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Governors Island

In January 2001, then-President Bill Clinton designated Governors Island, a former United States Army and Coast Guard military base off the southern tip of Manhattan, a historic district in an effort to enhance the island’s public use. In March 2002, then-President George W. Bush, New York State then-Governor George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Governors Island would be sold to the City of New York and New York State for a nominal fee. On January 31, 2003, the United States General Services Administration (GSA) transferred the 22-acre National Monument property to the Department of the Interior, to be managed by the National Parks Service (NPS), and the remainder of the Island to the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC), a New York not-for-profit corporation created in 2002 by the New York State for the purpose of owning and managing the 172-acre island, for $1.

As part of the transfer to GIPEC, the federal, state and local governments agreed to deed restrictions requiring - among other things - public accessibility, programming and uses that benefited the public, parkland, educational uses, and historic preservation. At least 40 acres must be for parkland, at least 20 acres for educational uses, and 30 acres for "public benefit uses." The remaining land, about one-third of the island, can be used for other uses, including commercial.

In January 2004, GIPEC selected a consulting team for Governors Island pre-development and planning. Following the work of the consulting team, a request for expression of interest was issued by GIPEC in 2005. This bid was directed at developers, investors, and a range of potential tenants. GIPEC received 96 submissions and utilizing these submissions GIPEC issued three Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for various design and use aspects. GIPEC ultimately threw out all proposals, stating that “none of the whole island proposals met enough of the high standards set out in the RFP selection criteria, including a coherent vision supported by market data, financial return and funding sources, combined with the depth of team experience that would be expected as part of a deal to justify a designation.” Thus, GIPEC decided to focus on the parkland components instead of selecting a long-term partner for redevelopment. On November 12, 2006 the group issued a Request for Statements of Qualification (RFQ) for professional design services for “new and historic parklands and [the] waterfront promenade”.

In January 2006, the city and state pledged to contribute a combined $60 million toward Governors Island’s preservation and redevelopment, although an alliance of civic groups said that this would not be enough. Free ferry rides from Lower Manhattan to Governors Island began in the summer of 2006, attracting 26,000 visitors, up from 8,000 in 2005. In 2006 it was also announced that Bushwick’s public New York Harbor School would relocate to the Island in 2010.

Governors Island development continued in 2007, as the city and state again split operating costs. In June 2007, a new operator was chosen to run the free ferry transportation to the Island, and in July 2007, GIPEC purchased a new ferry.

Free transportation to the island, bicycle rentals, cultural events, and recreational activities attracted over 100,000 visitors to Governors Island in 2008, as compared to 56,000 visitors in 2007. The island’s success as a visitor destination led to the planning of more projects, such as an entertainment complex, art studio, and exhibition space.

Developments on the island continue to evolve. In April 2009, the NPS announced that a portion of federal stimulus money would be allocated to stabilize Castle Williams, a monument on the island. Liberty Village, a Coast Guard housing complex built in 1988, was torn down and the site converted to a picnic area for the summer of 2009. The demolition of Liberty Village also opened the island’s 2.2-mile perimeter to pedestrians and bicyclists for the first time. $120 million in public financing has been invested in the project thus far and demolition and conversion to parkland is expected to be entirely complete in 2012 - although more funding will likely be needed. In June of 2009, the GIPEC collaborated with Brooklyn non-profit Added Value to open a 3-acre organic farm.

Within Governors Island's historic district, there are 52 buildings totaling 1.4 million square feet of space that require renovations. Any reuse of these buildings or new development must be submitted for approval through an RFP process. Three tenants have successfully submitted bids to occupy space on the island: the New York Harbor School, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the New York Water Taxi Beach (purveyor of dining and entertainment).

In April 2010, the state and city brokered a deal wherein the city acquired the 172 acre Governors Island. Much of the island will be converted into a public park, with some land reserved for commercial development, a high school, and a possible satellite campus of New York University. Under the terms of the agreement, Mayor Bloomberg will appoint 9 of the 13 members to the new Governors Island Operating Entity.

The total cost of redeveloping the Governors Island will reach an estimated $200 million, of which New York City has already pledged $41.5 million. The city will assume full responsibility for maintaining the island, except for a section occupied by a historic fortress that will remain controlled by the National Park Service. A transfer agreement with the federal government prohibits the city from building residential housing or casinos on the island. The acquisition of Governors Island reflects a major accomplishment in the city’s goal of acquiring more properties owned by the cash strapped State of New York.

Last updated: June 1, 2010