Bloomberg Grabbing for Governors Island, Brooklyn Bridge Park
March 12, 2009
Mayor Bloomberg is seeking to grab control of Governors Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park, pushing the Paterson administration aside in an attempt to spur progress on the two projects, both of which would create new real estate development and public parkland.
As part of the mayor’s plan, his administration would take money it invested in the Javits Center (the city and state each have committed $300 million for a major expansion that was subsequently scaled down) and put it toward Governors Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park.
“We would use that money to continue to develop these two things which are great parts of the city and the city has more of an interest,” Mr. Bloomberg told reporters Thursday. “I think the state government has their own problems. It’s a good deal for the state. If not, they can take them over or close them down.”
The power grab exhibits some of the frustration the Bloomberg administration has had with the governor’s office over numerous slow-moving economic development projects requiring billions in public spending. The Javits Center has not expanded as the Spitzer administration re-evaluated a much-criticized Pataki administration plan; and Moynihan Station has made little or no progress, effectively, since Governor Pataki left office.
Control over Governors Island, the 172-acre former Coast Guard base where officials hope to ultimately create commercial development and a signature park, is shared between the city and the state. Brooklyn Bridge Park, a set of piers near Brooklyn Heights slated to be transformed into a park with adjacent residential towers, is controlled by the state, though funded by both governments.
A spokeswoman for Governor Paterson did not signal a position on the issue either way, saying the state is working with the city on the issue.
THE COUP (OR SWAP) attempt comes as there is uncertainty over the fate of Governors Island, given that the governor’s proposed budget does not include any money for the agency that operates the island. The agency, and also the summer ferry service that brings visitors to the island over the summer, would shut down April 1 without money in the budget. Supporters of the mayor’s plan said at a public meeting on Governors Island on Thursday that even if money does ultimately come through this year, the uncertainty is bad for the project, and the city/state split is not working. If the Bloomberg administration assumed control, it could show progress thanks to the Javits funds, it reasons, rather than the relatively slow pace that the development has experienced to date.
Brooklyn Bridge Park is moving along at a faster pace as construction is starting, though the city has wanted to see more state money go into the project. It now has a price tag of $350 million but only a budget of $230 million (it also requested around $150 million in stimulus money to replace aging piles, a cost that could ultimately be borne locally).
With regard to Governors Island, the state-appointed chairman of the island’s governing board, Avi Schick, sought to brush aside fears that the island would shut down.
“Governors Island will be open this summer,” he said flatly, speaking to reporters Thursday morning, adding that the governor “remains committed” to the island. He said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, with whom he has a good relationship, is behind this project and would be pushing for it in the final state budget.
Whether or not the trade happens will depend on the governor, though he and the mayor have had discussions about it before, apparently with no resolution. The governor’s economic development chief, Marisa Lago, reacted coolly to the concept Thursday. “I don’t think there is a major initiative that hasn’t involved a multiplicity of different actors," she said.
It is unclear what the mayor’s suggestion to use Javits Center funds would mean for the convention center. Right now, the Javits Center is paying for a recently approved renovation with funds from a hotel tax levied in order to pay for an expansion. Without the city’s money, the convention center would not be able to afford the expansion currently envisioned—about 160,000 square feet—though the city contends that expansion would not happen for years anyway, at which point it could add funds. It also would shift far more financial burden onto the city, especially if it adds additional money to Javits further down the line.