It has been nearly 20 years—17, to be exact—since Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan persuaded President Bill Clinton to sell Governors Island to New York for a buck. The transaction took place as the two men shared a helicopter ride over New York Harbor in 1995, just as the federal government was preparing to close its Coast Guard installation on the island.
In the years since, development of the island has been caught up in silly New York politics—a development which would not have surprised the late Senator, who, late in his life, was less than sanguine about New York’s ability to build memorable projects. Now, however, the island’s potential finally is being realized.
Work formally began last week on a $260 million park project on the island. The project will include gardens, open space and ballfields—uses that Mr. Clinton had in mind in 1995 when he told Senator Moynihan that development should include a strong public component.
The project also will improve the island’s antiquated infrastructure and will pay for the demolition of abandoned structures that are beyond repair or restoration.
Beyond this first phase of development, there are plans for hotels, college dorms and commercial development on the island. The city wisely decided nearly a decade ago that whatever the future held for Governors Island, development has to be self-sustaining. The island, City Hall said, could not be drain on the public treasury.
That is how it should be—and how could it be otherwise? The location is magnificent, so the potential for first-rate park facilities, academic buildings, cultural amenities and commercial usage is evident.
That said, it’s critical that progress continues apace, and that the political disputes that held back development be put aside for good.
And now that ground has been broken on the island’s redevelopment, perhaps the city and state can take a few more steps toward the realization of another one of Senator Moynihan’s dreams: The long-stalled rail station in the old Farley post office building. Every now and again New Yorkers are told that progress on that project is just around the corner.
We have yet, however, to reach the intersection of funding and willpower.