MANHATTAN — Billionaire industrialist and Metropolitan Museum of Art Trustee David Koch is footing the bill for a major renovation of the landmark institution's four-block-long outdoor plaza on Fifth Avenue, officials announced Tuesday.
The renovation, reported to cost $60 million, will mark the Met's first overhaul of the plaza in 40 years, when the design was changed to accommodate car access, officials said. The new renovation, which will replace the fountains and seating that have aged beyond repair, will focus on pedestrian access.
"We see the need for a space that will make a significant contribution to our neighborhood, rich in spatial character, with glorious fountains, welcoming shade, choices for seating, beautiful plantings, and light refreshments, all in elegant complement to our iconic Beaux-Arts building," Thomas Campbell, director and CEO of the Met, said in a statement,
The Met will remove the deteriorating fountains that have been around since the 1970s, installing new ones closer to the museum's front steps that will be operational year round with water warmed by recycling steam to prevent freezing.
The plan, by the urban design firm OLIN, will also improve access to street-level entrances at 81st and 83rd streets, and create a new shaded walkway with 100 London Plane trees that will be "pollarded."
The pruning technique will allow sun to warm the plaza in the winter and cool it in the winter, without the trees being allowed to grow tall to block the building's façade.
As for the 44 London Planes currently there, officials said they were planted in "inadequate" conditions and will be removed.
Ornamental beds of shrubs and flowers will hearken back to the original concepts by the building's architects, McKim Mead and White.
There will also be new seating with lightweight movable chairs similar to ones in the city's public plazas, as well as energy-efficient lighting that will "treat the building like a work of art," museum officials said.
The museum will design two kiosks for the plaza — one to serve refreshments and the other to distribute museum information and speed up museum admissions.
Museum officials said they expected the Parks Department to re-designate specific vending spots for art vendors and the two food concessions currently there.
Campbell presented the plans at separate meetings Tuesday for public officials and Upper East Side residents. The Met would like to begin construction on the project, which needs public approval, by the fall of 2012. It would take an estimated 23 months to complete.
Koch is New York's wealthiest resident and is known for making large donations to conservative political causes. His donations to Lincoln Center, where a theater is named for him, have attracted the ire of some Occupy Wall Street protesters.