Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Arts Institutions Undertake Major Construction

New York's arts institutions have gone through countless expansions throughout the years. However, curators say there is more pressure now than ever to attract crowds and boost income—especially with further cuts in city funding on the docket. Besides the excitement about stunning new architecture, many of these building projects feature construction of new gift shops and restaurants that should directly increase revenue.

Last month, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced plans for a $60 million renovation to turn the four-block plaza in front of its entrance into an urban oasis with dancing fountains and trees from the Palais Royal in Paris.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art upgrade is just the latest in a slew of building projects at cultural institutions across the city.

With construction that includes a new visitors' center at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a complete overhaul of Performance Space 122's East Village facility and the 200,000-square-foot home for the Whitney Museum of American Art going up in the meatpacking district, among many others, it seems that nearly every cultural organization has a shovel in the ground.

Presently, The Queens Museum of Art is in the middle of a $70 million expansion that is doubling its size to 100,000 square feet.

Between 2003 and 2005, 94 cultural building projects were completed in the city, according to a study on the economic impact of construction at New York's cultural institutions. Now there are more than 400 design and construction projects in the works at 197 cultural organizations across the five boroughs. Those projects, to which the city is contributing $632.7 million, are all at different stages.

The Brooklyn Museum, which recently had to a cancel a show because it could not raise the funding for it, is redesigning its first floor to greatly expand its gift shop, create a destination restaurant and increase its exhibition space. The shop, opening April 4, will have 4,500 square feet, a 50% jump, and will feature work by Brooklyn artists. The restaurant will debut in the fall, will have outdoor seating and will be open in the evenings when the museum is closed. Mr. Lehman declined to give the cost of the project.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is opening a new 22,000-square-foot visitors' center in May, which will include a new gift shop and a second event space that can seat 150 people. Scot Medbury, president of the Garden, said he expects the shop and event space to bring in $600,000 of additional earned income a year. At the same time, the visitors' center will be able to better accommodate the crowds the garden has been experiencing. Last year, a record 725,000 people visited, with 37,000 on one day alone.
Though some of these projects were delayed because of the recession, many arts executives say the downturn actually helped spur other projects by lowering construction pricing. And though capital campaigns have moved more slowly, donors—and the Bloomberg administration—are still interested in funding building projects.

The Queens Museum originally issued a request for bids in the spring of 2008, but construction companies were so flush with work that the job attracted few qualified bidders. After the global financial meltdown some months later, when construction had stalled around the city, the museum was suddenly inundated with interested contractors. The expansion project broke ground last April, which was a long wait, but it allowed the museum to raise more money and increase the scope of the project.
Additional costs

Now the Queens Museum executives and trustees are working to raise additional operating funds to help offset the new costs of running a larger facility for the first three years after it opens.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden started its $100 million capital campaign before the economic crisis, and has raised $80 million. It bid out the project to contractors in the fall of 2009, and the prices came in 15% under the architect's projections.

Other cultural groups are just as happy not to rush their construction projects. Renovations on Performance Space 122's building, which are being funded and managed by the city, were supposed to start last summer. Now, because of delays in permits and other issues, work is expected to begin late this summer, and is scheduled to take two years.