Plan Would Create Suffolk Museum for Physicist Tesla

Newsday, January 28, 2009

Advocates who want to create a science museum and learning center at the former lab of famed physicist Nikola Tesla, the father of alternating current, moved a step closer as a legislative committee approved appraisals of the 13-acre Shoreham site.

However, aides to County Executive Steve Levy, citing economic woes, warned the county cannot afford a new museum, when existing ones are facing fiscal woes.

The measure, approved unanimously Monday, goes to the county legislature Tuesday where sponsor Legis. Daniel Losquadro (R-Shoreham), minority leader, said he expects wide support.

"This is clearly a very important historic site," said Losquadro, saying it could easily qualify as a national landmark and has attracted international interest. He also believes the site could attract naming rights funding from major communications companies.

Backers say the lab is historically important because the 10,000-square-foot brownstone is the last remaining research facility used by Tesla, a scientific giant at the turn of the century. Tesla built power generators at Niagara Falls, invented radio and did far-reaching research on energy and robotics. The site also has the remains of a 187-foot high tower used for radio wave experiments, that goes 120 feet deep into the ground.

"If we were talking about the last laboratory of Thomas Edison, people would be all over this," said Jane Alcorn, president of Tesla Science Center. She said Tesla is just as important, and his work is now undergoing a revival. Alcorn added that his alternating current electric power made Edison's electric light practical, allowing power to be sent long distances.

But Levy aide Ben Zwirn warned, "Acquiring the site would be the easiest part. The problem is once you have it what do you do now." Reached later, Suffolk parks commissioner John Pavacic echoed concerns, saying a new complex would stress park resources, noting the Vanderbilt Museum and Maritime Museum in Sayville are having fiscal woes.

But Losquadro said the county needs only to act as a catalyst for purchase and the Tesla organization that has long advocated for the science center would be responsible for fundraising and operating the site. But he added it is crucial to have the county initiate talks to compete with other buyers. He also hoped the county might get land for a tax write-off because pollution problems limit its use.

The property, located on Route 25A, is owned by Agfa Corp., a Belgium-based imaging company, but the complex has been closed since 1987, when technology at the site became obsolete. The parcel is also a state Superfund site that has undergone a cleanup for heavy photographic metals that is virtually complete. Bill Bosmann, an Agfa official, said the parcel is now for sale but declined further comment.