing three existing buildings to do so. One is a landmarked former power house, built in 1903-1904. As partial mitigation, a complete history of the development of the Museum will be produced, along with thorough documentation of the “lost” building.

Transportation is a thornier issue. According to the DEIS, the Gilder Center would attract 745,000 additional visitors to the Museum by 2021. “Because existing traffic and pedestrian conditions in the study area are already severe and susceptible to worsening with service levels, even small increases in traffic and pedestrian levels could result in significant adverse impacts…”

Still, the DEIS concludes that pedestrian issues could be handled by widening one crosswalk, and that “All of the identified significant adverse traffic impacts could be fully mitigated with the implementation of standard traffic mitigation measures (e.g., signal retiming).”

“That’s science fiction,” said a member of the Theodore Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association (TRPNA), representing buildings across the street from the Museum on West 81st Street. They’re still seething over what they perceive as the Museum’s “broken promises” related to the addition of the Rose Center in 1999.

“Despite years of complaints from our community and endless meetings,” a memo from the TRPNA reads, “the American Museum of Natural History has failed to develop a reasonable policy to lessen the impact of hundreds of school buses coming into our community every day during the school year.”

Lebron counters that the museum has attempted to lessen the impact. “In response to the concerns expressed by the West 81st Street block, the museum now caps bookings at 60 buses and we rarely experience such a high activity day.”

Finally, there’s construction. The DEIS predicts it will take three years to build the Gilder Center, a 245,000-square-foot, glass-and-stone structure, deemed by some “magnificent,” and others “a monstrosity.”

“By its nature, construction is dynamic and intrusive,” said Dan Slippen, Vice President of Government Affairs for the museum. “People don’t like having construction next door to them. There will be a phone number and an email if people have questions or problems. If they can’t get to me immediately, they’ll be ways to get to somebody immediately.”


A rendering of the structure in winter.

The museum will also form a “construction task force,” Slippen said, comprised of representatives from the construction company (Turner), the museum, electeds, architects, community residents, and others. And, according to the DEIS, air conditioners and storm windows will be offered to those in very-close proximity to the site, to help mitigate noise.

No doubt, someone will have something to say about that at the public hearing.

Again, it’s on June 15th, at 6 pm, in the Lefrak Theater at the museum. Enter at 79th street and Columbus Avenue. Written comments will also be accepted until June 26th at the addresses below:

Owen Wells, Director of Environmental Review
New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
The Arsenal, Central Park
830 Fifth Avenue, Room 401
New York, New York 10065

Telephone: (212) 360-3492
Fax: (212) 360-3453
Email: owen.wells@parks.nyc.gov

Check out our interview with the architect when the project began.

NEWS | 26 comments | permalink
    1. Bobby says:

      Such a boring place

    2. DenMark says:

      An EIS for a power plant, transmission line, waste transfer station, water treatment plant, etc., makes sense, but for a museum addition…? What a waste of government resources.

      • Pedestrian says:

        A three year construction project will have massive environmental impact on the neighborhood. As to the addition, the museum itself has psosited that there will be an enourmous increase in visitors after the additon is completed but it wants the public to ignore that the transit opportunities in the neighborhood are already at their breaking point and the roads are often parking lots at peak periods now. The environmental impact of just that fact will be enormous. So Yes, an environmental impact study of this project is more that appropriate.

        • DenMark says:

          Massive??? 3-years of construction may cause some additional noise or traffic at times but it will not interrupt/ inconvenience the community in a meaningful way (unlike, for example, a new subway tunnel – which justifies an EIS). Once finished, we are talking about an additional 2,000 per day people by 2021. An EIS is reasonable in this situation only in the fantasy land of unlimited time and resources. Stuff costs money. If you are a taxpayer, you are paying for this waste.

    3. Ye Olde Teachere says:

      Re: the oh-so-delicate W. 81st Street Association’s bogus argument about “hundreds of school buses coming into our community every day during the school year.”

      ’tis said, “FIGURES LIE; AND LIARS FIGURE”. Hundreds of school buses every day?!?! Really? And, even if it were true, what difference?

      1. Five or six buses usually park on W. 77th Street, not even close to W. 81st Street.

      2. These buses MUST LEAVE before 3:00 p.m. to get the kids back to their schools, as dismissal time is 3:00 p.m.

      3. There are no school buses on weekends, obviously.

      4. Also, obviously,there are no school buses when the school-year ends (usually last week in June), through all of July and August, and probably not until the new school-year is well underway, perhaps by mid-September.

      5. But, what-the-heck, as the current president might say, a little exaggeration is par for the course.

    4. Margaret says:

      What exactly are they changing about the park itself? It’s got a horribly gated-off, inaccessible vibe, especially on the south side. Can they just simply open up pedestrian walkways along the desire lines for where people want to go? Michael Kimmelman at the NYT has eloquently argued for this, but are his arguments for park activation and openness falling on deaf ears at AMNH?

      • MJ says:

        Totally agree they need to open up OUR parkland to the residents! The park is lovely and quiet and I love the flowers and trees, even though they are gated off. But if the AMNH is stealing my parkland from me without any say-so to put up this new building, they better open it up. The only reason not to do this is because of the elm trees could die if people walked around the roots too much, but perhaps there’s a way to protect them?

    5. F. Steinberg says:

      This boondoggle represents a denial of climate change. A magnificent tree canopy–7 magnificent 125 yr.old trees–will be demolished along with the buildings; the building does not have a solar panel in sight and will cost the taxpayer $30 to $40 million a year to heat and cool, emitting greenhouse gases. The first year will bring a million more visitors to our densely populated area. It’s a very bad example to set for our children. There is no reason why a new museum cannot be built in another area of our city where it will not impinge on its citizens to this extent. Many of our institutions have annexes–MOMA, The Met, our Universities, our hospitals, all have annexes. There’s no substantive reason why AMNH cannot do likewise.

