With a brand new location for the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Museum, over a fenced-in sump in TR Park, interest was up in the community. A town spokesperson said, "The conceptual plan is a proposal by the town and has not been signed onto by the TRA. If they like the concept it will move forward. If it doesn't sit with them; if they say no it stops the whole thing and it is back to square one. The ball is in their court."
Instead, the Theodore Roosevelt Association decided with the current economy it was best to put the proposed TR Presidential Museum and Research Center on hold. In a telephone call to the TRA office on Audrey Avenue, to ask about the new location over the sump, TRA President Jim Bruns said, "You call it a sump." In fact, the Town of Oyster Bay information was now saying, "It is a recharge basin that we have been told was created just for the runoff from the fire training activities. It is not a sump in the true sense of the word. It is not that deep or big. The firemen use large amounts of water. It drains out into the harbor." The area was known as a pond when Mel Warren was growing up. He mowed the field in those days.
The new plan proposed for TR Memorial Park by architect Angelo Corvo uses a new size for the proposed museum and Mr. Bruns explained that previously the TRA used the figure 70,000 sq. ft. to describe the useable space inside the museum but the town asked it to use the entire building size.
Mr. Bruns explained that it is actually a 78,000 sq. ft. building. "It is the same number, just that we were always using the net space of 70,000 sq. ft. and the town asked to use the gross size which includes the walls and building structure." But there is a difference. The town has said the 70,000 sq. ft. building called for 234 parking spaces; therefore since the size is 11 percent larger, that would mean the museum would need 25.7 more spaces or about 260 spaces. The amount of parking needed for the museum has been a problem as residents viewed the plans.
Mr. Bruns said "Parking for principal visitors to the museum will be in Firemen's Field, it is a municipal parking lot."
Mr. Bruns said on Friday that so much of the parking area in TR Park will be redone if the project goes forward including the town's adding the multi-purpose field. He said, "Visitors will pull into a separate lane for museum goers - if we go forward with the plan. We haven't even said we like it," he concluded. Friday night the decision was made. By Saturday night word was traveling through the community that the TRA had decided to put the museum on hold because of the economy.
Alex Gallego, Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce president, received information about the decision and he called Mr. Bruns about the decision on Saturday. Mr. Gallego said he tried to get the community together for the Feb. 24 meeting where the town said they would sign the agreement to lease Firemen's Field to the TRA. He called community leaders asking them to all work together, saying that everyone wants what's best for the community.
That meeting was cancelled when the town came up with a new plan for TR Park which included a multi-sport field for the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Youth Athletic Association (which their board is considering). The chamber presented members of the OB-ENYAA board a check for $4,000 at their Installation Dinner on Feb. 25.
Mr. Gallego said now that the TRA had not accepted the town's offer of the sump area, "We need to come together to help the downtown area. We need to double our efforts, we need more creativity and more courage. We believed we needed something to help the downtown businesses. This is a disappointment but we believe we need something. Now we have to come together with one purpose to create a visitor's center or an (temporary) ice rink in Firemen's Field, as Isaac Kremer of the Main Street Association has suggested. They are things to consider.
"What has to be done is for the TR Park to be refurbished. I was there over the weekend playing basketball with my son and we were stepping in puddles. That has to be fixed, as does the parking," he said.
At the OB Chamber of Commerce meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 25 he had said it was time to partner with the local government to see that things were begun such as repairing the roads. "Enough studies," he said. "We've been waiting two years and nothing has happened."
Norm Parsons, TRA executive board member said, "The issue, is in this economy it is not a good time to pursue something like the proposed TR Presidential Museum with the Vanderbilt Museum closing and I just heard today, that Cedermere in Roslyn is going to close although I haven't verified it.
"The situation is really an economic and business decision. We need to put it on hold because of the economy," said Mr. Parsons.
He said they would keep the office in Oyster Bay, but that the research center was all in one package with the museum. Explaining the TRA's financial situation he said, "and since our endowment, as with all endowments, went down drastically although not as much as others - we have a very conservative firm that handles it. But it went down and that the ability to collect funds will be hard. One of our donors said he is very much in support of the museum but he got hit with a terrible bill. The economy will come back. It always does. I've been through this a couple of times. It comes back."
At one time the TRA was talking to Sagamore Hill about creating offices for the TRA there. Mr. Parsons said, "At one time we thought of putting an addition on the Old Orchard Museum building for administrative office but it didn't work out." He said the National Park Service requires the Sagamore Hill staff to do a general management plan and they are attempting to show how TR lived there during the period he was president. "To bring in a separate building was not part of the plan. It was just not appropriate." He added, "We work very well with the park service."
In fact, when the Dr. John Gable Lecture Series commences in April Sagamore Hill chief interpreter, visitor's service Charles Markis will be one of the speakers, as will a Navy commander who is one of their board members.
Withdrawing from the issue of building over a sump may have been a good move. Matt Meng called the new site, "An environmental disaster. What could be worse than putting it on a natural undisturbed piece of property - over a sump - it would have set a far reaching precedent."
Matt Meng said of the museum plan, "It was always an issue of size and placement. And everybody understands that the businesses need help but it was always size and placement.
"This museum was always in the wrong place. It was too big for the area and the TRA put all their eggs in one basket. What we learned from this is that the town does have to roll up their sleeves now that we know Firemen's Field is the orphan field it is. We have to make it user friendly. And, all day parkers in the hamlet should use Firemen's Field: if they are town workers, or employees of a local business.
"Maybe Mr. Wang can open an existing building for a visitor's center. Something small enough that could have walking maps and lists of local organizations to help visitors."
Caroline DuBois, spokesperson for the Citizens for Firemen's Field said of the cancelled project, "I'm delighted. To put all your eggs in one basket and wait five years for a gigantic humongous project to 'save the town' doesn't work. We are a small town and so we need smaller projects, that are the appropriate size.
"The most important thing is to get the town to commit to fixing up the Memorial Field/Firemen's Field parking lot and to deal with parking in downtown. The town has to fix up the parking lot with benches, trees, lighting, maybe a bathroom and of course safety. They have to preserve it as an open space for the community's needs because kids come first," she said.