Volume 18 • Issue 52 | May 12 - 18, 2006

Women’s Museum optimistic before a skeptical C.B. 1

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Design plans for the Museum of Women’s History in Battery Park City, where officials hope construction will begin in three years.

By Jefferson Siegel

Officials with the proposed Museum of Women’s History said last week that construction will not begin at the south end of Battery Park City for three years, which will be 11 years after the museum was first proposed. They also told members of Community Board 1’s B.P.C. committee that fundraising for the $150 million cost hasn’t yet begun.

In an echo of the committee’s December meeting, several board members also expressed doubts that a museum was the best use of the land amenity for the site on Battery Pl. between First and Second Pl.

“This is not intended to be a women’s ‘Hall of Fame,’” museum president Lynn Rollins told the committee. “This is intended to show how women live their lives.”

Jeff Galloway, co-chairperson of the neighborhood committee, said after the meeting that “I think it’s a great idea to have a museum Downtown. My only concern is whether it will, in fact, happen. It seems that they have a long way to go in fundraising.”

Board member Bill Love agreed. He was “concerned that, possibly, this may not happen and it could tie the site up for a
long period of time. We have so many needs down here including the need for additional school space. That, obviously, would be a good place to put a school.”

It will be hard to convince the city to build another Lower Manhattan school now since officials have just committed to build a K-8 and a school annex Downtown.

The museum is still a year away from signing a ground lease. Asked if any signing is contingent on financing, Leticia Remauro, Battery Park City Authority spokesperson said, “We don’t comment on what is going on with a negotiating lease.”

The museum was originally proposed for the basement of the Millennium

Tower Residences. “When it was understood that this would not work,” Remauro said, “the site was then split, with 100,000 sq. ft., the lower floors, set in front and the residential in the back.”

The museum is the amenity for ‘Site 2B’ on the block just north of the

Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The Millennium Towers Residences, is a 35-story, 236-apartment condo which is about to open is on Site 2A facing West St.

Even though the 10-story museum will block the view of some of the lower floors of the Millenium Tower Residences, Remauro noted purchasers still flocked to the sales office. “This building is fully sold. They got, on average, of well, well, in excess of $1,100 a sq. ft. for these units.”

In 1996, the B.P.C.A. started requiring that, wherever possible, any building being developed would contain some sort of an amenity for public use.

Current public amenities include the Skyscraper Museum in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and public bathrooms in the Solaire apartment building.

With the exception of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, all the developers have paid or contributed to the costs of the public amenities on their sites. The Women’s Museum would be the only other amenity to be self-funded.

The Museum of Women’s History has been on the drawing board since 1998. In the evening’s presentation, Rollins and architect Laurie Hawkinson’s professional exposition made the proposed museum seem like a fait-accompli.

Rollins first piqued the room’s interest with a series of historical questions. “What’s the document that’s the foundation of our country, and who wrote it?” she asked, and the Declaration of Independence sprang to mind.

“And,” she continued, “what’s the document written in 1848, based on this document, that for the very first time says ‘all men and women are created equal,’ and who wrote that?”

Many in the room may not have been familiar with the Declaration of Sentiments written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton at a Woman’s Rights conference in Seneca Falls, N.Y. in 1848. “Gov. Pataki formed a commission,” Rollins said of the 150th anniversary of the women’s conference in 1998, “to honor the achievements of women. The legislature gave us half a million dollars.”  One of the commission’s goals was to determine what women nationwide wanted as a permanent tribute to their achievements and to further educational goals.

After a feasibility study, “It was pretty clear, “ Rollins said, “that women needed to know their history and they wanted a museum.”

“I would love to see them put their shovel in the ground tomorrow and build it,” Galloway said. “If, in fact, they’re not going to be able to raise the money to build it, I would hate to have that site lay fallow for the next five years or so, and then it becomes apparent they can’t do it and then we’ve lost a site that maybe could have been something else, such as a school. I’d like to see some progress in the fundraising.”

The museum is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation chartered by the state Board of Regents. In addition to its original State funding, the museum has secured a half-million dollar pledge from the New York City Council.

“Our next step is to begin a capital campaign and raise the money to get

it built,” Rollins said. “We have permission and we’ve been given the site. So,” she concluded, optimistically, “we just need to get going.”


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