Preliminary discussions have begun on deciding the fate of what once was an icon of the 1964 World’s Fair.
At a Borough Board meeting on Monday, the Parks Department presented different restoration options for the Tent of Tomorrow and Observation Towers that have sat unused in Flushing Meadows Corona Park for decades.
“It’s timely that we do this,” Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski told the board. “It is important that we start the dialogue now because shortly we all will be discussing upcoming budgets for the fiscal year 2015, and I think we have some interesting opportunities before us and some tough decisions to make.”
Parks Department representatives Sybil Young, an architectural preservationist, and Janice Melnick, Flushing Meadows’ administrator, gave a nearly 20-minute presentation to Borough President Helen Marshall, the Queens delegation of the City Council and Community Board 7 chairman Gene Kelty, outlining different independent studies conducted on the pavilion over the last four years regarding the costs of either demolishing, stabilizing or redeveloping the structures.
They first presented a 2012 study from Arcadis, an infrastructure consulting and design company based in Colorado.
Its survey outlined two courses of action regarding the fixing of the towers alone. The first one is stabilization of the structures to simply prevent further decay but not allow for public use.
“The tower stairs are in poor condition. They need to be fully replaced,” Young said in describing what would be done under the stabilization plan. “The basement is flooded and utilities are all abandoned.”
The second course of action would be full restoration, which would allow for public use of the towers.
“It would require some architectural upgrades,” Young said. “The lower level would be enclosed and walls would be installed. The elevators would be restored as well, and there would be extensive work with utilities to bring it up to code.”
According to Young, Arcadis’ estimated stabilization cost for the three towers alone is $11.4 million while the cost of complete restoration of the towers is $20.5 million.
A 2009 survey from Manhattan-based Robert Silman Associates discussed the possible pricey cost of restoring the Tent of Tomorrow. The structure sits upon rotting timber piles, leaving the landmark vulnerable to collapse.
Young said that Robert Silman Associates’ estimated restoration cost is $31.5 million.
She also presented the board with a more imaginative study from architectural design firm Perkins + Will, based in Chicago.
Their “adaptive reuse plan” has an estimated cost of around $72.9 million and would involve the installation of a skywalk between the Tent of Tomorrow and one of the Observation Towers, with the site being completely renovated for public use.
“The study is just an investigation of ‘what if?,’” Young said. “We are not proposing this plan at this point, but we suspect that any reuse plan would not cost less than what they have provided.”
The other option is demolition. The cost of demolishing the tent alone would be $10.6 million while the cost of demolishing both the tent and the towers would be $14.6 million, according to Young.
Melnick added that there will be listening sessions about the future of the site in early 2014 at the Queens Theatre, the only structure of the pavilion still in use by the public.
Dates and times of the meetings have yet to be determined, but there will be a minimum of at least three sessions.
“We recognize that this is one of the iconic structures in the borough,” Lewandowski said “We have a bit of road before us before we decide what we want to do.”
She added that there is no cost estimate at this time for maintaining the structures if a stabilization or adaptive reuse plan is chosen.
At the end of the presentation, Community Board 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri raised concerns over the potentially monumental costs of simply stabilizing and maintaining the structures.
“It would probably cost more to stabilize it than adaptive reuse,” Arcuri said. “That’s probably the worst case, stabilization and then maintaining it.”