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Mar 4, 2009 1:02 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

New museum plans on hold because of economy

Mar 4, 2009 1:02 PM

The Parrish Art Museum’s plans for a modern new museum building—a $60 million project that will be funded solely with private donations—are on hold indefinitely due to a steep decline in private philanthropy following the crash of the U.S. economy.

The first phase of the 80,000-square-foot museum originally had been scheduled to open this year. All of the regulatory approvals for the project, once thought to be the biggest obstacle to the project, are in place, but work has not begun.

Parrish Art Museum Director Terrie Sultan said this week that the museum has a little less than half the $60 million that the museum’s celebrated architects, Herzog and de Meuron, have estimated it will cost to complete the first phase of the project. The first phase will include the 42,000-square-foot concrete main building and the sculpting of the 14-acre grounds on Montauk Highway in western Water Mill, adjacent to Duck Walk Vineyards. The museum plans to move from its Southampton Village location to the new building once it is completed.

The museum’s leadership decided nearly a year ago, the director said, that given the current economic climate in the country and the nearly compete freeze in the nation’s lending market, the museum should have at least 80 percent of the money in hand before breaking ground on the new building.

“Everything is ready to go,” Ms. Sultan said of the project on Friday. “What’s obviously not ready to go is the world economy. Like everybody in the non-profit world, we’ve seen our fund-raising efforts greatly impacted.”

Despite the sliding economy, the museum’s fund-raising was going well for most of the first three quarters of 2008 before dropping off precipitously in the fall. “It was proceeding at pace until about Labor Day,” Ms. Sultan said.

Parrish officials now expect fund-raising for just the general operations of the museum to be off by as much as 30 percent in 2009, and have scaled back programming for the year, turning their focus to emphasizing the works in their 2,500-piece permanent collection rather than exhibits of borrowed works.

As for the capital campaign that would pay for the new building, Ms. Sultan said there is no new target date for getting the project rolling again.

“Projects like this are very much tied to the people’s sense of hope and optimism,” she said. “People have to feel there is a bright future. I continue to cultivate and look for a broader donor base, but ... it’s a long process. It’s not just walking up to someone and saying, ‘Look at this wonderful building. Please help us build it.’ They have to understand why.”

The Parrish purchased the Water Mill property for the museum project in 2005 for $3.8 million, after plans for 55,000 square feet of additions at its current Jobs Lane building, including the incorporation of the neighboring former Rogers Memorial Library building, were derailed by a small but organized group of residents who opposed the plan.

The museum has said that it needs additional space and modern updates to provide more secure on-site storage facilities for its permanent collection and visiting works, and to improve the exhibition spaces and educational and cultural programming that the museum offers.

The museum’s lease on the village-owned Jobs Lane building, which was built a century ago by the museum’s founder, Samuel Parrish, and designed by famed architect Grosvenor Atterbury, was set to expire in 2007. The museum renegotiated a new five-year lease with two one-year extension options when it realized that the 2009 opening for the new museum was in doubt.

Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said the village has been actively looking for a new tenant for the building since the museum announced plans to leave its historic home. He said he has spoken with the Hamptons International Film Festival about using the building as a permanent headquarters and film academy, and reached out to a handful of other museums. The Bay Street Theatre was considering moving to the building as well when it thought it might lose its space in Sag Harbor.

“I’ve had conversations with many groups, but it always comes down to ‘when can we use the building,’” Mayor Epley said, adding that the museum is not going to be asked to leave its historic home before the new building is ready.

“Who’s going to throw out the Parrish Art Museum?” he continued. “I’d like to see them scrap their plans and stay.”

In light of the economic difficulties, Mayor Epley suggested that perhaps the museum should rethink leaving the village. The village’s new master plan, which is now being developed, will outline a firm building envelope for the expansion of the Jobs Lane museum building, and perhaps the Parrish would find that the space is sufficient for what they need and be more cost effective. Opposition to expanding the existing building might also be less now as well, he suggested.

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The economy aside, the interests of both the town and the museum seem best served by staying in the existing location and rennovating and expanding into the former library building as necesary.
The Parish is one of the anchors of downtown even for those who don't regularly enter it.
If it takes a collapsing economy instead of just common sense to kill the idea of another big building on Rte 27 - so be it.
By Sag (54), Sag harbor on Mar 4, 09 2:52 PM
sag is right. the library building is a beautiful structure and the good part of the current economy is that arrogance can be set aside and we can do what's right instead of trying to boost egos. let's make the parrish art museum work for our community by keeping it in a pedestrian friendly space that encourages casual use as well as destination use. the big box museum plans should be scrapped for good, no one wants a wal mart museum in southampton.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Mar 5, 09 7:14 PM
how would the interests of the town and the museum be best served by staying put? that is incorrect and can't be supported by facts. and, this has nothing to do with egos and walmart? try thinking for yourselves....this is ashame. don't be afraid of progress...a world class museum shouldn't scare anyone.
By hamptons surfer (79), southampton on Mar 6, 09 6:41 AM
In asnwer to Surfer...Progress is not always represented by big, bigger, biggest. Sometimes it is in valuing tradition, the community, and appropriateness.
There is a place for world calss museums and we are lucky to be only 100 miles away from possibly the world's largest concentration of them. Regional museums are an entirely different matter.
This is a legitimate debate having nothing whatever to do with fear of progress or fear of anything else, for that matter.
By Sag (54), Sag harbor on Mar 9, 09 12:07 PM
sag, your response sheds light on the exact point of my comment...you are fearful of a big monstruous museum, void of tradition or a sense of community and within an inappropriate structure. the new museum would enrich our sense of community, pay homage to our traditions and in an obtrusive and appropriate design. thanks for the assist.
By hamptons surfer (79), southampton on Mar 9, 09 2:47 PM