    6. UWS Resident says:

      Storm windows for those in close proximity? Is this a joke?

      Piling pounding, jack hammering, heavy machinery vibrating and concussing will be seismic for many blocks around from Amsterdam well into the Park.

      • Nathan says:

        If you’re objecting to construction noises, then why not object to building anything in Manhattan whatsoever?

    7. Neighbor says:

      Now it makes sense why Isabella’s closed. It could not have survived as a sidewalk cafe during this noise siege.

    8. BillyNYC says:

      OPENING 2020

      The Richard Gilder Center for Science is needed in Manhattan we do not have a Science Center and we need it for all to learn!

      Science is at the core of the most pressing issues of the day—human health, climate change, and biodiversity conservation, among others—and there is an urgent need to enhance the public understanding of science and to provide effective educational experiences that support informed, thoughtful engagement with these topics.

      There is an equally critical need to address key challenges in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. The Gilder Center will expand the reach and deepen the impact of the Museum’s work in science education, building on a strong foundation of successful programs such as Urban Advantage, the Master of Arts in Teaching Program, and the Science Research Mentoring Program that already serve teachers, students, and youth throughout New York City, New York State, and beyond.

      Over the last several decades, the Museum’s annual attendance has grown from approximately three million to approximately five million. The Gilder Center will enhance the visitor experience by improving circulation and by making physical and programmatic connections among galleries, classrooms, collections, and library resources.

      Let’s all welcome the new Richard Gilder Center at West 79th Street at Columbus Avenue for Science, Education, and Innovation will invite visitors to experience the Museum not only as a place of public exhibitions but as an active scientific and educational institution.

      The Gilder Center will expand access to a broader range of the Museum’s resources for students, teachers, and families, offering new learning opportunities and inviting all visitors to share in the excitement of discovery…

      The Gilder Center is designed by Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects. Ralph Appelbaum of Ralph Appelbaum Associates is designing the exhibition experiences, and the landscape architecture firm is Reed Hilderbrand.

      Approximately 80 percent of the 245,000-gross-square-foot project will be located within the area currently occupied by the Museum. Three existing Museum buildings will be removed to minimize the Gilder Center footprint in Theodore Roosevelt Park to about 11,600 square feet (approximately a quarter acre).

      The Gilder Center will be a five-story, approximately 203,000-gross-square-foot addition to the Museum. The proposed project would also include approximately 42,000 gross square feet of renovations to existing space and alterations to an approximately 75,000-square-foot adjacent area of Theodore Roosevelt Park. 

    9. BillyNYC says:

      Renowned American scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson makes history…

      Neil deGrasse Tyson and Jean-Michel Jarre will receive the Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication this year. Garik Israeliank, astrophysicist and creator of Starmus, made the big announcement on June 6 at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in the American Museum of Natural History.

      The Stephen Hawking Medal is an annual award created in association with the Starmus Festival, an international gathering celebrating science and art that will take place in Trondheim, Norway,next week on June 18-23.

      • F Steinberg says:

        Astrophysics is not a science e.g., biology and chemistry. I wouldn’t trust any science forthcoming from the Gilder Center. Mr. Gilder believes that man has conquered nature. The Museum has a plaque from Monsanto who has contributed to the Museum. Monsanto–those are the guys that poison our soil. No thanks to the Gilder Center

        • Jay says:

          “Astrophysics is not a science”

          Wow…. I can’t believe you think typing that makes any of your statements credible.

          I can’t wait for this new addition to be built and more Neil deGrasse Tyson’s to contribute to our community.

      • F. Steinberg says:

        Mr. Tyson has the Rose Center for his astrophysics. Can you name any scientist who has received training at the Museum?

    10. Paul RL says:

      My family, as well as many of my neighbors, can’t wait for The Gilder Center to be built. Long live science, education, and research on the Upper West Side!

      • GG says:

        I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment! And I think the overwhelming majority of the neighborhood feels the same way.

        Isn’t this the reason we all live in NYC in the first place? We are blessed to live walking distance to some of the greatest museums in the world.

    11. Dr. Cary Goodman says:

      The museum’s toxic plan cannot be submitted to “city and state agencies for approval and funding without public input.”

      The meeting scheduled for June 15 will be used as proof of a dialogue between the museum and its neighbors.

      Maybe we should boycott it?

      Lets stop the museum from using us to validate and advance their misguided proposal.

      Lets SAVE OUR PARK.

    12. Olive Freud says:

      It is not necessary to expand into the park. The foot print of the illconceived Atrium is equal to the 1/4 acre park land lost.

      Think of the precedence. The museum expands into the park whenever they want to.

    13. Celine says:

      This is one of my favorite blocks to walk and I really look forward to this beautiful addition….finally, quality neighborhood entrance with lovely, updated park space. What a great addition to the neighborhood and NYC family of museums. Change is hard and construction sites are frustrating, but this will be well worth it!

    14. PT says:

      I really don’t get what the fuss is about. The museum is a wonderful institution that can only get better as it continues to grow.
      I could inderstand the communities concern if Central Park was not a stones throw from the where they plan to build.
      How many people have the opportunity to live next to one of the great open spaces in an urban environment.
      The community has over six hundred acres of park land across the street.
      Please let me know where the problem lies with taking an acre from an adjacent park. To build an even more incredible museum.
      UWS liberals get a life!!