BY ZACH WILLIAMS | Visiting 30 acres of new park space less than 10 minutes from Lower Manhattan comes with a small price to pay this summer.
Ferries to Governors Island for the general public will run daily and charge visitors for the first time while an expanded course of recreational offerings await after a ride beginning at the Battery Maitime Building, 10 South St.
Organizers expect that between May 24 and Sept. 28, hundreds of thousands of local residents will reach the island during what Leslie Koch, president of the Trust for Governors Island, said would be the “biggest season ever” in the history of 172-acre Financial District outpost.
The interiors of former military officer homes have evolved into a loop of art galleries. Local residents can further experience city life in a fresh manner through activities as diverse as musical festivals, naps within hammocks, noshing and panoramic views of New York Harbor.
“That has always been our goal, to serve New Yorkers, she told Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee May 7.
When committee members raised concerns that the island could quickly become a tourist attraction rather than local gathering spot, she said that 85 percent of visitors last year were city residents. Approximately two-thirds of them came to the island via Lower Manhattan, according to the Trust.
Governors Island will be open to the general public from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays, Memorial Day and Labor Day. A ferry service also runs to the island from Brooklyn though only on weekends.
Ferries cost $2 for a round-trip on weekdays and weekend afternoons, while weekend mornings remain free of charge. Kids under 12 will continue to ride for free, and seniors will pay $1.
More than five miles of wide bicycle lanes on the island provide an automobile-less environment for urban dwellers lacking in the space or appropriate venue for cycling.
“Biking is really one of the signature activities on Governors Island,” Koch said.
An increasing amount of artistic activity will also occur on the island with 39 visual artists and writers and 21 performing acts now utilizing space there. Feedback from visitors as well as cooperation with community institutions such as the Downtown Alliance and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council inspired many of the ideas behind the new park features, Koch told the committee.
QC Terme Group will enter the American market by opening the Quadratec Spa in Buildings 111, 112 and 114. The Italian spa company was designated by the Trust’s Board of Directors in December as its first commercial tenant. The L.M.C.C meanwhile will play a role “island-wide” in addition to opening additional studios, a digital media lab and exhibition spaces at its arts center in Building 110, Koch said.
A critical philosophical ingredient in the transformation of decrepit Cold War era structures into a 21st Century green space involves metaphorically tossing “spaghetti against the wall,” according to Koch. Responding to what visitors like about park offerings resulted in the increasingly diverse selection of activities, she added.
“We are seeing that we have many flavors of spaghetti,” Koch told Downtown Express during a tour of the island May 19.
The completed section of a waterfront promenade extends from the ferry landing on the northern tip of the island to the two ball fields near the south-western side where defensive players will see the Statue of Liberty gazing upon them. Construction on four hills is planned to be finished in time for the 2016 season, creating panoramic views of the urban archipelago as well as accentuating frontal views of Lady Liberty.
Recycled materials from building demolitions are building the hills and have also been used to raise the elevation of the center of the island by sixteen feet.
Conservation will be further utilized in the form of goats, chickens and bunnies gathered to teach children the essential facts of sustainable farming just over grassy slopes where rounded-edged, sculptured benches brought from Buffalo offer seating. Fifty species of saplings are contending for dominance within the emerging groves of trees spread among the new spaces.
Whether it ever reaches ambitions of a “gazillion” visitors or 365-day access for the general public depends not only on funding levels from the city and revenues from vendors and tenants alike. The continued process of learning what residents want Governors Island to ultimately become remains the key catalyst, according to the Trust.
“We’ve always made choices to serve the community,” Koch said.