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Governor's Island (Field Hearing/GI, NY)

 

STATEMENT OF KAREN ADLER
REGIONAL ADMINISTRATOR

 

 

NORTHEAST AND CARIBBEAN REGION
GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
BEFORE THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT MANAGEMENT, INFORMATION AND TECHNOLOGY
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM AND OVERSIGHT
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

JULY 14, 1997

My name is Karen Adler, and I am the Regional Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) here in New York. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about this extraordinary property. Initially, I want to point out that GSA appreciates the role it has been given in the redeployment of this historically important real estate asset known as Governors Island. To that end, GSA has gone beyond the strict requirements of the law and obtained the benefits of a Land Use Study. This approach has ensured the public's participation in the reuse of this national treasure.

The Land Use Study evaluates a number of possible options for the future of Governors Island which I will be highlighting today. These are only options, not proposals or recommendations.  They provide us with the consequential considerations for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and nothing else. Again, I must stress that it is important to understand these are not
disposal options but rather potential reuse alternatives that a future owner could reasonably consider. They are not plans. They are not choices. GSA will not select or recommend a plan for Governors Island.

This leads to process. To convey the property to any new owner, there are specific laws and regulations that GSA must follow. This legally-mandated process is not within the jurisdiction of GSA to change.

Our Land Use Study helps in this portion of the disposition process in a number of ways. It creates public awareness in the property and generates ideas and possibilities regarding the reuse of the property. This leads to discussions and, we hope, to either the submission of an application during the screening process or to an informed bid in the case of a sale. Finally, the Land Use Study will provide information to all participants specifically in the form of a Facilities Assessment Report to aid in their evaluation of the property.

GSA had very specific requirements and guidelines for examining the options being suggested so that any conclusions could form the basis for the legislatively mandated EIS:

  • Provide for maximum public involvement in the process.
    • Respond to the public's call for access to the island and maintenance and/or expansion of open space.
    • Help the Federal government and GSA be a catalyst for developing and examining reuse options.
    • Recognize the Federal government could not act as a developer.
    • Recognize the lessons learned from earlier disposals -- underscoring our commitment to preserving the historic district, minimizing deterioration, and defining reuse opportunities immediately.

The Land Use Study is examining a number of possible options for the future use of Governors Island. The EIS will not choose one of these options as its conclusion. The EIS will enable GSA to determine whether or not to dispose of the island. The options are being looked at for one main purpose - so that the EIS may examine a wide spectrum of reasonable future uses to assess the range of environmental consequences of this significant Federal action. The possibilities to be examined will already be fully researched and the public's interest in them already registered.

Six land use options have been identified through the Land Use Study to guide the EIS. They do not represent specific development programs; rather they suggest themes that are reasonable, generally feasible and highly flexible. The buildings and open space of Governors Island offer future owners an exceptional range of possible options.

Because the maintenance by the U.S. Coast Guard has been of the highest level, a wide range of practical uses can be considered with reasonable cost parameters.

The capacity and generally good condition of the utilities offer the future owners of Governors Island sufficient capacity and flexibility of many use options. Transportation and parking options are more limiting. Ferry service, while very flexible, is not suitable for all uses. For example, major peak demand uses such as theme parks would need significantly more access. However, it is reasonable that affordable ferry service provided by a vendor could be the principle means of access to the island for a wide range of uses.

The historic resources of Governors Island provide a unique opportunity for the future owners. The variety of buildings in the National and City Historic District, located on the northern half of the island, are in good to excellent condition and should stand on their own economically and provide a valuable asset to whatever development occurs on the southern half of the island. The preservation of these buildings and their reuse in each option form the core of our analysis.

Five of the land use options are as follows:

  1. Reuse Option: This option is based on reusing existing facilities for their former use. This option has a residential theme because most of the buildings on the island were used for residences and residential support. In addition, there is a demand for residential space in the metropolitan area.
  2. Academic Option: This option envisions the island as a 4-year undergraduate college because the character and functionality of the existing facilities are well suited to academic uses and the metropolitan area educational institutions have expressed interest in Governors Island.
  3. Recreation Option: This option suggests redeveloping the non-historic southern half of the island as a major 84-acre regional park. The Historic District is primarily devoted to hospitality and transient housing, including such proposed uses as hotel/conference centers and bed and breakfast facilities.
  4. Mixed Use Option: This option proposes a balance between new
    development and open space on the southern half of the island. The northern half of the island is proposed to be primarily residential with some retail.
  5.  Maximum Development Option: This option is one view on maximizing the new construction on the southern half of the island, while still offering a 20-acre park at the south point. The Historic District in this option envisions a conference center, luxury hotel and retail.

The sixth option completes the study and illustrates what might be considered as a transitional use of the island by a new owner.

  • Phase-In Option: This option is based on using the buildings for their former use at the least possible cost. Buildings requiring more costly rehabilitation would be mothballed. This option provides immediate income after disposal to the new owner and could support the cost of maintaining the island during what could be a lengthy planning and approval process for its ultimate reuse.

In addition to the EIS, we are preparing a Preservation and Design Guideline Manual to protect the Historic District on the northern half of the island. Any conveyance documentation will contain covenants protecting the Historic District. This is being done in coordination with the city, the state, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Federal government also needs to reserve the right of access to U.S. Coast Guard aides to navigation and radar that protect the New York Harbor.

We want the Members of Congress to know that GSA has taken the initiative in briefing officials of the city and state every step of the way, and will continue to ensure a coordinated process. City and state representatives have been meeting with our contractors and us as we have been going through the process.

As mentioned earlier, the northern tier of Governors Island is a 90-acre National Historic District, with five New York City historic landmarks. It is clearly in the public interest for the integrity of that Historic District to be preserved. For that to happen, the island must be conveyed to a responsible new user as soon as possible.

In the absence of a new user, GSA will need to continue protecting and maintaining the island. We understand that the U.S. Coast Guard is requesting funds to provide for protection and maintenance for FY 1998, consistent with GSA's regulations. We have undertaken the Land Use Study to be as prepared as possible for a possible disposal of the property and to ensure that the public is fully involved in the process.

We will, of course, proceed in a manner consistent with any legislation that Congress passes and the President of the United States signs.

Thank you for your interest. We look forward to working with all of you as we proceed with the disposal of this very important piece of property.