Bailing Out Governor’s Island

With Albany broke and distracted, the Bloomberg administration has proposed that the city take over Governor’s Island. It’s a good idea. Albany should graciously relinquish its role in developing the island, because it’s clear that it has no interest in the project.

Governor’s Island, a former Coast Guard base, was turned over to the state and city years ago under a plan put together by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Like the grand train station that Moynihan envisioned for the old General Post Office building on Eighth Avenue, the Governor’s Island project has suffered from malign neglect. Lots of people talk about the potential of these projects. But few wish to pay for them. A joint state-city corporation has been attempting to develop plans to convert the island to a recreational facility and center for arts and culture. But now the agency is running out of money and  Governor David Paterson included no money for the island in next year’s budget. The island, which attracted more than 100,000 visitors last year despite limited access and facilities, may have to close.  There was a time when the State of New York had the financial resources and organizational know-how to develop major projects in New York City, such as the Javits Convention Center, Battery Park City and, of course, the now destroyed World Trade Center. But if there is one thing we have learned over the past decade, it is that New York City is far better equipped than the state to carry out large-scale physical development.

Under the island’s current stewardship, money is scarce. The island’s corporation cut $7 million from its operating budget, from $18.8 million to $11.8 million, hoping that Mr. Paterson might cough up some money in the coming weeks. But that’s no way to develop what ought to be a magnet for tourists and city residents.

City Hall is hardly awash in cash, but it does have vision and the will to execute. If Albany has other priorities, so be it: Mr. Paterson should concede the obvious and let the mayor proceed without him.

The real shame, of course, is that this project didn’t get done when times were better. Senator Moynihan used to grumble about New York’s inability to get things done in a timely manner. He was right, but then again, that’s hardly news.