As a result of attending a meeting at Mill-Max Mfg. where the Theodore Roosevelt Association talked about their proposed Theodore Roosevelt Museum and Research Center to be located at Firemen's Field, a joint meeting of the East Norwich and Oyster Bay Civic Associations was held on Nov. 15 to bring the information to members.
OBCA President Bill Von Novak said, "At the end of the Mill-Max meeting Matt Meng (ENCA president) and I talked and agreed we both have to go back to report to our groups." They plan to invite TRA President Jim Bruns and OB Town Supervisor John Venditto to a joint meeting in January to explain their viewpoints and answer questions. "It is ridiculous to take a position without information," said Mr. Von Novak.
He said there are questions that need to be answered but Mr. Bruns has said he can't answer them until he gets reports from the experts. "He will have to answer questions in January," said Mr. Von Novak.
Rob Brusca had assembled handout material on the available information on the proposed museum. He pointed to a chart on the wall showing the comparative size of the Oyster Bay Post Office and the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Museum and Research Center which Mr. Bruns had said would be the size of the museum. In actuality the post office is about 12,000 sq. ft. as compared to the 100,000 sq. ft. museum.
Oyster Bay resident Gary Drury cut to the quick, "How do we stop this? I was at the Main Street Association meeting and I got the feeling it is being rammed down our throats. He doesn't live here or shop here."
Mr. Brusca said "We're not going to be ramrodded. There is a process to follow, just like for any developer. The town is going to dialogue with all the stakeholders."
Mr. Von Novak said it is not a presidential museum; there is no memorabilia; Theodore Roosevelt's presidential papers are in the Library of Congress and his family papers are in the Houghton and Widener Libraries at Harvard University. He said this will be a modern research center. [It is also expected to have state-of-the-art interactive exhibits.]
While Mr. Bruns has said the museum will be a minimum of 80,000 sq. ft. and can't be at Sagamore Hill, Mr. Meng said, "We have to validate that."
Rob Brusca said Mr. Bruns was hired in March to take over for Norm Parsons and to build a museum - with Oyster Bay, Washington and Boston being considered. Mr. Brusca said, "We didn't think the proposal would happen so quickly. To honor TR is fantastic. But at the end of July the bombshell was dropped. Oyster Bay was the primary location for the home of its hometown hero. We were taken aback. Not that we don't want to honor him." The problem was that it was reported that the proposal had the full and complete support of the community - without asking the community as a whole.
The TRA was quoted in Newsday as saying there was no opposition to the proposal and that Boston and Washington D.C. were therefore knocked out of consideration.
Mr. Brusca said, "The town called Matt Meng and Bill Von Novak and advised us that, no, it was not a done deal that it has to go through the entire process and the state quality environmental review just like any development, but that in two or three days the TRA was holding their annual national meeting at the end of October and they wanted the town to show proper interest - definitive interest so they could put Washington and Boston on the back burner - so the town said yes. They signed the Memorandum of Agreement which is an agreement to agree - subject to the process.
"However it said in March 2008 they intend to enter into a more formal agreement. They essentially have a contract of sale/rental that would include being subject to all the building requirements of the town including a zone change for the residential zone that Firemen's Field is in currently. One issue to be decided is which of four different categories that allow a musem as of right, they would use." [A town spokesperson said town attorneys are looking into which zone is applicable.]
Mr. Brusca said, "That's where we are now. The TRA is getting engineering studies to say the work is feasible with the intention of breaking ground in 2008. That [new year] is six weeks away," said Mr. Brusca. "Not many people have decided against or to support the museum. But it is moving so quickly it has the appearance of being jammed down our throats. It is the biggest development since the Oyster Bay High School."
He said, "While the TRA sees it as a way to honor our hometown hero, we prefer to look at it as a 100,000 sq. ft. building plus a parking structure since they are required to have 350 parking spaces - and everything that goes with that." It might mean a need for a hotel since Mr. Bruns had said at the Mill-Max meeting that there would probably be a need for available hotel rooms for museum goers/guests/speakers.
