The essential question all five teams need to answer is, Why have this park? “Everyone knows how to get to Prospect Park or Central Park,” says Leslie Koch, president of the Governors Island Preservation & Education Corporation. “What is the experience that this park and promenade can provide that is unique? This has to be compelling.” Compelling enough to make us get on a ferry or water taxi, and go to New York’s own Nantucket. The visions on the following pages are a first step toward compelling.
And the question is even being posed to the public: Would you go there? After May 31, the five plans will be exhibited both on Governors Island and at the Center for Architecture on La Guardia Place, with comments requested. The island itself will be open to the public on the weekend all summer, with a free, seven-minute ferry from the Battery Maritime Building. A jury will recommend a winner by fall—at which point the next and more difficult phase will begin.
First, all sorts of other dreamers want to impose their vision on the island. Landscape architect Stephen Whitehouse, who developed a concept for Governors Island in 2003, thinks a spa is a no-brainer. Art dealer Daniel Wolf proposed a children’s island including playgrounds by wife Maya Lin, a Takashi Murakami fountain, and new Gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Julie Menin, chair of Community Board 1, wants playing fields. Joseph Melillo, executive producer at bam, thinks the island needs its own creative director to seek site-specific events.
But the bigger problem is finding developers with real money. Mark Strauss, a partner at architecture and planning giant FXFowle, thinks that the park alone will not be enough of a draw. “I don’t see the park as a catalyst in itself for attracting people and investment,” he says. “There has to be a vision from the top, and I think it could be academia. Columbia moved up to 116th Street 100 years ago because they were better off selling their existing land and being pioneers.” Downtown’s current gorilla, crushing all townhouses in its path, is NYU. Could it leap the East River?
But, at long last, something will happen at Governors Island. Demolition of the Coast Guard facilities could begin within a year. It shouldn’t be a fantasy much longer.