A whole new world as city now governing Governors


By Julie Shapiro

For the price of a bottle of water, the city took control of Governors Island this month and assumed responsibility for the island’s ambitious $270 million park development plan.

The state and city previously split the governance of the island and its operational and capital costs. Under that arrangement, the state sometimes did not put up its share of funding without a fight, throwing the island’s future into question.

“When it wasn’t clear until the 11th hour whether we would open [for the season], it compromised our ability to make consistent progress, both in visitation and development,” said Leslie Koch, president of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation.

The $1 deal the mayor, governor and other politicians announced on Sun., April 11, finally provides funding certainty for the 172-acre island: The city will now pay Governors Island’s operating costs, which total about $14 million this year, and will also commit $62 million in capital funds, including $41.5 million that was previously committed but unspent.

The capital money will launch the first phase of the island’s $270 million Park and Public Space Master Plan, which eventually will transform 40 acres on the island’s south side into rolling green hills with hammock groves. The plan also includes a 2.2-mile promenade, refurbished green spaces in the island’s historic section, free wooden bicycles, play spaces for kids and art installations. A team of architects led by West 8 released their original ideas several years ago but just unveiled detailed plans this month after the deal between the state and the city.

“It’s all pretty fantabulous,” the always-enthusiastic Koch said. “The big idea is that the island is being unified into one place for the first time in its history. It all feels like one beautiful, green island.”

The first phase will restore the open space on the historic north side of the island and improve the visitor amenities at the ferry docks. The $41.5 million the city has already committed will cover the design and construction of this phase and additional design work for the rest of the project. The first phase is scheduled to start construction in 2012 and finish in 2014, Koch said. The rest of the project, including the new park space on the island’s south side, does not have funding or a timeline.

The island, which attracted more than 275,000 visitors last summer, may also eventually host private development. New York University put out a proposal last month to build up to 1 million square feet on Governors Island, but that likely won’t happen anytime soon, because N.Y.U. wants other entities to sign on as well.

Other plans for the island’s growth are already moving forward — artists doing a residency program through the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council moved in earlier this year, and a harbor-themed high school is moving to the island this fall.

Under the deal between the state and the city, GIPEC will be phased out soon, replaced by the city-controlled Governors Island Operating Entity. The new entity will have 13 members: one each appointed by the governor, the assemblymember for the 64th District (currently Speaker Sheldon Silver), the state senator for the 25th District (currently state Senator Daniel Squadron) and Community Board 1, plus nine members appointed by the mayor, one of whom must live in Brooklyn.

The agreement also states that Governors Island’s park spaces will be protected and possibly mapped as public parkland, which advocates have been encouraging for years.

Rob Pirani, executive director of the Governors Island Alliance, said the deal sounds good for the island.

“In the long term, I think the mayor views the island as a legacy,” Pirani said. “We’re hopeful he’s going to invest the additional capital and prestige needed to move the island forward.”

Governors Island is accessible by ferry from the Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan and will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays this summer starting June 5.