With vote, City Council primes site for new Whitney


By Albert Amateau

The new Downtown Whitney Museum of American Art to be built in the Gansevoort Market District at the foot of the High Line won the unanimous approval of the City Council and the praise of neighborhood leaders and election officials.

The Sept. 24 council meeting approved four land-use changes necessary for the proposed 170-foot-tall museum to be built on Gansevoort St. between West St. and the entrance to the High Line park under construction.

At the same time, demolition began on the vacant former meatpacking plant at 820 Washington St. to make way for a maintenance-and-operations building for the High Line just east of the new museum.

Construction on the six-story museum, which will enclose 185,000 square feet of space and include a research library, a multiuse film and performance space, a cafe, a bookstore and a 175-seat theater, will begin in spring 2009 and the museum is expected to open in 2012.

The maintenance-and-operations building that will replace the former 820 Washington St., which used to be occupied by the Maggio Beef building, will be built at the same time, with four levels aboveground and two belowground, but will be only about a third as tall as the top level of the museum. The maintenance building will be adjacent to the museum and will connect with the High Line. The facility will have space for Department of Parks personnel and High Line maintenance-and-operation equipment, as well as public restrooms and community meeting space.

“Bringing the Whitney to the Meatpacking District, so near its original site, acknowledges our community’s prominence in American art and at the same time points the way to the future, where the Village remains one of the epicenters of culture in the U.S.,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whose council district includes the museum site.

The Whitney was founded in the Village by Ger-trude Whitney in 1918 and was at 8 W. Eighth St. for many years until it moved to E. 75th St. more than 40 years ago. The museum will retain its Uptown branch, as well as the new Gansevoort branch, which will have 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries, as well as 15,000 square feet of outdoor exhibit space on three broad setbacks.

The new museum, designed by Renzo Piano, is intended to complement the old High Line railroad viaduct, which is being converted into an elevated park beginning at Gansevoort St. and ending at 34th St. The High Line segment between Gansevoort and 20th Sts. is expected to open in early 2009.

“The Whitney will be a great neighborhood partner and cultural anchor for the High Line,” said Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line, the group that fought to preserve the derelict rail line and convinced the city to acquire it and transform it into a park.

“We are excited that the new Whitney building will serve as the cultural anchor for the High Line,” said Seth W. Pinsky, president of the Economic Development Corporation. The city agency helped secure the permits and zoning changes required to build a museum in the manufacturing-designated district. The city has called the High Line the “spine” in its vision for the Far West Side, linking the Meat Market and the Hudson Yards development project.

“The successful completion of the public land-use review process for this project demonstrates the city’s commitment to developing the Far West Side,” Pinsky said.

Borough President Scott Stringer said, “I join the community in welcoming the Whitney project, which will serve as an anchor and gateway for the High Line elevated park and will create a significant cultural and recreational center for residents and visitors.”

Brad Hoylman, Community Board 2 chairperson, welcomed the new Whitney as an asset to the neighborhood.

“We’re thrilled to have one of the great American art collections within walking distance,” Hoylman said. “The potential for partnerships between the Whitney and local schools and community groups is an exciting prospect.”

The Downtown Whitney, the city’s first energy-efficient, “green” museum, will have a study center and space for the museum’s 25 educational programs, which will include a relationship with the Hudson Guild in Chelsea.

“It gives me great pleasure to join neighborhood advocates and residents in welcoming the Whitney Museum expansion and a High Line maintenance-and-operations facility,” said State Senator Tom Duane, who represents the neighborhood.

“The Meatpacking District couldn’t be more pleased to welcome the new Whitney Museum,” said Annie Washburn, executive director of the Meatpacking District Initiative, a business and civic group dedicated to the neighborhood between Horatio and W. 15th Sts. west of Ninth Ave.

“This is a transformative opportunity for the Whitney, the neighborhood and the city,” said Adam Weinberg, the Whitney’s director.