Governors Island design team announced

By Alec Appelbaum | December 19, 2007 03:12PM

Governor Eliot Spitzer and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the
winning design team at Governors Island, and officials talked up the
“whimsical” plan, which proposes tearing down the island’s barracks and
converting them to hills. But the challenges facing the 90-acre project
are serious.

Spitzer, Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Sheldon announced that West 8,
a Rotterdam firm with landscape experience from Singapore to Toronto,
will lead the design team for the island’s western-facing half with a
grand 2.2-mile promenade and three public spaces. West 8 and its
partners beat four other finalists to convert the harbor’s underused
jewel over the next two years into what Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff
promised could surpass Prospect Park and Central Park for “idyllic”
charm and views.

The design competition represents a new phase in the island, which the
state bought for $1 from the federal government during the Clinton
administration. An earlier request for development ideas underwhelmed
the city-state sponsoring agency, the Governors Island Preservation and
Education Corporation, leading Doctoroff to more aggressively guide
planning efforts.

Doctoroff today spoke of the island as the linchpin in an emerging
“Harbor District” connecting Hudson River Park, the under-construction
Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the planned esplanade along South Street.
That area encompasses waterfront development in Lower Manhattan and
Brooklyn, where residents are paying up for new condos and clamoring
for matching new parks.

Perhaps heeding that call, GIPEC required submitters to propose ways to
make the island a unique park and downplayed questions of what sorts of
permanent facilities could work there. Today, Speaker Silver, whose
district includes Lower Manhattan, praised GIPEC for promising to
deliver “exactly what residents in Lower Manhattan deserve.”

For the next two years, GIPEC will fund environmental impact studies
and design work and continue to offer tours and summer programs of the
relatively bucolic island. The presumption is that West 8’s team —
which also includes one of the High Line’s lead designers and the firm
that transformed 55 Water Street’s roof to a tranquil landscape — will
produce something so enchanting that New Yorkers will continue to visit
until a private investor underwrites the roads and sewers the island
will need to prosper.

“We’ve always seen parks as the catalyst for the sensible redevelopment
of the island,” Doctoroff said, mentioning think tanks and research
facilities as possible occupants. Law prohibits residential uses on the
island: Bloomberg said that his foundation might answer a request for
proposals with a scheme to site a public health center there.

For now, the park planning is all the public can track. On that score,
West 8 principal Adriaan Geuze promised to pay attention at public
forums and online comments, which GIPEC promised in the coming months.

“Engaging people is very important for a park,” Geuze said. “You cannot
simply build a park, ship it and bring it.” The same holds, more
emphatically, for an island.