Community residents began to make comments and ask questions. Jane Montgomery asked if any other town land was available.
Rosemary Colvin said, "We can't accept the statement that it can't be at Sagamore Hill. I was at the MSA meeting. I think Jim Bruns was rather arrogant - when he said, 'I only do museums.' He said he might be given the Elizabeth mental hospital in Washington and that was a threat."
She suggested calling the National Park Service, and the congressmen and representatives they are responsible to. "Call all our elected officials to ask the NPS to see if it is possible. We need to get our own answers," she said.
Mr. Meng asked how many people wanted the museum at Sagamore Hill and hands went up all over the room. He said, "No one wants Firemen's Field for the museum site."
Joan Baron Drury said she was sending a letter to Mr. Venditto proposing a compromise, hoping it wasn't too late - to create a small museum in Oyster Bay advising visitors that there is a larger museum in Washington D.C. or Boston. "Putting the museum in the little hamlet of Oyster Bay is ludicrous," she said.
She was concerned about the present traffic on Route 106 and said, "To have an Oyster Festival every day is not good. The museum should be located at Sagamore Hill, we should pursue that." She added that reports about the museum make it appear there is no objection to it. "That is not the way it is. We all have to write letters to Supervisor Venditto to air our concerns," she said.
Ms. Drury was concerned that the traffic coming and going to the museum will confine people to their homes, adding, "I am a TR fan." She said she has read books on him and attended the lectures on him given by the TRA in the Christ Church parish hall. As for the non-profit status of the museum, she said, "We as local residents will have to pay for services to the museum. Us." She wondered if the hamlet of Oyster Bay would ever be the same if the TR Museum was built and wondered if the objections of Cove Neck have more weight than those of hamlet residents.
She said her letter to Mr. Venditto said, "Please give this more thought. Please not here. There are very few places on Long Island like Oyster Bay. Don't destroy this unique hamlet. As a TR fan I am appalled at what his beloved Oyster Bay will become."
East Norwich resident Joseph Boorstein said all the merchants want is traffic. "They want money and don't want a small museum. We have a conflict of interest."
A woman asked, "Does traffic for town hall generate business? No - [it generates] parking."
Mr. Von Novak said the museum includes a food court and a museum shop. "If I was with the MSA or the OBCC I would be concerned about that. The grand plan is to make Oyster Bay a destination." He added that the concept includes a plus for commercial property owners, who can boost real estate prices so that bigger tenants will replace the smaller businesses now in the hamlet."
Cat Colvin said Jim Bruns was displaying "the height of arrogance" in taking away Firemen's Field, a place that is well used by the community. She said her children in the Roosevelt School, play on the Roosevelt fields which are adjacent to Firemen's Field, and the prospect is that hundreds of thousands of people could walk by the school's fields causing concern about the safety of the children.
Grace Searby questioned Mr. Bruns' qualifications saying, "He comes here as if he's lived here for an eternity. I've been here for 40 years. If I wanted a destination location I wouldn't live here." She questioned the size of the museum and if the projected costs includes the furnishings and the cost of maintenance. "All areas have to be researched," she said.
Mike Giardina said the museum will ruin his view of the water. He added that the museum will make commercial property skyrocket while residential property will plummet. "Who is this person to come here and take over. We all fought AvalonBay. Here we're dealing with the town, fighting our own people - the town and Venditto. They all voted for the Memorandum of Understanding. That makes me think - we have to be together. This is bigger than Avalon."
Louis D'Arpa questioned the change of zoning; the size of the parking garage; and the construction of a 100,000 sq. ft. building on swamp land saying that it will need a great deal of engineering work to create the museum in that location. He added he was concerned with the March deadline.
Matt Meng said there are considerations such as the height of the building but added, "It may be that environmentally it can't happen there."
Mr. Von Novak asked if people had seen the letter to the editor written by Greg Van Dyke who is familiar with construction in this area in which he talks about the need to go deeper and deeper to find bedrock for the pilings to stabilize the ground under the museum. It would add a great deal to the construction cost of the museum.
