Volume 17 • Issue 29 | Dec. 10 -16, 2004

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

The island’s Liggett Hall, the largest U.S. military building until the Pentagon was built. Originally The barracks were designed by McKim, Mead and White and the building was built to foil the city’s effort to open an airport on the island. It is also the site where Wilbur Wright took off and landed his airplane.

Park Service begins to float Governors Island ideas

By Ronda Kaysen

The National Park Service unveiled its first round of ideas for the 22-acre National Monument at Governors Island, and has been circulating its plans to various community and government groups for input and feedback.

The monument — which includes Fort Jay and Castle William, a three-story fort built to protect the harbor — is in need of at least $14 million in renovations just to get up to code, according to Judy Duffy, assistant district manager of Community Board 1. Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC), a state and city agency, controls the remaining 150 acres of the island — which was, until 1996, home to the U.S. Coast Guard and sold in 2003 to the state of New York for one dollar — and is working on renovation plans of its own.

“Based on a combination of public feedback and advisors, we developed these three visions of what this park might be,” said Linda Neal, superintendent of the Governors Island National Monument for the Park Service. “This is a way to put something out there of what the park might be. The preferred alternative might be a hybrid of two of [the ideas] or something that comes in new.”

She said there are no cost estimates yet for any of the alternatives.

The first alternative, A, is titled Monument Emphasis, and focuses on the military history of the monument. It preserves both the castle and the fort and, according to the Park plan, would “help visitors understand and make personal connections to the development of the island’s military features.”

The island’s military history is significant. Castle William was built between 1807 and 1811 to protect the harbor during the War of 1812 and later turned into a prison for Confederate prisoners and AWOL Union soldiers during the Civil War and continued to be used as a military prison until 1966. The star-shaped Fort Jay was built 1794 and is surrounded by a grassy dry moat.

Alternative B, dubbed Whole-Island Experience, would provide “visitors with an island-wide cultural experience,” according to the plan’s description. The monument’s structures, once renovated, would become cultural venues for art expositions, performances and educational activities. The monument would serve, particularly the castle and fort, as a launching point for activities throughout the island.

Harbor and Beyond, alternative C, would consider the monument in the context of the other National Parks of New York Harbor. Capitalizing on its centralized location amongst the other harbor parks, the monument would serve as a “Harbor Center.” Temporary and permanent monument installations would “interpret and explore the development and conservation of the island and New York Harbor,” according to the N.P.S. plan. The agency would also manage and develop various harbor-related public programs.

When N.P.S. presented its plan to C.B. 1 last month, it received a positive response. “It was a very collaborative give and take kind of meeting,” said Duffy of C.B. 1. Duffy said the Waterfront committee, which held the Nov. 29 meeting, did not favor one alternative over the others. It has until January to make a formal response to the presentation. “It’s a fun project,” Duffy added.

Neal is confident the three plans, devised after a community outreach campaign launched in conjunction with GIPEC last spring, will work well with the rest of the island. “These alternatives are broad enough that they could succeed with GIPEC’s other plans,” said Neal.

GIPEC agrees. “We are delighted with the progress that they [NPS] are making,” said Yvette DeBow, a spokesperson for the agency. “Their plans very much align with what we’re thinking.”

N.P.S. intends to present its findings from the community response to the three alternatives by next summer.


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