A Warning on Governors Island Funds

March 13, 2009 at 2:48 am 2 comments

Warning that Governors Island may be forced to shut down for lack of money, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has proposed that the city take control of the former military base so that the state can focus on other projects.

The city and the state have jointly run the 172-acre island in the middle of New York Harbor since 2003, seeking to develop it as a unique recreational, historic and artistic destination 800 yards south of Lower Manhattan. But Gov. David A. Paterson did not put any money for the coming fiscal year into the island’s operating budget, which is rapidly running out of cash.

At a meeting of the board of directors of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation on Thursday, Ronay Menschel, a board member, said Mayor Bloomberg had decided that the most efficient way to deal with the problem was for “the city to take over operating responsibility for the island.”

Clearly, she said, the state has struggled in dealing with Governors Island amid the state’s fiscal crisis. If the island is forced to close, she said, it would be a setback just when increasing numbers of New Yorkers are visiting the island.

“We are just about to run out of money,” said Ms. Menschel, who was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg.

Although Avi Schick, the chairman of the corporation, played down the notion of a financial crisis at the meeting, the board voted to approve an austerity budget of $11.8 million, down from $18.8 million, in the hope that the governor would come up with roughly $6 million by April, the start of the next state fiscal year. The corporation says the remaining $550,000 in its operating budget will be spent before the end of this month on security and maintenance.

Governors Island is only one of several joint city-state projects on which the Bloomberg administration has quietly sought an amicable divorce. City officials have grown increasingly frustrated with the partnerships and what they say is the state’s inability to make decisions and commit money.

In a series of meetings with the Paterson administration that began in January, the city has proposed taking sole responsibility for Brooklyn Bridge Park, a planned 85-acre park stretching 1.3 miles from the north side of the Manhattan Bridge to Atlantic Avenue, as well as Governors Island, while leaving the troubled Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to the state.

According to both city and state officials, the city has said it would take the $300 million it had committed to expanding the convention center, on the West Side of Manhattan, and put it into the two park projects.

“We would use that money to continue to develop these two things which are great parts of the city,” Mr. Bloomberg said Thursday in response to questions from reporters. “The city has more of an interest. I think the state government has their own problems. It’s a good deal for the state. If not, they can take them over or close them down.”

Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for the governor, said, “The state is working with the city to resolve the funding issue.” As for the broader proposal to sever ties with the city on at least three projects, she declined comment, saying, “The talks haven’t reached a resolution.”

In 2007, Mr. Paterson’s predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, proposed using the proceeds from the sale of state-owned land next to the convention center to pay for its obligations at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Hudson River Park and Governors Island. But nothing came of it.

Last week, state and city officials approved a $463 million renovation and expansion of the convention center, far smaller than had originally been planned, and to be financed chiefly from a hotel room tax imposed in 2005. That tax was adopted when city and state officials planned to nearly double the size of the convention center, but the new plan will add only 60,000 square feet of exhibit space.

At Governors Island, the city and state have committed tens of millions of dollars to capital projects, some of which are under way while others are in the planning stage. The city has also allocated millions of dollars annually for the island’s operating budget but will release the money only after the state provides a comparable sum. In the current year, the state failed to put money into the budget but the corporation was able to continue operating, using excess revenue. Now that is running out.

The corporation expects more than 200,000 visitors to Governors Island this season, up from 128,000 last season. The season when the public has access extends from late May to mid-October. The corporation recently struck a deal with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council to create a year-round artists’ colony and to hold weekend events during the season, and work is continuing on building the New York Harbor School, a public high school.

New York Water Taxi has agreed to provide ferry service and plans to build a beach and a Ferris wheel on the island. And in June, the corporation will unveil designs for a 40-acre park at the southern end.

“The island will be open this summer,” Mr. Schick said in an interview after the meeting. “We hope to exceed 200,000 visitors this year. What will attract them are the programs we’ve developed cooperatively over the last several years.”

New York Times


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

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Linda Halpern Campbell  |  March 13, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Many thanks for committing interest in the Governors Island project, home of democracy, that’s all.

  • 2. RaiulBaztepo  |  March 29, 2009 at 12:34 am

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo


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