Bob Martin said, "I remember at an earlier meeting Jim Bruns said he is bringing in the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. This guy is out of this world."
Mr. Brusca responded to an earlier comment of Ms. Searby's saying that he wanted to be fair, and said that Jim Bruns was a "First class fundraiser" in Atlanta and in creating a Washington D.C. postal museum. "He's done it before and will do it again."
As for taxes, he said Firemen's Field is town property so it generates no tax money now. It is not part of the Parks District that is a taxing unit. But the museum will need sewer, water, sanitation, fire and police services. The question there is will that be on the shoulders of the taxpayers, he said, adding that Mr. Bruns did say that the museum will generate sales taxes, a part of which filters down to the town.
Mr. Brusca said visitation is a question that needs answering, adding that won't be known until a traffic study is done, but he compared visitation at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Ohio, as a 100,000 sq. ft. museum that generates 500,000 visits a year. Sagamore Hill at 10,000 sq. ft. generates 50,000 to 60,000 visitors a year. The proposed TR Museum is ten times as large as Sagamore Hill - will it generate 10 times as many visitors?
Raynham Hall Museum is about 2,000 sq. ft. and generates 10,000 visits per year and it is about 1/50 the size of the TR Museum. Therefore it looks as if the TR Museum might generate 500,000 visits per year. "That number seem to be reasonable," Mr. Brusca said.
Deana Huminski, who has worked in the museum world for about 12 years, questioned Mr. Brusca's projected figures. She said when they were planning the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City they believed they would have hundreds of thousands of visitors. They have about 60,000 to 70,000 and maybe 100,000 a year and they are centrally located in Nassau County and are considered the 'Smithsonian of Long Island.'" She said it was important to do studies of the actual visitation figures. "Projections are dreams," she said.
"I've worked in museums and the largest number of visitors over a four-day weekend was 300,000 visitors. He said there would be 100,000 visitors and with 360 days open a year, that would mean about 300 visitors a day."
Someone asked, "Do you live here and want to take the chance?"
Ms. Humanski said, "If you miss the chance, you miss the opportunity, I'm not being pro or con. Be objective, look at all aspects of the issue. I've worked at Raynham Hall Museum and if you saw five people on the weekend, that was a lot. Take it in perspective. Out of 100,000 visitors what percentage is school children? Every museum depends on school children's visits."
She said Mr. Bruns said he needs 100,000 visitors. "There is also potential in having a museum here. Look at the solutions not the negatives." She said at Mount Vernon they wanted to preserve the rural look of the site and put the library underground, and asked therefore if the museum could be at Sagamore Hill.
Virginia Slutter said, "We're the village people. I'm a village person. If we put a museum in the heart of the village it will destroy the village. What can we do to stop the museum? We don't need a town hall that monopolizes our village."
Mr. DeMartino said there were concerns about the museum being across from the school playing field for baseball, football, soccer, and lacrosse. "Taking away the location of Firemen's Field we lose our grandstand for fire events; the location of St. Rocco's; the Oyster Festival; and Bay Day. There is no replacement for the ball field. Firemen's Field is important to the residents of the community," he said.
Nick DeSantis said, "I believe if the majority were asked, the museum belongs at Sagamore Hill, on government property. What should we do? We should get our congressmen to work with us to research a place where it should go, it should not go on Firemen's Field."
Kathy Arecco said, "It sounds so massive. Will it cause a problem for residents using TR Park?"
Rob Brusca held up a photograph of the picture of the museum and parking garage printed in Newsday showing that the museum and parking garage would take up the entire area of Firemen's Field with only the Oyster Bay firemen's practice track left as open space.
Ms. Searby said, "For so many years they have been saying no one can see our beach. With the building there you wouldn't be able to see our beautiful beach."
Rosemary Colvin said to build the museum but not at Firemen's Field. She added, "Remember the town was for Avalon at first." She said people who oppose the museum have to organize a grass roots campaign against it.
Charles Doering asked, "Who proposed the museum, the TRA and MSA? The MSA went from the merry-go-round to the museum."
