Since it opened in 2006, around this time each year, a press release would shoot out from Governor’s Island, a torpedo blasting across the harbor, trumpeting the latest attendance numbers. The ice-cream-cone-shaped island, for most of its life an off-limits military compound, had reason to crow. It’s visitor’s numbers were soaring, putting to rest questions of its viability as a new public park—purchased for all of $1 from the U.S. government in 2005. From 26,000 visitors that first year, attendance jumped to 443,000 last year, 60 percent what it had been the year before.
This year, there has been no press release, no champagne.
Instead, we get a story in DNAinfo that notes a slight rise in visitors, 448,000, and blames the lack of a boom on foul weather.
In July, the problem was record-breaking heat. The two hottest days, when the temperature shot up to 100 degrees or higher, fell on a Friday and Saturday, July 22 and 23.
Then August arrived with a deluge of rain, including nearly 6 inches on Aug. 14, a Sunday, the highest daily total ever recorded in Central Park.
And before August could end as the wettest month in New York City history, Hurricane Irene arrived to drench the city further, forcing Governors Island to close on Sat., Aug. 27 and Sun., Aug. 28 and disrupting a Dave Matthews Band concert that would have drawn thousands of additional visitors.
The Trust for Governors Island had been gunning to break the half-million mark, but no dice.
Not to doubt the cause of these stagnating numbers, but whatever the cause, they could play an important role in the island’s future development. It has been a marquee project for the Bloomberg administration, and with N.Y.U., the nascent tech campus and other interests vying for the island’s valuable-if-inaccessible real estate, it seems certain the mayor will want to find a permanent use for the island before his third term is through. Even outgoing Port Authority director Chris Ward has stressed the importance of the island.
Even if the weather had been gorgeous all summer long and Governors Island had put up phenomenal numbers yet again, the fact remains, there is only so much art fairs and war reenactors can do to draw crowds to the island. The views will always be amazing, but those can only go so far. Is a new tech campus, as opposed to a convention center or mall, what the island needs to continue to grow? It is a question worth asking, and one worth asking now.