The Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City in New York is in complete disrepair and will cost $5.3 million to rehabilitate, according to the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA). That is more than it cost to build, which was $5 million.
The Tribeca Citizen newspaper reports that on Friday, December 4 there was a lengthy and often acrimonious discussion about the Irish Hunger Memorial, which was opened to great fanfare by Irish President Mary McAleese and Governor George Pataki.
However, one member of the BPCA described the memorial as a “money tip” and wondered if it could be abandoned or moved. The memorial has been closed for a year because of extensive water damage.
The Great Hunger Memorial consists of the ruins of a Famine era Irish cottage from Mayo: rocks, dirt, plants and flowers from all counties of Ireland and stones from all counties as well.
The memorial was designed collaboratively by artist Brian Tolle, landscape architect Gail Wittwer-Laird, and architecture firm 1100 Architect. It is located on a 0.5-acre site at the corner of Vesey Street and North End Avenue in the Battery Park City neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, and is dedicated to raising awareness of the Great Irish Famine.
The drainage system has been a concern from the beginning. Just a year after opening it was forced to close because of flooding issues. Repairs made then have not lasted.
According to the Tribeca Citizen, at the December 4 board meeting, Gwen Dawson, the SPCA's vice president for real property, said that the 2003 repairs, "did not work. Water infiltration issues have worsened over time. This prompted the Authority to look at what it would take to effect a more comprehensive repair and remediation a couple of years ago."
That work never began mainly because of Hurricane Sandy, which further exacerbated the drainage problem.
At that 2013 meeting local resident and authority member Martha Gallo (the only BPCA director who lives in the community), said, "I would love a historical view of what it cost to build it and what it costs to maintain it. I remember, as a resident, that it was controversial in the first place, and was poorly constructed, so the whole thing had to be ripped apart and the irrigation system had to be replaced.
At the board meeting last week, Dawson asked for permission to spend $5.3 million on repairs to the Irish Hunger Memorial explaining, "earlier this year, we conducted testing of the structure. There is no indication of structural damage at this time, but results place the structure at moderate to high risk for future corrosion."
She continued, "the challenge is that in order to effect a comprehensive correction of this issue, we have to remove all the landscaping and a significant portion of the masonry.”
Hearing the new price tag new board member Hector Batista, asked, "why do we have to do this? Why can't there be something else there?"
Chairman Dennis Mehiel replied, "we considered three alternatives. The first alternative was, 'do we need this memorial?' The answer is yes. This is of some significance to the community, to the City, to the Irish-American community. And we have other museums, like the Jewish museum. So we dismissed the idea of not having it.
Second, I thought, 'let's move it.' Because, frankly, from the Authority's perspective, if we could reclaim that piece of grass, there's probably a couple of hundred million dollars that would have flowed in here, if we allowed somebody to create additional commercial or residential space there. So there's an alternative use for that land that would be financially very rewarding for the Authority. But the problem is, where does it go? And any place that we can consider requires us to, what's the word?"
He added that BPCA staff will continue to look at whether, "there are air rights there that we haven't used, to see if there's a way to monetize value for the benefit of the Authority."
Following more discussion the vote was taken to allocate $5.3 million to carry out all necessary repair work to the Famine memorial.