The city announced yesterday it is tapping an architect and urban planner as the next president of the Trust for Governors Island. Michael M. Samuelian is a vice president at the Related Companies, one of the nation’s biggest privately owned real estate firms, and he teaches at Cooper Union. He will step into the role vacated by Leslie Koch, the visionary leader of the Island for ten years, who stepped down last month after The Hills opened.
By naming someone who comes from a strong real estate and construction background, the city signals that it wants to develop the two empty development zones on the south end, which featured prominently in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s speech in February. While Koch came from a background of product management at Microsoft prior to coming to Governors Island, Samuelian comes from driving the planning of the $20 billion Hudson Yards Project.
This is a major appointment by the city that will take Governors Island into its next phase of development. While Koch left the Island with a warm send-off by Mayor Mike Bloomberg and city leaders as The Hills opened, there are still no deep-pockets tenants on the Island paying to be on it. The two development zones of 33 acres are not utilized and there are 900,000 square feet of empty buildings that do not have year-round use. The Trust has worked very, very hard to find people to move into these buildings over the years; it now looks like Samuelian is being given a mandate to make Governors Island pay for itself.
From the statement by the city all that is left is for Samuelian to be approved by the board of directors in September, but since the city appoints the members, it appears he will be the new leader of Governors Island.
The official City of New York press release:
NEW YORK–– Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced the nomination of Michael M. Samuelian as President and CEO of the Trust for Governors Island. Samuelian has a wealth of experience in both the public and private sectors in urban design, planning, and overseeing the implementation of large-scale development projects.
He will be responsible for directing and managing all of Governors Island’s activities and operations, and supporting the development of Governors Island as a vibrant, year-round destination for recreation, innovation, and culture. Samuelian’s nomination will be voted on by the Trust for Governors Island Board of Directors next month.
“Michael will bring his extensive expertise in thoughtful planning and design to Governors Island, and his skills will be crucial as we continue to establish Governors Island as a unique place where New Yorkers and visitors alike can visit, work, learn and enjoy incredible open spaces,” said Mayor de Blasio.
“As a born and bred New Yorker, I am both excited and honored to again serve this great city and its residents. Parks bring New Yorkers together. They are our backyards and our respite, and Governors Island is a true gem that everyone in the city should be able to enjoy. Building upon all of the hard work that’s been put into making Governors Island a great destination, I look forward to further enhancing the Island and introducing even more New Yorkers and unique experiences to this special place,” said Michael Samuelian. “Building upon all of the hard work that’s been put into making Governors Island a great destination, we can further harness the energy of the city to find new opportunities for cultural, institutional and commercial uses that will expand access and enhance the experiences on the Island for all New Yorkers.”
“The board and staff of the Friends of Governors Island could not be more thrilled with the selection of our friend and colleague, Michael Samuelian, to lead the next phase of the Island’s development,” said Marc Ricks, Chair of the Friends of Governors Island. “With his experience working on complex public-private projects as an architect, city planner, and developer, Michael brings a rich set of skills to his new role. We look forward to working with him, his talented team at the Trust, and other members of the de Blasio administration to realize the Mayor’s vision for the Island as a hub of innovation, culture, education, and recreation for all New Yorkers.”
Jon Meyers, COO and Acting President of the Trust for Governors Island said, “Michael brings a longstanding interest in the Island, and a commitment to the kinds of planning and development challenges that will ensure that the Island is resource for all New Yorkers for years to come. Michael’s experience and perspective will be a great asset in moving the Island forward.”
“Michael Samuelian’s significant experience in real estate and waterfront development is well suited to the next phase of Governors Island’s evolution as a place for recreation, culture, and intellectual and commercial development. I welcome Michael’s energy, planning skills and passion for Governors Island. He will bring new ideas and uses to the Island and build on the success of the past six years of investment, including the opening of new park spaces and The Hills, infrastructure investments, new uses of historic buildings, and public art,” said Ronay Menschel, Chair of the Board of The Trust for Governors Island.
About Michael M. Samuelian
Michael M. Samuelian is a Vice President at Related Companies, where his work focuses on the design of large-scale public private development projects. Samuelian has been responsible for the urban planning, design management and public approvals of Hudson Yards, a $25 billion master plan for 17 million square feet of mixed-use development on Manhattan’s West Side.
Prior to joining Related, Samuelian served as Director of Lower Manhattan Special Projects at the Department of City Planning, helping the City’s efforts to redevelop downtown post-9/11. He worked with a variety of constituents, ranging from the local community boards to state and city agencies to develop consensus for the disposition of federal funds dedicated to the recovery and rebuilding of Lower Manhattan.
Samuelian also led the effort to plan and design a new waterfront park on the East River and was the city’s representative in the development and production of the World Trade Center Commercial Design Guidelines. Samuelian is an architect, urban designer and urban planner. His professional career as an architect has focused on large-scale commercial and urban planning projects; working with Machado Silvetti in Boston, SMWM in San Francisco and HOK Architects in New York. At HOK he was the lead designer on a number of commercial, transportation and institutional projects including: the Acela Improvements in Penn Station, the Integrated Science Facility at SUNY Geneseo and the Somerset Corporate Center.
He received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cooper Union and his Master of Architecture in Urban Design from Harvard University. Michael is also currently an Assistant Professor at Cooper Union, where he teaches a course titled “Professional Practice” in the School of Architecture. Michael is a Fellow of the AIA, a registered architect in New York State and a member of the New York State Board for Architecture. He also serves on the Board of Governors of Open House New York (OHNY) and the Board of Directors of the Friends of Governors Island.
About Governors Island
Governors Island is open to the public for a 120 day season in the summer from Memorial Day weekend to the end of September. Governors Island has welcomed 385,000 visitors so far this year, up from 340,000 at roughly the same time last year.
If you are interested in Governors Island, pick up a copy of The Governors Island Explorer’s Guide (Globe Pequot), the only guidebook and history guide to the island. Available online and on the Island in Castle Williams.
Kevin C. Fitzpatrick has written and edited seven books with ties to New York history, including "The Governors Island Explorer's Guide" and "World War I New York: A Guide to the City’s Enduring Ties to the Great War." Kevin is a licensed sightseeing guide and has been leading walking tours since 1999. He resides in Manhattan.