Museum of Natural History Wins Lawsuit Allowing it to Proceed With Expansion

A rendering of the Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation.

A judge ruled in favor of the Museum of Natural History on Monday, allowing it to proceed with construction of the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation. The new building will mostly be constructed within the museum’s existing footprint, though it will also take up about one-quarter of an acre of the surrounding park on the Columbus Avenue side.

The museum hopes to open the center by 2021.

“The expansion will significantly enhance museum education programs, visitors’ experience, and scientific work,” the museum said in a statement.

Judge Lynn Kotler dismissed a suit brought by Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park that had attempted to block construction of the building, in part because of the dangers that construction could pose to the surrounding community. The opposition group argued that the museum did not have control of the park that surrounds it and thus would need to go through much more stringent reviews before the city could give the project the green light.

The battle centered on the lease between the city and the museum, signed in 1877. Opponents claimed the lease only gave the museum rights to occupy its current footprint, not expand deeper into the park. But the judge dismissed those claims. She also removed the temporary restraining order that had stopped the museum from proceeding with construction.

The opponents are considering an appeal.

“We are obviously disappointed by the decision, as we had high hopes for this case and for an outcome which we believed would be favorable to the community,” wrote Michael Hiller, attorney for Community United. “We continue to believe in the lawsuit we brought, notwithstanding the decision today, and are considering an appeal.”

The museum, which will be removing some trees but adding others, also says it hopes to “minimize disruption” in the area. “We have also made a significant contribution to the ongoing maintenance and care of the park and will of course work closely with our partners to minimize any disruption throughout the construction project,” the museum said.

Clarification: The museum now expects the center to open in 2021, not 2020 as we previously reported.

NEWS | 34 comments | permalink
    1. Steen says:

      Yay! This is fantastic news and a win for scientific education!

      • Maria Fernandez, RN says:

        Tragically this is a step back for environmental justice and the community’s health.

        • Jay says:

          The museum expansion has nothing to do with environmental justice and the community’s health. This was more about your and Cary’s ego than anything else. I’m sorry so many wasted dollars and time went towards inflating that ego.

      • BILLYNYC/W. 80th St. Block Association says:

        Kudos to that statement… this is what I’ve been saying ever since the idea has come up at the museum to build the center. It is so badly needed for the sake of science and education of our future youth.

      • DCrayg says:

        Yea how amazing that they will make a fortune off the schools for taking that public park from the community!

    2. Wijmlet says:

      So sorry–that lovely park. The crowds!

    3. Kat French says:

      Please, Community United, do not attempt to appeal this decision. The museum has compromised and so should the community. We need science education more than ever in this country!

    4. AC57 says:

      This is wonderful news. I understand that not all change is good, which is technically correct, but 200 Amsterdam Avenue, 50 West 66th Street, Waterline Square, and especially this project are the right kind of change. This was the right decision, and this is great for the neighborhood.

    5. BillyNYC/West 80th Street Assoc. says:

      We were always going to win… I just feel sorry for the people who donated to “A lost cause” now they’re all out of that money. All this donation money should be returned or being investigated.

    6. Bob Lamm says:

      No surprise. Anyone who expected this lawsuit to be successful was dreaming. Will more time and money be wasted on an appeal? Will we hear more apocalyptic rhetoric about how this expansion will destroy the entire Upper West Side?

    7. DCrayg says:

      With all of the free space surrounding the museum, they chose public parkland to build on. What sort of science oriented organization can’t use effective problem solving and build on space that isn’t currently in public use? They have the entire perimeter with tons of land fenced off from public use, yet they choose the beautiful park to take. What a shame. The science education they will offer will make a good fortune charging schools for the same sub par services they offer schools now. Way to turn a profit of taking public park access.

      • H S says:

        Did I miss something? Where’s all the “free space surrounding the museum”? Is there a huge undeveloped lot across Columbus that no one noticed? Perhaps you’re talking about Central Park?

        Also the museum is a non-profit.

