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BY KAITLYN MEADE | A gorgeous getaway to rival Central Park will be rearing up just south of Manhattan. Governors Island celebrated its final weekend open to the public on September 29, and will reopen in May. But that does not mean the 172 acre island will be hibernating through the winter. Work is underway to create 30 acres of new parkland this coming year, with even more to open by 2015.
Leslie Koch, president of the Governors Island Trust, brought a breath of fresh air to Community Board 1 with a presentation on the progress and vision for a refurbished Governors Island, a haven away from the bustle of Manhattan.
“We’re making incredible progress,” said Koch, on both infrastructure and the parkland, while inviting visitors for a wide array of programs over its 38-day season. The attractions covered everything from art exhibits to the popular Fete Paradiso festival of vintage carousels which Koch called “truly magical” to Councilmember Margaret Chin’s “Constituent Day.”
The final weekend welcomed more than 5,000 visitors to the park site, Koch said. “It’s really looking like a park, there’s trees and flowers… We are on track to complete construction in November, which means we will open in the spring,” Koch added. The winter months will give the plants an opportunity to establish themselves before they are inundated with visitors.
Because half of the island was closed this year, Koch mentioned that they wanted to keep the community involved, which led to the “hard-hat tours,” for Community Board 1. It also led to the massive demolition of Building 877 on June 9. The building, which according to the Trust is the largest “non-historical” building in the park, was imploded to yield those 30 extra acres of parkland. The event was announced and visitors were invited to watch it go down from a viewing platform.
“We timed this with the Staten Island Ferry so people could see it,” Koch said, showing a video of the demolition set to triumphant music, that ends with the Statue of Liberty in the background as the dust clears. “This is, my husband actually took this in a tree.”
“Leslie, how long did it take to set charges for that?” committee co-chairperson Ro Sheffe asked.
“They brought the dynamite over on Thursday so it was probably about 72 hours worth of work. It was about two years worth of planning. It was quite extraordinary. So yes, it is on Youtube,” she said with a laugh.
Another vision for the park is “The Hills,” which will use debris of all the building demolished on the island to build a large hill overlooking Lower Manhattan. The largest will rise 80 feet above the harbor.
“So back in 2007 when we interviewed the architects, they said you really need to sort of make this a landmark destination and came up with the idea of hills,” Koch said.
The area will feature a fully-accessible five-minute walking path, a grill area, play area and picnic tables, among other things and will open to the public in 2015.
“We are not going to show you what it means to do horizontal-vertical drilling under the harbor,” Koch joked, as the infrastructure was as necessary but not as sexy.
The Trust is also looking at tenants at the moment to fill its many vacant buildings, but did not want to talk about any specifics.
Sheffe asked about the status of N.Y.U., which had at one point done a rendering of a satellite site on the island in its 2031 plan. Koch, however, said that they have long since moved on, and are no longer interested.
They are however, confident that there will be educational facilities and a school on the island, and Koch has said that several have expressed interest but she was not able to elaborate. The Trust is also considering spas, art galleries and eventually, they hope, a luxury hotel.