Governors Isle officials hopeful for money to reopen


If Governors Island doesn’t get more money soon, the parkland just a 7-minute ferry ride from Lower Manhattan may not reopen this summer.

Gov. David Paterson did not include any money for Governors Island in his executive budget this month, either for operating or capital expenses. Unless Paterson changes his mind, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp. will be out of money.

GIPEC leaders Leslie Koch, president, and Avi Schick, chairperson, did not appear worried about the prospect at GIPEC’s board meeting Monday. Ken Fisher, chairperson of the Governors Island Alliance, went so far as to call them “unflappable.”

But, Fisher continued, “I, at the moment, am quite flapped…. Operations will come to a grinding halt.”

In the past, GIPEC has been funded based on an agreement between the state and the city, which requires them to split the operating costs. Last year, GIPEC received no operating funds from the state but instead drew on a surplus from previous years and money from the Empire State Development Corp., said Schick, former president of E.S.D.C.. That surplus has now dried up and the E.S.D.C. can’t give any more money, so the governor’s support is necessary if the island is to continue to operate after the fiscal year ends at the end of March.

“It would appear to be a crisis of significant proportions,” said Al Butzel, a member of the Governors Island Alliance’s board of directors. “A lot is at stake here.”

Schick thinks the governor will come through on the $6 million to $7 million needed for operating expenses.

“The message is not, ‘We can’t afford Governors Island this year,’” he said. “It’s much more, ‘We have to figure out how we pay for it.’”

Paterson appears to be counting on Governors Island remaining open, as he signed onto an announcement this week of events for the 400th anniversary of the Henry Hudson sailing into New York Harbor, which includes a day of free bike rentals on Governors Island this summer.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver supports allocating money for the island.

“I will continue to work with Gov. Paterson and my colleagues in government to ensure that this vitally needed open space for Lower Manhattan’s growing population is maintained during these tough economic times,” Silver said in a statement to Downtown Express.

Many groups are counting on the island to stay operational, including the New York Harbor School, a high school that is building a new home on the island to open in the fall of 2010. Just this week, the Children’s Museum of the Arts announced a day camp program on the island this summer, with classes taught by professional artists.

GIPEC has applied for some federal stimulus funding as well, but that will not solve the operating budget problem, said Jon Meyers, GIPEC’s director of real estate. The money must be spent on shovel-ready projects, so GIPEC applied for several infrastructure installations and upgrades, including sewer, gas, water, communications and electrical systems.

— Julie Shapiro