Downtown Express file photo by Jefferson Siegel
Governors Island will reopen May 30. RIGHT: Leslie Koch, president of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp. on the ferry to the island last season.
Island fun returns
By Josh Rogers
Children will perform Shakespeare this summer on Governors Island, where they will also be able to learn landscape painting and even aboriginal art thanks to an Albany agreement Monday to put $7 million in the state budget.
A day after state leaders agreed to reopen the island next month, island planners said all systems were go for many new programs this season. The Children’s Museum’s will have free family art programs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and a paid arts day camp on weekdays, and for the first time, the Downtown Soccer League will have field space. It will not be new turf for many of the players since they have played baseball games on the island for three seasons in the Downtown Little League.
Leslie Koch, president of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp., also told Downtown Express Tuesday that GIPEC will fulfill previous promises to open an 8-acre park on the south part of the island next month and expand the biking and walking areas around the island’s entire 2-mile perimeter when the public ferries resume.
“We’re very excited to be able open the island to the public on May 30,” she said in a telephone interview.
The state and city share responsibility for GIPEC and island funding had been somewhat in doubt because Gov. David Paterson had resisted including it in this year’s budget. But some political observers questioned whether it would really suffer from budget cuts given the $7 million allocation is a tiny blip in a $131 billion budget, is in the district of the powerful speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, and had the strong support of another power player, Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
Lucy Ofiesh, marketing director for the Children’s Museum, said they had been given assurances from people in the know for quite some time and had been proceeding with plans.
But GIPEC’s Koch’s said the funding delay did have some consequences. “We had to make some hard choices the last few months,” she said, although she declined to go into specifics. She had to scale back some contracts, but said the changes are not the types of things the public will notice and the highest priority was opening the island on time.
Ofiesh said the museum is excited to be able to expand its Summer Art Colony program to an outdoor setting.
“You’re restricted by the fact that you’re both in the city and you’re indoors,” she said of the previous years. “This gives us the opportunity to offer nature-inspired art — something we’ve never had before. …Growing up in Virginia, for me it’s not unusual, but for kids growing up in New York, it gives them the opportunity to work with natural light and nature.”
Ofiesh said the island will provide great scenery and plenty of unused space during the week for the monster filmmaking and documentary day camp programs. Parents will drop children off at the Battery Maritime Building to take the ferry over with staff. The museum will have free themed weekends geared toward families with children between 1 and 15 years old. This program will also include the chance to borrow water color kits to explore and paint part of the island.
Although the politicians were unanimous in their support for the funding, there were hints of the bubbling differences.
A spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg uncharacteristically started with praise for Silver before referencing the island dispute with the governor.
“Speaker Silver fought for and garnered state funds that — with our match — will keep the island open this summer,” the spokesperson, Andrew Brent, said in a prepared statement. “We still have the long-term funding and governance issues that need to be addressed though, and we’ll continue to work with the state on a permanent solution.”
Bloomberg wants to take over responsibility for the island in exchange for the state giving up control. The state never matched the city’s $8 million allocation from last year, so the city will be able to roll over enough of the unused money to match this year’s funding from Albany.
Silver told Downtown Express a few weeks ago that giving the city control could be a good idea but he wanted to look at it closely after the budget was completed. He said the island “remains one of Lower Manhattan’s treasures” in his statement to Downtown Express Wednesday but did not reference the dispute.
Paterson, for the first time, signaled his opposition to the mayor’s idea. He said in a press release that was finalized two days after the agreement was reached, “Our commitment to Governors Island is clear.” Silver and State Sen. Daniel Squadron joined the release, but not the mayor.
Koch, whose office is controlled by the state and city, said it is not up to her who has ultimate authority.
But she was hopeful that New York Water Taxi’s beach volleyball court with a bar and restaurant would be able to open this summer. “I plan to have a burger and a beer on July 4th.”