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S. 2512 - A Bill to Convey Certain Federal Properties on Governors Island, New York

 

STATEMENT OF ROBERT A. PECK
COMMISSIONER

PUBLIC BUILDINGS SERVICE
GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
BEFORE THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, HISTORIC PRESERVATION AND RECREATION
COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES

JUNE 29, 2000

 

Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and Members of the Subcommittee. My name is Robert Peck and I am the Commissioner of GSA's Public Buildings Service. Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss S. 2512 and the future of Governors Island. As Senator Moynihan stated when introducing this legislation, Governors Island has played a significant role in every major military conflict from the American Revolution through World War II, and as Senator Schumer has stated it is indeed "a national treasure".

The Administration supports many provisions in the bill. The Administration supports transferring Governors Island to a single New York entity as soon as practical. The Administration supports
the transfer of the two historic Forts to the Department of the Interior.

The Administration also supports transfer of Governors Island to New York at nominal cost, provided the Island is put to substantial public use and, as a result, is appraised as having a nominal fair market value. As written, S. 2512 would permit a transfer to New York without consideration and without imposing public use requirements. We cannot support that. There has to be an appropriate mix of uses for public benefit and the imposition of binding development controls in order for the value of the property to be reduced from the current fair market value estimate of $300 million. That value was determined by an independent appraisal based on land use controls now applicable. Accordingly, were the legislation to pass as is, the transfer would score at $300 million and require a corresponding offset.

We believe the Administration, the bill's sponsors, and the State and City share a goal of seeing the Island reused for a mix of public and private uses. So far, however, the State and City plan is merely a planning framework and lacks the necessary, binding development controls that would permit the General Services Administration to reassess the fair market value. We look forward to continue working with the State and City to achieve this common goal, a goal that we can achieve relatively soon under existing property transfer authorities.

Governors Island is a unique national resource which should be preserved for future generations. Over the years, Governors Island served as a backdrop for many historic events, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the American Civil War, and World War I and II. It also served as the backdrop for the relighting of the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 1986, the U.S.-U.S.S.R summit in 1988, and United Nations sponsored talks to restore democratic rule to Haiti in July 1993. The Governors Island Historic District illustrates an evolution of military architecture unavailable anywhere else in the country.

Governors Island sits prominently only one-half mile off the southern tip of Manhattan between the confluence of the Hudson and East Rivers in New York Harbor. From many vantagepoints along its 2.2 mile promenade, the Island has spectacular views of New York City, New Jersey, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. While the Island is located in one of the most densely populated areas in our Country, the architectural critic Brendan Gill has said that while "?y a comparative handful of the millions of people who live and work in and around the city are aware of it, a short ferry ride from the tip of Manhattan brings visitors to an idyllic island in the middle of the harbor-a place of green fields, ancient trees and equally ancient brick and wood houses. Disembarking on this island, we are struck at once by its uncanny near silence."

This isolation has lasted for over 200 years while the Island has remained under the exclusive control of the US Army and, more recently, the US Coast Guard. For the last several years the Island's historic resources have been preserved and protected by funding provided by GSA. The Coast Guard Caretaker detachment continues to properly manage the daily activities to meet protection and maintenance responsibilities, but further delay of a productive reuse of the island will only add to the cost of protection and maintenance. In fiscal year 1999 GSA was budgeted at 7 million for protection and maintenance of the Island, and $10 million for fiscal year 2000. The fiscal year 2000 request includes major seawall and ferry slip repairs. For fiscal year 2001, GSA has requested $8.6.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has identified the Island as one of its Top 10 Most Endangered Historic Sites. This is not due to any lack of effort on the Federal Government's part, but rather because of the lack of any immediate plan for the reuse of the Island. Time and lack of use are the greatest enemies of any historic resource.

During the last four years GSA has completed an Environmental Impact Statement which analyzed reuse options for the Island. These options were identified in a Land Use Planning Study commissioned by GSA to elicit public interest in the Island and to identify potential uses for the Island. The City and State of New York participated in the development of the Land Use Planning Study, and have since agreed upon their own reuse plan for the Island. However, any reuse plan must comply with the City and/or the State of New York's requisite approval process. Upon receipt of a New York-approved reuse plan, GSA would be able to re-asses the value of the property based on that plan. In addition, GSA has commissioned a Historic Preservation Design Manual in coordination with the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation, the New York State Historic Preservation Office, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the US Coast Guard, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

This document, the Governors Island Preservation and Design Standards Brochure, has been designed to provide a general understanding of the resources within the Governors Island Historic District, to set forth the policy and goals of the Federal Government in transferring the property, and to establish the standards by which development of the historic district can take place. The purpose of the document is to assist in guiding development of the Governors Island Historic District portion of the Island, while ensuring preservation of the historic and architectural resources that contribute to its importance. We are gratified that the legislation makes any transfer subject to these guidelines.

The Department of Interior has a significant presence in the harbor, which establishes a natural link to Governors Island. Fort Jay and Castle Williams on Governors Island are part of the fortifications that protected New York Harbor together with Fort Wadsworth, Castle Clinton, Fort Gibson on Ellis Island, and Fort Wood, the base of the Statue of Liberty. The acquisitions of the fortifications on Governors Island will complete the inventory of forts within New York Harbor by the Department of Interior.

This concludes my prepared statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.