Governors Island demolition to begin

By Sarah Ryley | June 18, 2008 04:16PM

After years of debate and anticipation, demolition to make way for redevelopment on Governors Island is finally slated to begin this week, said Leslie Koch, president of the city and state agency overseeing the former military base’s transformation.

A Super 8 motel will be the first building to come down, replaced by a stage in time for the New York Philharmonic’s free July 5 performance on the 12-acre parade grounds.

Koch acknowledged that with only $20 million in capital finds budgeted this year, and with worsening economic conditions, it will be difficult to secure the more than $200 million needed to build what has been dubbed the “Park at the Center of the World.”

So far, there’s only money for the plan’s first phase, which includes a master plan and environmental review, the demolition of 13 buildings, and a basic re-landscaping of cleared land, she said.

Along with the motel, an elementary school, the Bachelor Officers Quarters and ten buildings called Liberty Village are also slated for demolition this year.

All were built in the 1970s and 80s to for the 3,500 people who lived on the island and the 1,500 additional people who came to work there every day. The motel was built in 1986 to accommodate families visiting U.S. Coast Guard members stationed on the island. Other amenities included a barbershop, movie theater and Burger King.

After operating as a military base from 1800 until 1966, the island was vacated in 1997 when the Coast Guard left.

After the federal government turned the island over to the city and state in 2003, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation first attempted to choose a development team before starting construction on a modern park, and received bids that included a Nickelodeon resort theme park and a CUNY campus.

But with the island’s enormous infrastructure needs, the agency decided to complete the park first to generate broader interest from developers.

The Real Deal reported in January that the agency had discussions with New York University and several other institutions about submitting a formal bid when a new request for proposals is issued. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said he wants to fund, with his own money, a public health think tank there.

Adriaan Geuze of West 8, the landscape architecture firm chosen last year to design 90 acres of public open space planned for Governors Island, estimated yesterday that the “backbone” of the park’s master plan would take four or five years to finish, and the entire park 15 years.

Koch said Geuze’s estimated timetable is “philosophical” because it would be impossible to predict future funding as the city and state must prioritize several projects in the face of anticipated shortfalls.

Among the landscape additions envisioned are a summer park with blossoms, sculpture forest, marsh, hills lined with rock climbing walls and a new promenade encircling the island.

The design team also includes Rogers Marvel, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Quennell Rothschild and SMWM.

Governors Island, in its third season open to the public, has already drawn an estimated 5,000 people every weekend to its bucolic parks, twice last year’s average. Regular free events are held, art installations are on view and a new public school is under construction.

This weekend the island will be called Punk Island as part of the citywide Make Music New York festival, while next weekend it will host an arts festival. And one of four temporary waterfalls by artist Olafur Eliasson will be at the entrance until mid-October.

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