Museum of Natural History Closes Part of Surrounding Park for New Building as Opposition Heads to Court

By Carol Tannenhauser

Don’t try to enter Theodore Roosevelt Park from Columbus Avenue and 79th Street; that entrance was blockaded Thursday morning. And if you enter the park at 81st and Central Park West, you’ll make it to the dog run, but not much further; green fences will stop you at the Nobel Monument.

Preparations for the construction of the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, at the American Museum of Natural History, have begun. The section of the park involved has been completely closed off, except to construction workers, who are erecting the barriers and digging a path around the periphery of the park with heavy machinery.

According to a message from the Museum sent to community members at the end of August, here’s what’s going on:

“In the first two weeks of September, we expect to begin work on the temporary park access path near 80th Street. Tree protection will also be installed over the next several weeks, based on consultation with the New York City Parks Department. Once the path is installed and the tree protection is installed, we will begin to install the site fence. Materials for this work, and for the site fence, will be delivered and staged in the park. With installation of the site fence, the pedestrian islands at 79th Street will be removed to allow for temporary protected pedestrian and bicycle paths around the site fence. We expect that this work will take approximately 4-6 weeks following the installation of the temporary park path.”

Work is proceeding despite the fact that a lawsuit was filed on March 15th in New York State Supreme Court by Community United to Save Theodore Roosevelt Park, a nonprofit group fighting to stop the construction of the Gilder Center, on the grounds that it was incorrectly approved by the city and, “if completed, would cause catastrophic environmental damage to the area, posing a series of life-threatening health hazards to residents of, and visitors to, the Upper West Side of Manhattan,” the suit says. Oral argument has been scheduled for Tuesday, October 2nd, at 9:30 AM, at 80 Centre Street, Courtroom 278.

Community United declined to comment, referring us to their lawyer, who was not immediately available. The Museum released the following statement:

“As described in the August 30 Gilder Center update email and on the website, the work underway in the Park relates to the installation of the construction site fence for the Gilder Center project. It includes work on a temporary park access path near 80th street as well as the installation of tree protection. Once the path is completed and the tree protection is installed, we will begin to install the site fence.

Regarding the court date, the Museum doesn’t comment on pending litigation.”

NEWS | 34 comments | permalink
    1. ScooterStan says:

      So CUSTRP claims that the proposed Gilder Center would, “…cause catastrophic environmental damage … posing a series of life-threatening health hazards to … the Upper West Side of Manhattan….”

      Hey,CUSTRP, don’t we get enough FAKE NEWS from our “elected leaders”? Why pile it higher?

    2. Dr. Cary Goodman says:

      Starting the annexation of the park just before the court hears the case is the height of arrogance. The museum doesn’t want to be a good neighbor or listen to the community. It is only focused on the selfish interests of super donors and climate change deniers like Rebeka Mercer and Richard Gilder. Shame on them!

      • Confused says:

        Actually, they have been listening for a LONG time, hearing the fearmongering by NIMBYs like yourself. The park isn’t being destroyed to make way for a sewage pit – they’re adding to the community by expanding the museum. Are you saying museums have a negative effect on our community?

      • Pedestrian says:

        Arrogance and overreach have been hallmarks of the Museum’s behavior since the beginning of this project,

      • Zulu says:

        And please, stop polluting the streets with those little signs on popsicle sticks. They just end up on the ground and add to the street garbage.

    3. Pete on 80th says:

      What Community United is fighting for is the fact that the AMNH has claimed the ENTIRE park is theirs to do with as they please.

      What they are trying to do in this 1st phase of expanding their university presence (Gilder Graduate School) is to move a large portion of the crowds to the other side of the park to 79th and Columbus to create what Museum President Futter called a “Major Entrance” on Columbus Avenue which would be a second main entrance on Central Park West.

      Despite assertions to the contrary, the AMNH does not, in fact, own the entire park, nor was it “set aside for them in its entirety” as they claim.

      Asking the AMNH to go through the proper land use processes as Community United is doing here, is simply an act of trying to get a fair shake against a very powerful Cultural institution with political connections the likes of Rebekah Mercer and Bill de Blasio.

      I applaud the leadership of Laura, William, and Claudia as they have shepherded the legal fight to the where it is now. Keep it up guys….time for me to go make another donation.

    4. Jay says:

      Give it up folks. The gilder center is being built. Stop wasting the museum’s money.

      • Pedestrian says:

        In 2010 the NYT reported: In addition to her $877,000 compensation package, Ellen V. Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History, lives rent free in a $5 million East Side apartment that the museum bought when she came aboard.

        Ummmmm. I find this very interesting and yet the City will be giving the millions for this expansion including but limited to the $16 million that was given to the Museum long before any public hears were held or any approvals given!

        • Genius boy UWS says:

          What’s wrong with you people you are so jealous, that’s the perks of the job…
          In my professional business on what I do, I have a very similar career or I should say something much better than what she was offered. 😉

      • Yimby says:

        Totally, and most people in the neighborhood actually want this to happen. The NIMBY-sauruses might recall that there’s this park right across the street with 850+ acres of parkland. The Gilder Center will take up less than 1/4 acre of the 28 acres surrounding the AMNH — the size of a small residential lot in the suburbs. So this will cause pollution Armageddon? Really? What about all the high-rises going up on the UWS? Hope they’re building a bunker.

      • Married with children says:

        Kudos !

      • Diane says:

        Totally agree. Enough. We have much bigger battles to fight.