    8. UWSJoe says:

      Hooray! Hooray!

      This is a fantastic victory for the Upper West Side and for all the people who visit this American treasure!

      A win for the young and young at heart! A win for families! A win for all New Yorkers!

      Hopefully all the sad, old, bitter UWS grinches who opposed this will scurry back to whatever horrible hole they crawled out of.

      A Merry Christmas indeed!

      • BillyNYC says:

        Yes fantastic news for the holidays and before you know it 2021 will be here to enjoy the opening of the new science building.
        Very Merry Christmas to all and a wonderful New Years to come.
        I just love sitting with my dog on the bench on Columbus Avenue at 80th Street next to the Christmas trees being sold…. What a wonderful feeling this treasure we have here on the upper West side.

    9. Rob G. says:

      Congratulations to the AMNH and to the residents of the Upper West Side!

      As for Cary Goodman and the Community United, we forgive your misdeeds and hope to see you walking your pooches and reading the the New York Herald Tribune in the new, improved Theodore Roosevelt Park.

    10. UWSer says:

      To those people hell bent on fighting for a cause, may I suggest you aim your energy at one that is truly a major issue and one that would improve the lives of everyone of this city. Try affordable housing, homelessness, and perhaps the corruption and mismanagement of the MTA, all of which would truly help this city and its citizens; not just your minute sliver and precious 1/4 acre of a park.

    11. Ground Control says:

      So interesting that those who cheer for more science education have no problem with the fact that a major climate science denier sits in the education department of the Board of the museum. So many people are so incredibly ill-informed!This building will greatly disrupt the neighborhood. Will lead to massive crowds in Theodore Roosevelt Park, and will be an eyesore to this historic landmarked museum. Progress is not progress when it destroys the environment.

    12. Brian says:

      The opposition to this project was marred by cognitive distortions. As a clinician, my concern is not for the lost money (that could have gone to help someone), it’s the emotional stability of those most against the expansion.

      The project seemed to expose the black and white thinking, generalizing, and catastrophizing of the project that are also symptoms of depression. That the arguments against this project were not framed as “True or False” but rather as “Safe or Dangerous” only underscores this.

      Maybe opposition to this project was initially valid, but once the museum began holding conversations that led to compromise, the group opposing development was either NIMBY or emotionally misguided.

    13. sange says:

      Congrats to AMNH! I hope that the “Community United” (funny how fringe groups always pick these grandiose names that makes them sound like more than a dozen grinches) group picks a new and more useful local cause.

    14. slm says:

      It still disturbs me that when the museum presented their plans to the Columbus Avenue BID it was all about increasing foot traffic and easy access from the #1 train. Months later, when they announced plans to the neighborhood (via leaflets for the people who live on 79th street), it was all about education for children.

    15. M...UWS says:

      Shame on those of you who would mock the efforts of some to protect the environment all the while touting science. Well, science tells us that the climate is in danger and that trees are the lungs of the world. Yet the museum will remove 7 canopy trees to replace them with what…saplings(?)…all so they can erect a vanity building that the taxpayers are being forced to support with millions of dollars without a sayso. Money that would be better spent feeding the hungry. And have you been inside the museum lately, or talked to the people who work there? It is in severe need of reconstruction and an overhaul. Why aren’t they being as circumspect about caring for the space they already have? Further, we now hear the museum will demolish three existing buildings to reduce their footprint which puts lie to their claim that they need more space. Your neighbors put money and mouth forward in an effort to keep park space which would benefit you and you make fun of them?

      • Jeremy says:

        I am happy to make fun of anyone who thinks getting worked up over 7 trees is making a difference to the environment of 3 trillion trees.

        • thatsallfolks says:

          Exactly! The damage that human beings have already caused to the global environment is irreversible as long as we continue to inhabit this planet. Just our efforts in farming/fishing to merely ATTEMPT to feed the human population is devastating to the environment EVERY day. Environmentalism is self-serving to human beings and not the planet itself. Humans don’t care about the planet, they only care about a nice place to inhabit and we’ve blown it! The only chance this planet has to heal itself is once human beings are finished exterminating themselves. Only then can and will the environment truly heal. Keep telling yourselves the lie that we can save our planet via these efforts while the vast majority of damage continues every day all over the world. We’re done here folks!

