Governors Isle planning 3 a.m. ‘beach’ parties this summer


By Julie Shapiro

The beach will be only a 7-minute ferry ride away from Lower Manhattan this summer.

Tom Fox, founder of New York Water Taxi, announced his plans this week to convert a parking lot on Governors Island into an expanse of sand. He also won a contract to build an adjacent outdoor music venue for 2,500 people and a restaurant and bar.

“In a year when people are not going to be able to afford to go to the Hamptons, they will go to Governors Island,” Fox said in a phone interview.

Fox plans to open Water Taxi Beach, which will not have water access, on Fourth of July weekend. He will simultaneously launch new ferry service to the island.

While Fox said he has the $2.5 million he needs to build out the space, the tumbling economy could still haunt the project. Gov. David Paterson has not included the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp. in his executive budget, and without an infusion of $6 million to $7 million, the island will not open this summer at all.

“This is another reason to fight for [the money],” Fox said. “It’s important, especially since the island has gotten momentum. It’s on the map.”

The island attracted 128,000 visitors last year and Leslie Koch, president of GIPEC, hopes to hit 200,000 this summer. She said Wednesday that she had not heard any news from the governor on the budget, which the legislature is negotiating. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Mayor Mike Bloomberg are both fighting for the island money.

Fox’s plan to bring more entertainment and recreation to Governors Island beat out three other proposals for the space, Koch said.

“They’re creating a destination,” she said of Fox’s company.

The beach, stage and restaurant will go on the north side of the island, near the ferry slip, over the parking lot that spent last summer beneath the spray of one of Olafur Eliasson’s Waterfalls art installations. The beach’s brightly colored tents and lounging sunbathers will be visible from the Staten Island ferry, and even from Lower Manhattan passersby will be able to glimpse the action, Koch said.

“It just shows the island is alive,” she said.

To create the new 2,100-square-foot beach, Fox will dump an 8-inch-deep layer of sand over a parking lot, similar to the way he created a beach in Queens. Visitors won’t be able to dip their toes in the water, but they will play beach volleyball and “sit out there sipping a pina colada watching the sun set,” Fox said. They will also hang out in a 2,000-square-foot beer garden and listen to concerts, ranging from kids’ bands during the day to jazz artists at night, with a focus on local performers. When the stage is quiet, Fox wants to turn the 31,500-square-foot venue over to basketball leagues.

“We want it to be a funky, laid-back experience on the waterfront,” Fox said likening it to Tribeca’s Pier 25, which he helped open as the first president of the Hudson River Park Conservancy.

Fox also wants to bring in a carousel or a Ferris wheel, but that may have to wait until summer 2010. The beach will be in place for at least five years, with two two-year extensions possible.

The entire island, including the new beach, will be open to the public Friday through Sunday via the free ferry from the Battery Maritime Building and a new free ferry from Brooklyn Heights, both run by GIPEC. Fox plans to keep the beach portion of the island open additional hours, including some weekdays and possibly as late as 3 a.m. on weekends. He has not figured out the schedule of boats he will run to and from the island, but he will likely add a shuttle between the island, South Street Seaport and Brooklyn Heights. Fox will charge patrons for at least some of his Governors Island service.

New York Water Taxi just bought Circle Line Downtown, giving Fox the 600-person Zephyr, which he will use to get crowds off the island once concerts end. The acquisition also gives Fox additional berths and a total of 200 employees.

Community Board 1’s Waterfront Committee got a first look at Fox’s plans Monday night when he requested the board’s advisory approval for a liquor license. After some initial concerns about security and feasibility, the committee agreed to support the project.

“The real issue for us is: Do we think this is a community amenity?” said Bob Townley, chairperson of the committee. “I do…. It’s forging new ground where nothing exists, and it looks like people could have fun here.”

Fox said he would hire one security officer for every 100 people at his events on the island, and the officers would ensure that the people stayed within the beach area after hours. The Fire Dept. pulled funding for its station on the island earlier this year but firefighters will staff the island whenever more than 100 people are on it, which means any day it is open to the public.

The beach will be adjacent to Building 110, which will fill up with working artists this summer as part of a separate program run by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. GIPEC is also opening a new park on the south side of the island this summer and is constructing a high school that will open in 2010.

“Put it on your calendar,” Koch said Wednesday with her trademark enthusiasm. “The weekend of July Fourth, come out for a beer, a burger and a concert…. We’re going to continue to bring the island back to life.”