Volume 21, Number 23 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Oct. 17 - 23, 2008

Downtown Express photos by Jefferson Siegel

LEFT: Theresa Petersen was comforted by her husband Steve as they watched Liberty Village, their home of 17 years ago, begin to be destroyed on Governors Island to add more park space. MIDDLE: Leslie Koch, president of the Governors Island and Preservation and Education Corp., celebrated the addition of park space with Mayor Bloomberg and Dep. Mayor Bob Lieber.

Tears and joy as island lovers witness demolition

By Josh Rogers

Theresa Petersen took pictures and cried as she watched her old small village be destroyed. She and her husband traveled from Michigan to see Governors Island because they knew that Liberty Village was going to be demolished soon, but they did not know it was going to start that day.

“That’s why we had to get a picture,” she said as a crane demolished a building where her former neighbors lived. “We lived here but we never got a picture of it.”

When she found out the village was slated for demolition, the pair grabbed one of the free Friday rental bikes and pedaled to the south end of the island to take pictures.

“We just came to see the island,” said Petersen. She said when she saw her old home for the first time in 17 years, she began to cry. “Oh my gosh, that’s where we lived. It’s very emotional, very sad to see some place you lived destroyed ”

She and her husband Steve, both 57, lived on the island from 1989 to 1991 with their three teen children in the 10-building Liberty Village complex.

She said her emotions were mixed because she was happy to hear more of the island was being turned into a park.

“I remember everybody sitting on the balcony and enjoying life,” she said while a balcony was being destroyed. “We could peek around the corner and see the Statue of Liberty. It was great to be living there.”

The new 8-acre park space will be an open grass picnic area with close views of Lady Liberty and will open in the spring.

“We’re giving the Statue of Liberty back to the city of New York,” said Leslie Koch, president of the Governors Island and Preservation and Education Corp, a state-city public authority. She was joined by Mayor Mike Bloomberg and two deputy mayors, Bob Lieber and Patricia Harris.

The demolition project, which included an abandoned hotel in June, is costing $12 million and is expected to be completed in a few weeks. Koch said in an interview two weeks ago that they had requested more money from the state and city to clear more of the land for park space.

Money remains an issue for the 172-acre island. Mayor Bloomberg mentioned the West 8 architecture firm’s $400-million long-term plan for a destination park on the island with rolling hills made from recycled materials, but he did not directly answer whether construction on it could start before the end of the next mayoral term, 2013. (The mayor plans to run for a third term next year if his two-term limit is extended.)

“That’s not to say we’re not going to do big things and we’re not going to have a future,” Bloomberg said in response to a Downtown Express question.

The grand park plan is supposed to be released with more details in the spring and Bloomberg said it is important to continue to plan even in a bad economy.

“All those times the city walked away from planning because the economy wasn’t good — if they had done the planning, perhaps when the economy was good we wouldn’t have had to start from scratch and you could have gotten more of them going,” he said.

Bloomberg, in response to another question, said he was “petrified” that the downturn in the economy is going to lead to a steep drop-off in corporate charitable donations. But he said the island will continue to be developed.

The West 8 plan, which was unveiled last year, had been billed as a way to generate interest in a revenue-generating development plan, but the mayor seemed to suggest the big park will have to be done in conjunction with the money-maker.

“We’ve got to plug ahead and keep going,” Bloomberg said. “You can have the right plan and then you just wait for somebody coming along with the right amount of money…. Even bad times end and good times come back and people who want to develop for the future look for opportunities like bad times because you can get land, you can get labor, you can get cement and steel and you can build and have your building ready when the good times return.”

Likewise, he said he still thinks Santiago Calatrava’s $125-million aerial gondola idea connecting the island to Downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn is a “great idea” that needs someone with money to agree.

* * *

Downtowners are used to stalled demolitions — since 9/11, Fiterman Hall remains damaged and undemolished, and the former Deutsche building demo work has been held up for over a year — but within days of scheduling the demolition of 10 buildings on the lowest part of Lower Manhattan the work to clear 8 acres of park space for the island began on time.

The first building was demolished on Oct. 12 at the start of the last weekend it was open to the public this season. The remaining nine will be destroyed a few weeks from now, according to GIPEC.

About 50 people came to watch the demolition, including the Petersens, who had fond memories of their two years there.

“You had the best of both worlds,” Steve Petersen said. “You had a seven-minute boat ride to Manhattan, but the island was self-contained.”

They said some Coast Guard people were worried about coming to the big city, but they enjoyed taking the ferry often. Theresa worked for GTE in 2 World Trade Center.

“It was a small town here,” she said. “The military is always closed-knit and we were on an island. They always had things for kids to do here.”

It still has a small town feeling. Near the Petersens, Andrea Wayda, 54, was seemingly speaking to two old friends, Cyndi and John Deermount, but she had only met them on the ferry ride over.

“I’ve never seen the beginning of a demolition and I’ve never seen the southern end of the island,” said Cyndi, 60. Her husband John, 63, is with Friends of New York Harbor School, the public high school planning to move to the island in 2010.

Wayda was enjoying a break from work.

“I work in the [World] Financial Center and come as much as I can on a Friday,” she said. “This is the last Friday it’s open. It’s just such a unique place. There is only one Governors Island.”

How does a patent attorney duck out of the office midday? “Well, I’m a partner.”

Josh@DowntownExpress.com





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