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Put the Natural History Museum's Science Center in The Bronx, Locals Say

By Eddie Small | November 9, 2015 1:20pm
 An image of what the American Museum of Natural History's footprint would look like after the Gilder Center is completed in 2020.
An image of what the American Museum of Natural History's footprint would look like after the Gilder Center is completed in 2020.
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© AMNH/D. Finnin

THE BRONX — With the American Museum of Natural History's proposed expansion into an adjacent park already sparking threats of protests and lawsuits on the Upper West Side, some New Yorkers believe they have found a solution to the controversy: The Bronx.

The museum's proposed new Gilder Center for Science, Education and Information would take up space in Theodore Roosevelt Park under the current plan, but members of the group Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park have argued that moving it to The Bronx instead would bring a valuable amenity to a part of the city that needs it and help preserve an important public space.

“I think they should be thinking about expanding in a broader context," said Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park Board Member Martha Dwyer, "and thinking more of New York City as opposed to Manhattan and more of needy kids as opposed to the kids who can get there now."

Cary Goodman, executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, suggested that a parking garage by Yankee Stadium at 157th Street and River Avenue would be an ideal spot for the center, as he said it is heavily used only during extremely popular Yankee games against teams like the Mets and Red Sox.

“It’s right in the middle of this transit rich environment of the B, the D, the 4, the highways and the Metro-North,” he said. “The Bronx Children’s Museum is about to open up a few blocks from there, and that would be just an absolutely natural synergy.”

He also described the garage as a poor fit for the neighborhood, calling it a "really big hole on River Avenue."

“It is something of an eyesore, and it doesn’t help to spur the development of the commercial corridor here, which I think a museum of natural history campus would,” he said.

Sig Gissler, president of Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park, said the board had also discussed the Fordham neighborhood as a potential good fit for the center, given how close it would be to the Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Garden and Fordham University.

"They’ve got thousands of students that would benefit from being in proximity to something like that I'm sure," he said.

The museum recently approved the conceptual design for its new science center, which takes up less space in Theodore Roosevelt Park than officials had originally indicated.

However, locals remain upset about the plan's impact on the park and the fact that it would involve removing trees.

Michael Brady, director of special projects at the economic development group SoBRO, said his group is open to the idea of moving the center to The Bronx and that it was worth looking into where an ideal site would be.

"I think that SoBRO and the community as a whole would benefit from an increase in educational and cultural institutions in the area," he said.

The museum works with several students in The Bronx to ensure they have access to its services but remains committed to building the center in its proposed location, according to AMNH Vice President of Government Affairs Dan Slippen.

"The idea of us going to a borough is not something that we’ve contemplated, as we have been at this site and this institution for 147 years," he said.

However, Bronxites were still enthusiastic about the idea of a new science center coming to them.

Melrose resident Jonathan Taylor maintained that the project would be great for students in the borough, including his own.

“My son wants to be a mad scientist anyway,” he said, “so that would be perfect. Right up his alley.”