Volume 20, Number 32 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 21 - 27, 2007

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The winning plan for Governors Island, designed by West 8, includes free wooden bicycles.

Governor, mayor spin new island idea on Governors

Free bicycles and hills made from recycled demolished buildings might be coming to Governors Island, but not for a few more years at least.

The firm West 8 won the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation competition to design 90 acres of park space on the island, including a two-mile promenade. Governor Eliot Spitzer and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the choice Wednesday morning, after a jury of officials, nonprofit directors and business leaders selected West 8’s plan.

“The commitment to open space is really what I’m excited about,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told Downtown Express. “With a view of Downtown Manhattan and a view of the Statue of Liberty…it’s a nice place to sit and think, have peace and quiet and great views.”

The West 8 design, as presented last June, includes pathways inspired by dragonfly wings and manmade hills to provide elevated views. Free wooden bicycles will be available for visitors to ride. On the culture side, the design includes a ballet school, an art gallery and a culinary institute — and, for a break from all the activity, a floating bar.

But many previously announced plans for the island have never come to fruition and if this one is implemented, New Yorkers will still have to wait a while to take advantage of it. Construction won’t start for at least a year or two, and there is no finish date. The next step is to complete the designs and do environmental impact studies, Silver said.

There is no projected price tag for the project, but the state and city will split the construction costs 50-50, Spitzer and Bloomberg said.

“All the funds needed for the next two years are there,” Spitzer said, adding that those funds will cover the design and environmental review. The construction is further off and so money is not allocated in budgets yet, but “We will be there,” Spitzer said. “Both the city and the state are committed to making it happen and we will.”

The delays in progress on Governors Island have made skeptics of many locals — including Silver.

“I’m one of those people who has been skeptical in the past about grand plans on Governors Island,” Silver said. “I’m not skeptical about this plan because it deals with public open space portions of the island,” not a comprehensive plan for the whole island. Now that the park plans are in place, Silver is confident that development on the rest of the island will continue as well.

City Councilmember Alan Gerson, whose district includes Governors Island, released a statement praising the design but criticizing the selection process.

“It is sadly ironic that an island cited for its role in the development of our democracy would now be developed outside of our full democratic process,” Gerson said in the statement. He urged GIPEC to involve the City Council and put the project through the city’s land use review process.

The community has reached a consensus on the amenities the island should have, Gerson said, including passive recreation, sports fields, science and technology facilities and a museum of the island’s history.

On Wednesday, Spitzer and Bloomberg also announced the nomination of Avi Schick as chairperson of GIPEC, a post currently occupied by Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, who is resigning at the end of the year. Schick, the president of the Empire State Development Corp., is also chairperson of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

The West 8 design team includes Rogers Marvel Architects, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Quennell Rothschild and SMWM.

— Julie Shapiro

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