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Funding windfall starts project to fix up Pavilion

By Bill Parry

The restoration of the iconic New York State Pavilion is set to begin after funding of more than $4.8 million was allocated in the capital budget the City Council approved last Thursday.

Add another $1 million that Borough President Melinda Katz earmarked for the project and the total surpasses $5.8 million for an upgrade to the electrical system that may lead to a lighting system for the structure’s exterior.

“I am thrilled that Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Mark-Viverito and the City Council have recognized the importance of taking the first step to help ensure the New York Pavilion will be enjoyed and admired by Queens residents and visitors for many more decades to come,” Katz said. “Along with the Unisphere, the New York State Pavilion has become a symbol of the borough of Queens that reminds us of the excitement and hopefulness the world felt at the beginning of the space age.

“The Pavilion keeps us connected to that history while it also serves as an icon of Queens that is recognized around the world. Its preservation will aid our efforts to rebrand Queens as a top-level tourist destination that we call “‘The World’s Borough.’”

In addition to the electrical upgrade, the money will be used to rebuild the staircases inside the three towers and repair the concrete platforms supporting the observation decks at the top of each tower.

If there is money left over, it will go to a lighting system but additional funding will likely be needed, according to borough president spokesman Michael Scholl.

It has been a big year for the Pavilion, the Space Age-style structure designed by legendary architect Philip Johnson for the 1964 Word’s Fair. The 50th anniversary was celebrated along with the 75th anniversary of the 1939 World’s Fair in May, drawing 60,000 visitors to Flushing Meadow Corona Park.

In April, the National Fund for Historic Preservation designated the Pavilion as one of its “National Treasures,” recognizing historical, cultural or architecturally important sites as part of an effort to raise awareness and funding for their preservation. The Pavilion is one of only 44 sites in the country to bear the designation.

“Restoring the Pavilion is the right thing to do at just the right time,” New York Landmarks Conservancy President Peg Breen said. “The restored Pavilion will be a wonderful representation of the vitality of the borough and provide space for all kinds of events that will draw not just people from Queens, but people from around the city and visitors from around the world.”

It was also announced last week that the preservation group People for the Pavilion will partner with the Conservancy to establish itself as a nonprofit.

“That will allow us to raise money for programs to raise the awareness of the structure,” People for the Pavilion co-founder Salmaan Khan said. “My goal is to have someone working full time on this project. Things have really started to roll since our kickoff event in January.”

The group was behind the effort to open the Pavilion to the public for the first time since 1987. More than 5,000 visitors turned out for that event in April.

Khan said the eventual lighting of the Pavilion would create an even bigger buzz about the structure.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “It’s a shrewd strategic move on the borough president’s part. What better way to raise awareness than to light it up?”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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