Spectacular Isle

October 16, 2008 at 3:36 pm 1 comment

Thousands of riders aboard the Staten Island Ferry cruise by an unheralded U.S. landmark each day.

Not the Statue of Liberty: Governors Island.

Located just 800 yards from Lower Manhattan, the former military base — off limits to civilians for 200 years — remains unknown to most New Yorkers.

Only now is it emerging at last.

Governors Island, a 172-acre combination of historic buildings, wide open parkland and trees, offers spectacular vistas of the harbor and the city skyline.

So it was good to hear from Mayor Mike Bloomberg the other day that city and state plans to spend up to $500 to transform the island and lure visitors will go ahead despite the crisis on Wall Street.

“From the South Bronx Greenway to Fresh Kills Park in Staten Island, we’re working to revitalize the city’s waterfront in all five boroughs — and open it up to the public,” said the mayor. “But perhaps no place offers the unique setting or more spectacular views than Governors Island. Next year, we’ll open up the southern end of the island and create eight new acres of open space where New Yorkers will be able to picnic and play in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Meanwhile, design is under way for the future park that will transform Governors Island into one of the great destinations of the world.”

Which is welcome news, of course.

Staten Islanders won’t have far to go to reap the benefits of Governors Island. Just steps from the Whitehall terminal is another free ferry that will take visitors there and back. It’s a seven-minute trip.

For the past few summers, Governors Island has been open as a weekend getaway (no cars allowed) for strolling and bike riding. Over 100,000 visited this year, up from over 50,000 in 2007 and over 25,000 in 2006.

“This year has been the most successful yet on Governors Island,” said Chairman Avi Schick of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC), a city-state partnership responsible for planning, redevelopment and operations on a 150-acre tract.

The National Park Service owns and operates the other 22 acres, which comprise the Governors Island National Monument. Featured in its Historic Landmark District are Fort Jay, Castle Williams and other old military buildings, along with houses dating from 1810.

The Dutch bought the island from the Manhatas Indians in 1637 for two ax heads, some nails and beads, and dubbed it Nutten Island for its nut trees. The British ran up their flag in 1708, renamed the island and built a mansion for the Colonial governor.

As a U.S. Army bastion guarding New York Harbor, Governors Island played a role in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and both World Wars of the 20th century.

It was a Coast Guard base from 1966 to 1996, a span that included visits by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 to re-light the torch on the Statue of Liberty and 1988 to meet with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton, who was flying over New York Harbor with Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynahan, offered Governors Island (valued then at up to $500 million) to New York for $1. Not until 2003 did the city and state agree on a plan and accept the offer.

An international consortium of five companies was chosen last December to design a big park on the island, which is now closed until next year. Demolition has just begun on 10 three-story buildings that served as Coast Guard housing. This will provide access to the southern half of the island never before open to the public and make way to complete a 2-mile waterfront promenade.

The master plan is to be unveiled next spring.

Plans include an amphitheater for concerts, a dining facility, art studios and exhibition space.

Construction began this summer on the building that will house the Island’s first tenant, the New York Harbor School, which is to open in 2010.

Nearly two years ago, we said we wouldn’t start celebrating the promise of Governors Island until something actually happened.

Three cheers for what’s been done so far.
Staten island Advance


Entry filed under: Go Coastal, Manhattan. Tags: , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. vivian errickson  |  October 20, 2008 at 8:16 am

    I was unpleasantly surprised by the erector set “waterfall” on Governors Island. It adds nothing to the history of this place and appears to be placed very close to the historic area under direction of the National Park Service. Itdistracts from the history of this area.


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