Play Ball! Governors I. recreation may begin this summer

By Ronda Kaysen

It will be many years before Governors Island becomes an oasis in New York Harbor, but by next summer it might be available for public recreation for the first time in U.S. history.

Governors Island officials are considering ideas for interim recreation uses for the 172-acre island, which sits off the southern tip of Manhattan.

Much of the southern portion of the island is open space, but for the past three summers, access to the isle, which is in need of extensive restoration, has been restricted. The National Park Service, which controls 22 acres of the islet, gives tours in the summer and on summer Saturdays select portions of the island are open to the public. Last summer, visitors could roam the promenade, the parade grounds and Colonel’s Row, a tree-lined neighborhood with historic brick houses and Liggett Hall, a Neo-Georgian brick building built in 1929.

But next summer, two ball fields in the southern portion might open to the public and Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, the city and state corporation that controls the majority of the teardrop shaped slip of land, is also considering opening portions of the island to the public for an additional day.

“We’re looking to open up the island on a daily basis,” said GIPEC interim president Paul Kelly in a telephone interview with Downtown Express. “For day events, for picnics. If they’re out there for the day, they can certainly use the ball fields.”

The corporation recently unveiled four concept plans for the restoration of the island. But the slip of land is in disrepair and developing it will cost between $217 million and $368 million. The interim uses would give the public more access long before the renovations are complete.

GIPEC does not intend to offer the space to any one group on a permanent basis. Instead, the corporation envisions summer camp groups visiting the island for an afternoon. And the ball fields could be used for a variety of uses, not just playing ball.

“It’s really about making more of the open space public. A summer camp could come out for a day, a school could have a picnic,” Kelly said.

GIPEC expects to present a proposal to the public for interim uses early next year and hopefully increase access to open space by next summer. The island has been used for military bases from 1776 – 1996, when the Coast Guard left the island. Since then, it has been mostly closed to the public and the recreation areas have been closed.

One group eager to set foot on the ballfields on weekdays is Manhattan Youth, an after school and summer program that recently lost its space at Pier 25 in Tribeca when the pier was shut for a renovation.

“We would get kids and summer programs that don’t have access to a cooler waterside place, which is very important weekdays in the summertime,” said Manhattan Youth executive director Bob Townley. His organization also submitted a proposal to take part in the long-term redevelopment of the park. His proposal suggests, among other things, miniature golf, which was lost with Pier 25.

Community Board 1, which encompasses Govenors Island, has expressed its desire to increase access to the island for the neighborhood, which is in short supply of public space. C.B. 1 chairperson Julie Menin was recently appointed to the Governors Island Alliance board, a civic organization led by the Regional Plan Association. “It’s a great opportunity for the community to have more open space,” she said in a telephone interview. “This is a big win for the community to have these interim uses.”


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