By Emily Keller
The new, improved Governors Island will not only be a joy to visit but to travel to as well, if architect Santiago Calatrava gets his way. Calatrava has designed an aerial gondola transportation system that would take visitors to the historic island in style, crossing the East River from the end of Atlantic Avenue at Piers 6 and 7, and from Lower Manhattan and Staten Island, through the sky. Calatrava demonstrated his conceptual model of the system at a press conference February 15 at which Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki also announced that they are committing an additional $60 million to the island’s preservation and redevelopment. The governor said the funds are necessary for preserving the island’s historic buildings and facilitating the creation of open spaces and parks. Governors Island was occupied by the US Army and US Coast Guard in the 1900s, and was one of the first settlements of the Dutch West India Company in 1624. It was transferred to the City and State in 2003, and redevelopment plans have been in the works ever since. The mayor and governor also announced February 15 that The Governors Island Preservation & Education Corporation (GIPEC), a subsidiary of Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), is issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for individuals, corporations and organizations with visionary ideas for 150 acres of the 172-acre island. Responses to the RFP are due by May 10, and a short list of finalists will be announced in mid-September. The chosen entity will work closely with GIPEC to create a master plan and complete an environmental impact statement, which is expected to take 12-18 months. Then development will begin. “This is an opportunity to make something extremely practical and logical, which at the same time tries to inspire the imagination in a way that can happen only here, in New York Harbor,” said Calatrava about his gondola proposal. “On the level of the imagination, the gondola cars will be round, so they are shaped a little like apples – and because they are transparent, they will offer a wonderful 360-degree view of the harbor.” The gondola system would connect to three land-based terminals, leaving shipping channels open. “We are very fortunate that an architect like Santiago Calatrava, who recently moved his home to New York City, has offered his tremendous creativity to help New York conceptualize the aerial gondola,” said the mayor. But Rep. Anthony Weiner said ferry service would be more practical. “I am concerned that the idea of an elevated gondola as a method for visiting the island would be an expensive and ugly diversion from the common sense travel option – the ferry,” he said in a statement. A representative for the Empire State Development Corporation said even if the gondola system is built, ferry service will still be required, and although it has yet to be determined what entity will pay for a possible gondola system, the money would definitely not come from Brooklyn Bridge Park funds. The spokesperson also added that since there is no official plan for the island yet, the gondola proposal is merely that – a proposal. In June, Weiner submitted his own proposal for the island, seeking to turn it into a venue for cultural and educational events, research and tourism. “Our primary focus has to be making Governors Island a great destination. 172 acres of mostly open meadows and fields, the opportunities are endless. I believe we can maintain acres of open space while also hosting conferences, art exhibitions, and even building a DNA lab,” he said. Sam Cooper, a spokesman for Assemblymember Joan Millman, said how the island is used will determine whether the City and State funds are well spent. If a college campus were placed there, for example, the money would be well spent, he said. About the development of the island overall, Cooper said, “It’s open space, and open space is hard to find in New York City, so we want to make sure we get it right.” Cooper said the assemblywoman supports the mayor’s and governor’s focus on economic development, which are positives for Brooklyn, but said, “We just hope they don’t lose focus on higher education and affordable housing [while] also looking at economic development. They can both happen at once.” He also noted that the assemblywoman is more concerned with development that takes place in Brooklyn. Governors Island, although it is half the distance from Brooklyn – 400 yards – as it is from Manhattan, is considered part of Manhattan. For more information or to submit a proposal, visit www.govisland.com.