- Nice to see the re-development plans for Governors Island includes a ban on
private vehicles, although I think they are making a mistake by not allowing
New York eyes island for urban oasis
Thursday, February 23, 2006; Posted: 12:17 p.m. EST (17:17 GMT)
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- With acres of greenery and a view of the Manhattan
skyline, Governors Island is an oasis of calm just a few minutes from New
York's teeming financial district. But for most of the last 200 years, that
oasis has been off limits to all but military personnel.
But that may change as New York officials evaluate proposals for the 172-acre
island including building hotels, a museum, schools, theaters and a link to
connect the island to Manhattan and Brooklyn.
"The island is nothing short of remarkable," said Ken Fisher, chairman of the
Governors Island Alliance, a watchdog group pushing for redevelopment. "It's a
very big piece of land in a very congested city ... It can be a destination
cultural location, and can also serve as an economic development tool."
For most of New York's history, Governors Island was a military installation.
But the island's 225 buildings have been largely vacant since the Coast Guard
left in 1996. In 2003, the U.S. government sold the island for $1 to a
partnership controlled by the New York city and state governments.
In February, that partnership, the Governors Island Preservation and Education
Corp., put out a formal call for development proposals. About 100 parties have
expressed interest in submitting ideas, which are due by May 10.
The deed of sale requires more than half the island, 90 acres, to be used for
the public benefit, through parks, educational institutions or other
amenities. It bans permanent housing, gambling and private cars. Allowing time
for environmental review, development officials said it's likely the first
projects could break ground in 2008.
Development officials said they expect the cost of any project to top $1
billion, most of which would be paid by private developers. So far the city
and state have allocated $120 million to the island's upkeep.
Isolation a challenge
Observers said any development on the island, a 10-minute ferry ride from
southern Manhattan and near the Statue of Liberty, needs to capitalize on its
"That's a great advantage and a great liability," said Jeremy Soffin, vice
president of public affairs at the Regional Plan Association, a not-for-profit
group focused on development in the New York area.
"The kind of uses that benefit from a little bit of isolation -- hospitality,
education, recreation, arts and culture -- need to be the bulk of the
program," Soffin said.
In an effort to jump-start development, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has
unveiled plans for one possible transport solution -- a gondola designed by
architect Santiago Calatrava, connecting the island to Manhattan and
But most development officials interviewed said the bulk of people traveling
to and from the island would go by water.
"The gondola idea is only one of the many that we will be looking at. It's
exciting, but it's only one idea," said Charles Gargano, chairman of the
Empire State Development Corp., the state development agency. "Ferry service
is ... going to be very important."
Hotels, schools, theaters
The island is vacant much of the year for all but the roughly 50 preservation
workers who work there. But in recent summers it's been open for visitors to
its historic sites, as well as the 2.2-mile shore promenade, baseball field,
soccer pitch and other relics of its peak population of 3,500 Coast Guard
personnel and families during the early 1990s.
Most development officials said they expect hotels to serve as a cornerstone
of any development plan. But to attract visitors in a city that already has
more than 70,000 hotel rooms, activities will be key.
"The active recreation and events are going to be critical to drawing people
to the island," said Fisher, of the Governors Island Alliance. "The more
interactive it is, the more things there are to do, the more likely it is to
One of the groups developing a plan is the New York Harbor School, a
320-student public high school currently based in Brooklyn, which wants to
move to the island.
Another proposal is to build a theater in Castle Williams, one of the three
abandoned forts on the island. It would be called the New Globe Theater, and
take its inspiration from Shakespeare's Globe theater in London.
The Savannah College of Art and Design, a school based in Savannah, Georgia,
is also planning to submit a proposal to open a satellite campus on the
Given the high costs of any redevelopment and the reliance on private
financing, advocates' main concern is that private investments not result in a
loss of public access.
"The long term risk is that a developer will chip away at the commitments to
public access," said Fisher, of the Governors Island Alliance.