    5. Robert Goodman says:

      For the sake of the author of the remarks quoted below and of the community in which we live I hope two competent psychiatrists read them and do the right thing: “if completed, would cause catastrophic environmental damage to the area, posing a series of life-threatening health hazards to residents of, and visitors to, the Upper West Side of Manhattan,”

    6. Dr. Cary Goodman says:

      Why couldn’t the museum wait a few days until the judge had a chance to hear the community’s case?

      Their bullying of the park is arrogant and belies their claim of being a good neighbor and park steward.

      After all, it is not their park, it is ours.

      • Josh says:

        Cary, the park is ours, but it is not the personal property of your small group of friends. Our elected leaders, chosen by the community as a whole, have supported this project from the beginning. You ran for office and lost. Whether you choose to accept it or not, you don’t represent us. You and your friends are a self appointed group who speak only for yourselves. You are a special interest fighting against the public as a whole. Please do not pretend that you are the voice of the community. You are not.

        • stakan says:

          +1000
          Self-appointed arbiters on common good have go sit down. Enough of harassing the progress.

        • UWS_lifer says:

          Bravo, Sir!!!! I couldn’t have articulated it better myself.

          Thanks. Maybe you should run for office around here.:) You really do speak for the community.

      • Rob G. says:

        Cary, your ramblings and reasons for opposing the Gilder Center are as hilarious now as they were months ago. My family and I will thank you for the laughs when we walk through the improved park and visit the museum for years to come!

    7. Maria Fernandez R.N. says:

      This is a travesty. Annexation of public park land by a private institution demonstrates greed and deranged judgement. Replacing open space with a fossil fuel burning building will make our air dirtier and our community sick. Stop the Museum!

      • Ananda says:

        This is heartbreaking news. It’s totally wrong what the Museum is doing. They should have waited til the court case was decided. It’s not their land. It’s land that benefits so many of us as a park. We need to preserve whatever green land we have in Manhattan rather than snatching it up and doing construction. Shame on the Museum.

      • Cato says:

        — “Replacing open space with a fossil fuel burning building…”

        Really, what else would you expect the Museum of Natural History to use but fossil fuel??

      • Zulu says:

        Maria Fernandez,

        With all due respect you may have been misinformed on this matter. Most buildings if not all in NYC use fossil fuels for heating and hot water. Your stove unless electric, uses a fossil fuel too for cooking your food. Nobody is getting sick from using these fuels, they are clean burning and represent an infinitesimally small percentage of the pollutants in our atmosphere. In fact, if we still used wood for cooking and heating it would be more of a pollutant than our modern fuels.

        Don’t listen to the fear mongers in this thread. At this point they’re grasping at straws to keep their misguided “battle” alive.

    8. Rob G. says:

      The Gilden Center will be one of the great bright spots of the Upper West Side, and I am thrilled that the small gang of opposers didn’t screw this up. Hooray science! Hooray education! Hooray AMNH! A win for the neighborhood!

    9. Patricia says:

      Anything with Rebekah Mercer attached to it is doomed to bring about pain and misery. She has no heart or soul, just deep pockets and a derp thirst for power and control of any kind. Take she and her money out of the equation and all will go well.

      • Ye Olde Englishe Teachere says:

        Re: “…a derp thirst for power….”

        Wow, that’s even DERPER than a DEEP thirst!

        Re: “Take she and her money….”

        Grammar-tyme:
        “SHE” is a subjective pronoun, used at the start of a phrase;
        “HER” is an objective pronoun, following a verb (like “take”)

      • Zulu says:

        I rather take her money and build the center to promote the advancement of science than the alternative.

    10. BillyNYC says:

      What a joke “Community United” get over it…we won !!!!
      But we would’ve Won any how $$$$
      What a waste of time you people have on your hands… …go out and do something constructive… like a job !

    11. Genius boy UWS says:

      Community United is a total laughingstock of the upper West side and a joke !!!!

    12. StevenCinNYC says:

      The histrionics over a tiny patch of green next to the huge Central Park are just absurd. Environmental damage? Seriously? The museum serves the whole City and a few vocal locals are tying them up in legal challenges, wasting everyone’s time and the museum’s money.

    13. Zulu says:

      I live very close to AMNH and I support this expansion.

    14. michael says:

      I just walk by the site (Friday, 12:05pm) and saw two things.
      1) A new pathway from the park to Columbus Ave being formed.
      2) The Princess of Sweden walking into the AMNH from Columbus Avenue.

      I think we need to take an honest perspective. The AMNH is world stage and we should be grateful for those that have steered it. Second (and consequently) the continued growth and expansion is important to the museum and New York City.

      Given that Central Park is less than 500 steps from this site, there are far more meaningful causes to protest and far more meaningful reasons to protest them (read, human liberties)

    15. Bob Lamm says:

      Since Cary Goodman is back again on this issue, I believe it’s a useful time to recall the results of the relevant 2017 Democratic primary for City Council:

      Helen Rosenthal 13,060 votes (64.8%)
      (Rosenthal supported the Museum’s plan)

      Mel Wymore 6,280 votes (31.2%)

      Cary Goodman 805 votes (4.0%)

      Goodman can claim to speak for the FOUR percent of district residents who voted for him. That’s it.

      • BillyNYC says:

        I’m not a supporter of Helen Rosenthal… BUT! I’m impressed with her support for the museum of natural history, thank you Ms Rosenthal!
        Thank you.
        BillyNYC