Exclusive Tour of the New Whitney Museum Site
by Craig Johnson
ULI New York kicked off this year’s Mentor Program with an exclusive mentors and mentees tour of the new Whitney Museum site Downtown. Following the tour, ULI NY hosted a dynamic panel discussion entitled Whitney Museum: From Museum Mile to the Meatpacking District, featuring Rich Flood, Marketing and Community Relations Manager for the Whitney Museum, Zachary Smith, Chief Operating Officer at the NYCEDC, Weifang Lin, from Cooper, Robertson & Partners, and Lauren Danziger, Executive Director of the Meatpacking District Improvement Association and Chelsea Improvement Company. The program highlighted the public-private partnerships that led to the $670 million development and expansion of the Whitney Museum’s future home in the Meatpacking District. Panelists discussed the key financial, political, and operational factors that influenced the decision by the Whitney to relocate the museum from its current location on 75th Street and Madison Avenue and move Downtown to its future home at the southern terminus of the High Line.
“The Whitney Museum has outgrown their current space for some time and this has impacted the museum’s ability to put on programming and outreach that are central to its mission,” explained Rich Flood, “many times educational programming takes place in hallways as there is no other space available.”
After repeated attempts to expand in their current location on the Upper East Side, Rich Flood explained that because of significant neighborhood opposition and less than ideal compromises in the proposed expansion due to zoning and site constraints, the museum tentatively began looking into alternative locations.
Zachary Smith, stated that in 2006 the City of New York under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was looking to recruit a cultural icon to relocate to a city-owned underutilized parcel that currently houses the Gansevoort Meat Market. “Bloomberg was very supportive of culture and wanted to use the Gansevoort parcel as a way to drive people and investment into the area. The administration needed the Whitney and the Whitney needed the city.”
The city entered into serious negotiations with the Whitney Museum and the Whitney Museum began an outreach effort in the Meatpacking District. Rich Flood compared the community outreach process with its previous expansion effort, “as a tale of two communities. The community process was so contentious in the Upper East Side, and the interaction with the Meatpacking neighborhood was more like a conversation than an emotional explosion.”
Lauren Danziger added, “What the Whitney Museum learned in the difficult community outreach process in the Upper East Side helped the community outreach in the Meatpacking District. The Whitney Museum outreach effort was met with significant support.”
Weifang Lin explained that while the design of the new Whitney Museum is primarily focused on facilitating the programmatic needs of the museum, the new museum has incorporated many community elements. The ground-floor of the museum will have a public atrium with a restaurant, gift shop, and public gallery space, and the resulting design is set to be a beacon that will help to define and bring value to the Meatpacking District for generations to come.