Governors Island future murky

New York wants to make the area a park

deadline for offer is Oct. 1

September 02, 2001|By Barbara Stewart | Barbara Stewart,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - As the deadline nears for New York state to give the federal government its final proposal to take over Governors Island, several New York politicians have vastly different opinions on the likelihood that the island will instead be turned over to a private developer.

The office of Gov. George E. Pataki and the state's congressional delegation say the island, a military base from the Revolutionary War to 1997, should be returned to New York and made into parkland, with the historic mansions and fortifications opened to the public.

The deadline for the state to make an acceptable offer is Oct. 1. If it does not, the Bush administration plans to sell it to the highest bidder to help with the federal deficit. The appraised price is $300 million.

There are still some in Congress "with the chimerical vision that selling Governors Island will bring in a lot of money," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat. "But I'm still hopeful that the administration will just give the island back to us."

Others, like Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat, are pessimistic.

"I think it's going to be sold to a private developer," she said. "It's going to be a tremendous loss to the city and the state."

$1 offer

Six years ago, while flying over the island with Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then the state's Democratic senator, President Bill Clinton offered to sell Governors Island to New York state for $1. But it took state and city officials five years to agree on a general plan to build parks, museums, ball fields and a conference center on the island.

Meanwhile, Congress had added the island to the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, and plans to use the proceeds from the sale to reduce the federal deficit. Years of talks have produced a great deal of bickering, delays, misunderstandings and finger-pointing, but no agreement.

John Marcic, deputy director of the General Services Administration, the federal agency in charge of selling the island, said last week: "Unfortunately, New York is looking to buy it for $1. Congress said we should sell it for fair market value and appraised it at $300 million. It's our job to do that."

In June, the state sent a more detailed draft version of a public-use plan to the General Services Administration that would have lowered the island's value considerably by limiting the development that could be done by a private owner. But the agency rejected the plan. "It wasn't substantial enough," Marcic said. And, he added, the state must make the plan legally binding, most likely through legislation, which would be a challenge at this late date.

Pataki's office is continuing to negotiate with the Bush administration, said Maura Gallucci, a spokeswoman for the Empire State Development Corp., which is run by the state.

Talks in limbo

According to Schumer, the talks are in limbo.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, said she remained confident that the island would soon be returned to New York. Potential buyers will be discouraged by New York's power to create zoning and regulatory obstacles to development, she said.

"It would be a very tough road to buy that island for commercial purposes," she said. "And everybody knows that."

But Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, has said that the Bush administration's recent rejection of the state's public-use plan was a serious impediment to New York's hopes of acquiring the land.

"It seems to signal that this is just another way Bush is going to step all over New York City," said Eric Schmeltzer, a spokesman for Nadler. "He's making it nearly impossible to see that the island's returned to New York."

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