The movement to save and preserve the New York State Pavilion just got its biggest backer yet.
With the Tent of Tomorrow and Observation Towers, the two rusting icons of the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, behind her, Borough President Melinda Katz officially called for the preservation of the structures on Thursday, just months before the 50th anniversary of the global gathering the pavilion was built for.
Joined by Assembly members Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) and Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing), Deputy Borough President Leroy Comrie, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), Parks Department representatives, various community board leaders from across the borough and the three-man People for the Pavilion preservation group, Katz emphatically declared her wish to see the pavilion saved while on a walking tour of the site.
“My hope in being here today with everyone, and for causing some notice for this, is to try and bring these groups together and I felt like there needed to be a push in getting folks in a direction,” Katz said. “I think we all know the right direction.
“The right direction is to preserve [the pavilion] and save this for generations to come,” she continued, “to make it a useful part of the park and to make sure it doesn’t fall down on people around it.”
In addition to just voicing her support for the movement, Katz also said that a task force dedicated to brainstorming ideas and uses for the site will be created within the next month.
The group will meet either once a month, “or at least quarterly,” at Borough Hall, according to Katz.
The task force will include Katz, community board leaders, the Parks Department, elected officials, historical groups and People for the Pavilion, although founding member Christian Doran said his group had yet to receive a formal offer to join.
[Doran, tragically, died two days after the tour. See separate story in some editions or at qchron.com.]
“Preserving the history of Queens is really important to me and we’ve got a lot of partners,” Katz said. “One of the things that we need to do is to make sure we’re taking everyone’s opinions into account.
“This is a Queens project from my perspective, and it’s really a New York City project from my perspective too,” she added, “because anything that helps Queens helps the entire city.”
According to a Parks Department presentation made at three different listening sessions two weeks ago, any project involving the pavilion is expected to be pricey, even demolition.
The estimated cost of demolishing the Tent of Tomorrow alone is a little over $10 million, while the price tag for demolishing the entire pavilion is estimated around $14 million.
Stabilizing the structures alone, without allowing public access, would cost $43 million. Restoring the pavilion to its 1964 status has an estimated cost of $52 million. A complete remodeling and restoration project may cost upwards of $72.6 million.
The expensive nature of any action regarding the structures has been a topic of discussion for months, but Katz believes that the cost of restoring the site should be viewed in a different manner than before.
She believes that, because demolishing the buildings would be expensive in its own right, it would be worth it to spend the additional $58 million to bring the pavilion back to life as something newer generations of Queens residents can appreciate and enjoy.
Markey wholeheartedly agrees with Katz and, while the time between now and any structural work on the pavilion should be measured in years, she is hopeful that whatever project should occur at the site will be completed well before the pavilion’s 60th anniversary in 2024.
“People come from JFK Airport and it’s one of the first things you see to let you know you’re in Queens,” Markey said. “It’s going to take maybe five to seven years, but it will be money well spent.
“I’d like it to be a community space where people can go to concerts,” she added. “There are so many concepts for the space.”
Doran, the late activist, couldn’t have been happier at the outpouring of support from elected officials on both the city and state levels.
“We are more than excited that all of this is going on. It’s moving along so much faster than anticipated,” Doran said. “We’ve got nothing but positive feedback along the way. It speaks to the effect and the promise the building has.”
Like Katz’s soon-to-be-created task force, People for the Pavilion is planning future information sessions, but no dates have been finalized as of yet.
Community Board 4 District Manager Christian Cassagnol was a member of Katz’s contingent as well, joining Frank Gulluscio, his Community Board 6 counterpart, Community Board 7 Chairman Gene Kelty and various other board leaders in Queens.
Cassagnol says he is eager to join Katz’s task force and that he believes it will lead to real movement at the Pavilion, which has sat dormant for decades.
“Nobody is here for his or her personal gain, everyone is here because they just want to see it brought back,” Cassagnol said. “To take it down would be a disservice to the community. It’s not so much the pillar of Corona, it’s the pillar of Queens.”
Flushing Meadows Corona Park Administrator Janice Melnick reiterated that the structures are not in danger of collapsing despite the menacing nature of the rust and corrosion coating them.
She also expressed optimism over the proper funds being allocated to preserve and reuse the pavilion.
“There’s been overwhelming support to preserve it and the first trick will be getting the money,” Melnick said. “If you look at the whole psalm, it looks like a lot of money. But if you look at it over 10 years, it’s really not that bad, it’s not that daunting. I think it’s something we can make happen.”
The all-important question of how the borough and the city could allocate over $70 million in funding for the site’s preservation remains to be seen.