Caroline DuBois said it is comparing apples to oranges. "The merchants want more business; they have to make this a destination town; we have a destination - the harbor - our most beautiful asset." She said find an example where a museum boosts the economy. "I have an apartment near the Javits Center which was going to revitalize the area. You can't get a cab there, or buy a hot dog; and at night it's worth your life to walk to Broadway. It was wrong thinking. We need an anchor store like Eastern Mountain Sports or Talbot's. A fancy place where Locust Valley ladies can come to town with money in their pockets. It is an assumption that you can revitalize the hamlet with a museum. Like the carousel - it is faulty thinking."
Judy Barnett questioned that the museum will be available as a conference center according to Mr. Bruns.
Louise Rea was concerned that Mr. Bruns said he was working with Senator Schumer. Someone else commented that both he and Senator Hillary Clinton announced to the press that Oyster Bay was the proper location for the museum - without any input from local residents.
Ms. Huminski added, "We were told we would have a WaterFront Museum but we haven't seen it." She said there is a potential for the TR Museum if the building is downsized. She asked what happened with the proposed Waterfront Museum?
Mr. DeMartino said, "I understand there is a zeal to relocate the museum, but first we have to tell them we need to put the brakes on it." He said making a decision based on traffic tests done in the present season, when the town is busiest during the summertime, wouldn't be accurate. People will want to visit the museum in the summertime, just when the beach parking lot is full. "We have to put the brakes on this," he said.
"Isn't this the job of the civic associations, to speak for us - to canvass the opinions and to take a position on the issue?" asked Roxanne DeMartino. "Tell the board what the people feel," added Ms. Drury.
Matt Meng said when they took issue with the AvalonBay proposal they sent out 22,000 pieces of mail. He said they contacted the local villages; made a monetary drive; and got a consensus of opinions going door to door. This would be similar but different, he said. "We appear to have two groups of opinion. One problem is defining what we are. What does the hamlet of Oyster Bay want? We have the harbor; oysters, the environment, the 26th President - if that is the definition, does this project fit within there. Is it an appropriate size? At Sagamore Hill would it be smaller than 100,000 sq. ft.? Is that going to help business? We are here to bring together the views of our residents," said Mr. Meng.
He explained in a telephone interview that he was concerned over the needs of business and quality of life for residents saying, "Is it putting the needs of business over the quality of life for the residents."
He said, "I came away from the joint meeting with the fact that people want to preserve Firemen's Field. If the town wants to do something really solid for the town and the community, take the Firemen's Field location away or there really will be a movement to keep Firemen's Field for the residents."
He added that Mr. Bruns' idea to electrify the Oyster Bay line of the LIRR would mean making it a more popular line thereby increasing the need for parking but the proposed museum would be taking away parking. Added to that New York City is looking into 'Congestive Pricing' which is trying to increase the use of mass transportation. "Why would we take away parking from the train station at this time?" he asked.
Mr. Meng continued, "Firemen's Field should not be used for a museum or anything else: not housing or apartments. It functions as it is. We need the parking although it is underutilized. The lot looks like it is off the beaten track. Maybe that is why it isn't used by town employees. It has gotten no care from the town. The flooding hasn't been solved. And parking in the town remains an on-going problem."
Mr. Meng added, "If no size works you have to be sure we have the majority of the voice of East Norwich and Oyster Bay. We need a majority vote on the museum and on what defines us."
Mr. Von Novak said, "Both organizations are sensitive to the issues involved. We intend to invite Mr. Bruns here. We will give people information to explain the proposal and then take action. You will vote on it."
Mr. Meng said the town will hear what the residents want.
Mr. Brusca said it was important to tell the town what people are thinking by either mail or email. Cat Colvin recommended the email system of contacting local residents. She said, "The email multiplies in ways mailings don't multiply." She said the Coalition to Stop Avalon met once a week and said this new issue needs that kind of commitment to make the project work. The next meeting of the OBCA is on Jan. 17, at which time the civics hope to hear Mr. Bruns and Supervisor Venditto answer some of their questions.