The BroadsheetDAILY ~ 1/09/20 ~ News of Lower Manhattan – ebroadsheet.com

Posted By on January 11, 2020

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Cuomo Announces Planned Expansion of Museum of Jewish Heritage

Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced plans to expand the Museum of Jewish Heritage, which is located within Wagner Park, in Battery Park City.

At his annual State of the State address, delivered Wednesday in Albany, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo included on his list of dozens of proposals an announcement that he was directing the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) to develop an expansion plan for the Museum of Jewish Heritage A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, located within Wagner Park, on Battery Place.

Near the end of his 90-minute address, Governor Cuomo said, I am directing Battery Park City to develop a plan to expand our magnificent Jewish Museum on the Holocaust, which is located in Battery Park City. We want to expand the Holocaust Museum, so it can host school children from all across the State. Lets make a visit to the Museum part of a rounded education. Because to know the history of the Jewish people is to know our mutual love and connection. Because New York would not be New York without the Jewish community.

Setting aside that the Governor appeared to be confused about the name of the institution he was praising, this idea raises multiple questions, among them how much park land will be expropriated for the expansion. In this context, it is worth noting that the Museum of Jewish Heritage, which originally opened in 1997, has already expanded, opening an 80,000-square-foot new wing in 2003, which entailed the taking of many thousands of square feet of formerly open, public space.

Another issue will be the budget for this expansion, and where these funds will come from. If the BPCA is called upon to subsidize this plan, it will necessarily raise questions among residents and community leaders, who have been repeatedly told by the Authority that other local priorities (such as housing affordability within Battery Park City) must be weighed against competing imperatives, such as the mandate to convey the maximum possible excess revenue to the City of New York each year.

Any new expansion of the Museum of Jewish Heritage also appears likely to entail significant costs. The 2003 enlargement project was budgeted at $22 million, all of which came from public sources. What other uses local leaders might prioritize for tens of millions of dollars in BPCA funds is a discussion that has yet to begin.

Additional financial questions involve the Museum itself, as well as the State as whole. In recent years, the Museum of Jewish Heritage has experienced serious difficulty in raising sufficient funds to cover operating costs.

As recently as 2016, according the filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the Museum booked a deficit of more than one million dollars. How these challenges would be made more manageable by calling upon the Museums management (and the donors who underwrite their efforts) to preside over a larger physical plant is unclear. Moreover, Governor Cuomo is presiding over a State budget with a projected deficit of $6 billion for the coming fiscal year. Where Mr. Cuomo plans to find room for this largesse in an already strapped balance sheet was not addressed in his Wednesday speech.

Another financial question hinges upon whether the Governor is to be taken literally at his word about bringing school children from around New York State to the Museum of Jewish Heritage. As of this year, there are approximately 2.65 million public school students enrolled in primary and secondary schools throughout the State, according to the federal governments National Center for Education Statistics. The cost of transporting any significant percentage of this population (from cities as far away as Buffalo, Rochester, Utica, and Syracuse, as well as hundreds of other, smaller school districts), along with teachers and chaperones, while providing all of them with food and (in some cases) overnight accommodation, so that they could spend even a few hours at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, would likely run to many tens of millions of dollars per year. The source for this funding was also unspecified in the Governors speech.

Some of these questions may be resolved (or at least clarified) later this month, when Governor Cuomo is scheduled to deliver his annual budget address.

At Wednesday evenings meeting of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1), chairwoman Tammy Meltzer asked, where is there parking for all of the buses needed to bring these children in? BPCA representatives agreed to inquire about this aspect of a plan that they said was still in its preliminary, conceptual stages. They also offered assurances of collaboration with the community in developing the proposal.

Regardless of whether residents are afforded a meaningful role in planning for any expansion at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, this initiative would appear to be part of a pattern in which Battery Park City, a community directly controlled by Mr. Cuomo, has become the venue of choice for a succession of high-profile gestures (including planned memorials for Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria, and the life of Mother Cabrini) that seem calculated to curry favor among important constituencies for a Governor who is widely believed to have national political ambitions.

Matthew Fenton

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The BroadsheetDAILY ~ 1/09/20 ~ News of Lower Manhattan - ebroadsheet.com

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