Natural History museum isn’t entitled to city-owned land, activists say

Institution is moving forward with pre-construction work as opponents wait for court hearing
September 24, 2018 09:20AM

A protesting group overlaid on a rendering of the Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation at the American Museum of Natural History (Credit: Studio Gang and Pixabay)

The American Museum of Natural History is moving ahead with its $383 million expansion, even though community activists are waiting for their day in court.

Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park earlier this year filed a lawsuit against the museum and the city, claiming the institution isn’t entitled to the city-owned land needed for the expansion, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Despite the fact that a hearing on the case is scheduled for Oct. 2, the museum is already moving ahead with pre-construction work on the site.

“I look at this as a bullying tactic,” Laura Messersmith, an activist and plaintiff in the lawsuit, told the Journal. “[The museum] is trying to send the message this is a done deal.”

The museum sits on a plot of the city-owned Theodore Roosevelt Park from 77th and 81st streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. The museum has planned a five-story building named the Richard Gilder Center that would be adjacent to the existing building, scheduled to open in 2021.

But community members opposing the expansion say it would draw too much pedestrian and vehicular traffic to the neighborhood. They say that under the terms of an 1876 state statute and the city’s lease agreement with the museum, the cultural institution doesn’t have the right to expand in the park.

The city’s Law Department, however, said the expansion is authorized by state law and the lease agreement. A spokesperson for the museum said it “established a construction task force which includes representatives from neighborhood groups and is available to address concerns or problems that may arise during the construction period.”

A judge’s ruling on the case could come within three to six months following the hearing. [WSJ] – Rich Bockmann