Defend Governors Island

On September 26 I attended a public hearing on the phased development of Governors Island South Island Development Zones. It was held by the city and the Trust For Governors Island get public feedback on the planned rezoning of the South End of the Island for use by hotels, convention center, technology center, and other purposes. All of the project plans and proposals are found here.

It was at times raucous crowd, as reported by the New York Times, to speak out about the future of the Island. This is the first of many nights that are brought forth by the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination. Among the two in attendance were Denise Pisani, deputy director from the Mayor’s Office, and Michael Samuelian, president of the Trust.

The most poignant speakers were from Figment, who have the quit the Island after many years because of the way the Trust has shunted this great organization aside, and 4heads, which is a leading arts organization on the Island for many years. It was these groups, among 14 arts organizations that banded to together, that drove most of the conversation.

When it was my time to speak, I brought up the new idea to “Defend Governors Island” (I even made t-shirts, and gave one to Samuelian). I had three minutes’ time to speak. This is the full text of what I was reading:

I’m the author of the only guide book about The Island. The Trust doesn’t sell it. Two points to make: The Development Zones and the Historic District.

I understand there will be construction. No building on the harbor should be taller than 111-feet, which is the height of the Statue of Liberty from her toes to the top of her head. You would block the view from Brooklyn since 1886. How dare you. And the buildings should keep to the historic character of the Island, established by McKim, Meade, and White: Brick.

The Trust just completed The Hills 2 years ago; now you are talking about another 10 years of construction and development? More trucks, dirt, closed roads, no access? I call on a moratorium of 10 years before building on the South End.

There are 119,000 hotel rooms in the 5 boroughs with an average occupancy of 86 percent. Do we need more hotel rooms? And why on Governors Island?

The historic district has 1 million square feet that is not being used. This is the 15th year the island has been open to the public. For two years the president of The Trust has been a developer and builder.

You are leaving money on the table by not opening up the historic district buildings for paying businesses.

It took the NPS 10 years to make Castle Williams safe for the public to enter. What’s taking so long for South Battery? Which has a bar, restaurant, and dance floor? It’s been 15 years.

Liggett Hall has the biggest gymnasium on the East Coast, bigger than anything in Basketball City. It was designed for the Army to drill indoors. Why is there no year-round basketball academy? Or Summer basketball camps? Dance competitions? And convert the rooms to summer camp rooms.

Building 555 on Buttermilk Channel. Why isn’t this temporary student housing? It’s filled with apartments and kitchens. Why isn’t this being brought up to code and done?

Nolan Park has been left to deteriorate. The seasonal use this year fell flat, barely any houses were used for programs. The homes are becoming decrepit and not kept up. Could these be converted to temporary housing, for six month stretches, for teachers and staff at the Harbor School?

There are three houses of worship. Why are these not being used as wedding venues, instead of for storage and temporary art installations?

Why an ice rink? Why not fill the swimming pool? Who here would pay for an annual Fort Jay Swim Club pass?

The Hospital is the only McKim, Meade, and White building in New York that’s vacant. It’s 60,000 square feet.

The YMCA has a theater inside with a proscenium arch, a stage bigger than anything in the East Village. It also has classrooms and a dining area.

The movie theater was open until Hurricane Sandy. We could be having indoor movie screenings and film festivals: it seats 800.

The only topics The Trust has been engaged in the last year have been Island Oyster and glamping. These vendors pay the most in fees, that’s what you promote on social media.

All of the “new” structures are repurposed shipping containers or temporary buildings that can float away.

You’ve only built one thing in 2 years, the visitors center. Why didn’t you repurpose any of the other 100 buildings not in use?

Do you Michael Samuelian want to be a hero? Or a Robert Moses style villain?

We must act. We must Defend Governors Island. #DefendGI

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.