Manhattan has museums devoted to art, dinosaurs, sex, mathematics, Swedish photography and tenements — but is the car-hating borough ready for a museum celebrating the “past, present and future of the automobile?”
That’s the dream of a group of auto-industry luminaries led by Otto F. Wachs, a retired Volkswagen executive who created Autostadt in Wolfsburg, Germany, which is said to be the “world’s largest super-destination automotive museum” with over 2 million annual visitors.
Board members include Ray Battalini, founder of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., and Formula 1 Club director Christian Ginet.
The team tapped powerhouse Big Apple dealmakers JLL to find a location and “landlord partner” for the New York Auto Museum (NYAM), a proposed, 200,000 square-foot attraction in central Manhattan.
Charles Gerace, who recently arranged the 70,000 square-foot short-term lease for the popular immersive Van Gogh exhibition at Pier 36, will spearhead the quest.
“As the global office market undergoes a transformational shift, the museum presents an opportunity to repurpose space,” Gerace said. “New York Auto Museum will offer the type of tangible enjoyment that has been enthusiastically embraced since the pandemic upended our lives.”
It might sound far-fetched — but developers and landlords are scrambling for alternative kinds of large tenants to kick-start new projects and fill existing ones. Plus, a big car museum wouldn’t face the competitive political nightmare that casino bids are undergoing.
Gerace said the museum might be most appropriate in the Times Square or Herald Square areas but no part of Manhattan is off-limits. He said it would require a new or existing building with floor plates of at least 30,000 square feet to be viable.
Potential sites include proposed Midtown supertalls for which developers are seeking anchor tenants, as well as downtown former warehouse properties that are ripe for “adaptive reuses.”
As well as exhibitions of classic cars and technological developments, the museum would also include nonprofit components — which could be helpful to a developer seeking city approval for a size variance or zoning change.
NYAM executive director David Senater said the nonprofit unit would offer low-cost tickets worth $30 million a year to the Department of Education.
Gerace is partners in the space search with Peter Riguardi, who has long been one of JLL’s and the city’s leading dealmakers.
Reminded that Manhattan might be the country’s most auto-averse place — witness efforts to discourage car use with bike lanes and congestion pricing — Gerace said, “You bring up a great point.”
But he noted that NYAM would draw visitors from coast to coast and that the Big Apple’s history is entwined with the auto industry, as shown by the Chrysler Building and the fact that most people still refer to 767 Fifth Avenue as the GM Building.
“As a car enthusiast myself, I’m excited to be involved in this venture,” Gerace said.