        • Our time has come says:

          This group is ridiculous… It’s not seven (7) trees they’re all worked up about it’s two (2) trees and they’re going to be replaced by seven (7) trees with additional shrubs and plants and flowers. It’s going to look so awesome, even better than what was there, such a waste of space.
          Time for change and change is always good. Bring on the “NEW”.

    16. HMark says:

      Great news! I’m frustrated that small-minded people managed to delay this project for a while, but thankfully not permanently. AMNH is such a wonderful resource, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it grow. 🙂

    17. UWS science lover says:

      Fantastic news! Sorry this has been delayed so much. It will be a terrific addition to the UWS and the city. I can’t wait for it to be built.

    18. Chris says:

      Great News! So pleased to read this.

    19. Carnival Canticle says:

      Now that Dr. Goodman has even more free time on his hands, maybe he can send out crews to clean up the “Save the Park” chalk messages on walls and sidewalks and the telephone pole flyers that his goons have been uglifying the neighborhood with since this whole misbegotten campaign began. Vandalism in the name of self-righteous NIMBYism is still vandalism.

    20. Elisabeth Anderson says:

      Appeal!!!!! How does one Judge have the authority to take away a long established NYC Park? The Museum should keep their existing space, not expand into the Park, maybe do some renovations, and expand to another part of the City, not a Park. In this way, the rest of NYC residents have closer access. The overcrowded space, where three large Museums already exist, should not be more congested, by this plan.

    21. Yimby says:

      Finally, this nonsense is over as expected, with a mammoth win for students and the UWS!

    22. Ground Control says:

      Please get more involved with your community before assuming that a new addition of a “science school” which happens to take part of a much beloved public park is such a wonderful idea. So many facts have been glossed over or ignored. There is no doubt that more than just a few trees will be commandeered by this project. But another concern which has been ignored is when the Board of Trustees of the Museum has a very well heeled climate science denier, Rebekah Mercer (who was a leader and major donor of the 2016 Trump campaign) as a member. Here’s some research for those who may be concerned or unconcerned about the curriculum of this “science” school. “The Mercer Family Foundation, led by Rebekah Mercer and funded by her billionaire father, donated almost $4 million in 2016 to organizations that reject the scientific consensus regarding man-made climate change or oppose more regulations on carbon emissions, according to BuzzFeed News.
      The new details about the Mercers’ continued support for climate change skeptics come on the heels of a United Nations panel report that found that humans have only 12 years to significantly reduce carbon emissions or face a global catastrophe”.

      Ms. Mercer in her role as a AMNH Board trustee is an advisor on education at the Museum. What will her role be in designing and influencing this school’s curriculum?

    23. W. 80th St. Block Association says:

      Message from Billy Amato, chair
      W. 80th St. Block Association

      Merry Christmas neighbors of West 80th Street –
      Great News !

      Beginning next week December 17th, the Museum will resume preparations of the construction site for the Gilder Center project.

      Vehicles will be entering the site from Columbus Avenue to facilitate delivery of materials and other site preparation activities, including adding ground protection and clearing lamp posts, fencing, and other materials in the work area, which will continue through mid-January. Pruning of the roots of several trees that will remain for the duration of the project will begin early next week as part of the approved tree protection plan and in accordance with New York City Department of Parks and Recreation guidelines.

      In addition, work will begin on the seven trees that will be removed, followed by top soil removal, and there also will be work on the exterior of the building to the south of the construction site. This work will create low-level construction noise. Six new canopy trees and 16 new understory trees will be planted after construction is completed as part of the landscape plan for the western portion of the Park.

    24. Andrew says:

      What a beautiful design. It invokes some of the exhilaration of approaching Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao.