Governors Island gears up for major transformation

Rendering of the Hammock Grove. (West 8)

Rendering of the Hammock Grove. (West 8) (Credit: Rendering of the Hammock Grove. (West 8))

Governors Island administrators said last week's implosion of one of its oldest buildings was a Big Bang of sorts, signifying the start of a new era for the island.

The 30-acre section of the island that was once off-limits to civilians will be transformed into a new, modern $250 million park that's set to open for the public next summer, and there's more on the way.

And the excitement is palpable.

"There were 14,000 people in one day who came to see that implosion," said Leslie Koch, president of the Trust for Governors Island. "They are really excited about what's to come and can't wait to see it completed."

Citing the park's current diverse weekend event schedule, bike paths and ease of access, Koch said that "Governors Island expresses the best of New York City."For years, the city mulled over what to do with the land after purchasing it in 2003. Should it be home to a new college, a new park or an event venue? In the end, a green space won out.

There are already art installations, food spots and a bike path that are popular among New Yorkers.

Last year, the mayor broke ground on the newest 30-acre spot on the southern section of the island, which will feature 1,700 new trees, water fountains and a hedge maze when the first phase opens next spring.

It will also include a small section called Hammock Grove, where visitors can enjoy a lazy afternoon on one of many hammocks across 10 acres.

Future phases, which are dependent on funding, include a planned Liberty Terrace, where visitors can view the Statue of Liberty's face while under a stone seating area.

The trust issued out a request for proposals in December on ideas for what to do with the 40 buildings on the site. Koch said they are mulling a hotel, school and art space.

"We're excited about tenants who take advantage of the island," she said.

Regular visitors to Governors Island events such as last Sunday's Jazz Age Lawn Party have helped generate positive buzz for the island.

Brittany Crowell, 22, who attended the fest with two friends, said she always enjoys heading out to the island because it gives her a break from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

"When you go there, you go to a quiet place. There's no sirens, no traffic and [it's] beautiful," she said.

When told that about the future park, Crowell, who has visited the island four times, said she "can't wait to see what they've got."

The 172-acre island served as an Army and Coast Guard station until 1996, and seven years later the federal government sold 150 acres of the island to the city for a dollar. The remaining 22 acres, which are home to Fort Jay and Castle Williams, were declared national monuments and are under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. The island opened to the public in 2005.

Koch said the word of mouth surrounding the island's open fields and gorgeous views of the downtown skyline and the Statue of Liberty grabbed people immediately.

"In 2005, 8,000 people showed up. In '06, 26,000 people came," she said.

Last summer, the island welcomed 345,000 visitors during a 40-day season, the trust said.

Koch said last week's demolition of Building 877 has given viewers a better view of the statue and One World Trade Center.

Catherine McVay Hughes, the chair of Manhattan's Community Board 1, which oversees the island, said the new park will complement the residential boom that's been going on in Battery Park City.

Hughes said many residents take trips to Governor's Island, and it has become a community staple.

"Clearly, the secret has gotten out, but now more people are enjoying the beautiful space," she said.

Tags: NEWS , Governor's Island , Great Gatsby , Baz Luhrmann , Trust for Governor's Island , Mayor Michael Bloomberg , Ivan Pereira , ARTICLE , AMNY , HOLD

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