Uses explored for N.Y. island

President Clinton said he would sell Governors Island to the state for $1 Casino originally considered

July 18, 1999|By Douglas Martin | Douglas Martin,New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- The city is exploring more than a dozen development proposals for Governors Island, the defunct Coast Guard base in New York harbor that President Clinton promised to sell for a dollar if New York came up with a publicly beneficial use.

Many of the proposals involve hotels and conference centers, and both New York University and Columbia University are interested in establishing conference centers there, Deputy Mayor Randy Levine said.

The Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art have expressed preliminary interest in setting up satellites, he said, and Tivoli Gardens, the Copenhagen amusement park, has submitted plans for an old-fashioned amusement park.

"Serious proposals that could produce revenue are starting to come in," said Levine, who presided over a meeting of a task force of government officials to consider some of the proposals. The city wants private business to pay the estimated $30 million annual cost of maintaining the 173-acre island.

For two years, city officials insisted that only a casino could generate enough revenue to accomplish this goal, but it dropped the idea after concluding that the state was unlikely to revise its laws to permit casino gambling.

Levine said that one proposal the city was examining closely came from a Boston developer, Corcoran Gennison. It proposes turning a large rectangular building in the middle of the island into a conference center and a family hotel. Its plan would include housing and classrooms for NYU and Columbia and an outdoor sculpture garden for the Guggenheim. The Guggenheim would also build a series of self-contained indoor exhibits, each with a single piece of monumental sculpture by such artists as Richard Serra.

Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, who is lobbying for the Boston company, said the plan would cover the cost of maintaining the island. In addition, he said, the company would pay an unspecified rent and $17 million a year in taxes.

Tivoli Gardens spokesman Howard Rubenstein said the Danish amusement company -- which has discussed a possible joint venture with the Boston company -- wants to build low-key amusement rides, including an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster. The plan calls for the use of cobblestones rather than concrete, incandescent lights instead of neon, and live music. "They're going to try to provide a respite from city life in a garden setting," Rubenstein said.

There are fears, however, that the federal government may sell the island before the city comes up with a plan. Six weeks ago Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, proposed selling the island to finance crop insurance programs. The government has placed a $500 million value on the island.

"Unless something smart is done in the near future, it could flounder, and there will be an attempt in Congress to sell it," said Michael Waterman, press secretary to New York Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Levine, however, discounts the risk that Congress will sell the island. But he acknowledged that he feels "a high sense of urgency" because the federal government may retain control if something is not done.

But the city is not alone in plotting the island's future. The Battery Park City Authority has its own task force of state officials, and it has hired consultants to do a financial analysis as a first step toward exploring whether the authority or another newly created state authority should operate the island, said authority Chairman James Gill.

"We're right there," he said, in arguing that the island should be given to Battery Park City. "It's just a stone's throw."

He said the advantage to this plan is that the state could subsidize the island's early development, and then run it in the same manner as Battery Park City.

Pub Date: 07/18/99

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