Glamour and Groundwork on Governors Island

Governors Island is winding down after another hugely successful summer that included antique French carousels, multiple arts festivals and a Civil War history weekend. But some of the most interesting activity took place behind the scenes, where seemingly mundane developments like zoning changes and new underground infrastructure are setting the stage for a bigger and more varied park in the years to come.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors headed to the island this summer to enjoy public programs, cultural events or just hanging out in the park. On a typical weekend, more than 17,000 visitors came to the island for events like the Fête Paradiso, a festival of vintage French carousel and carnival rides. A series of exhibits hosted in historic and waterfront buildings showcased the unique history of the New York-New Jersey harbor, while the annual Figment festival featured interactive exhibits and performances by local artists. Both the waterfront promenade and Picnic Point on the southern tip of the island were closed to the public this year due to heavy construction, but thanks to that work, visitors can look forward to an even bigger park next year, as 30 more acres of groves, gathering spaces and ball fields open to the public.

A vintage carousel from this summer’s Fête Paradiso on Governors Island. Photo: Just a Couple of Pictures.

Behind the scenes, there have been a lot of less glamorous changes that will help sustain the park. Forty of the Island’s historically designated buildings - totaling 1.2 million square feet of space - were rezoned so that these 19th and early 20th century gems could house anything from cultural and non-profit organizations to commercial tenants. 

Below the surface, the installation of new pipes bringing drinkable water from Brooklyn will boost the capacity of the island to support tenants and diverse uses. Both the rezoning and water connection are tied to the Trust for Governors Island’s park and public space master plan released in 2010. A capital budget of $260 million has been set aside by the city for the Island’s development, with a chunk of funding also coming from a variety of private sources. Regional Plan Association has helped shape these developments as the founder of the Governors Island Alliance, which since 1995 has worked with partners to return the island to the people of New York.

The public summer season wrapped up this past weekend, but new park construction and historic district renovation will continue through early fall. By next May, Governors Island will be welcoming visitors with new arts and culture programs, an additional few miles of bike and hike trails, two play fields and even a grove of 50 self-standing hammocks.