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Governors Island could be future hub for NYC climate solutions

September 17, 2020 Editorial Staff
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As smoke from raging western U.S. wildfires spreads clear across the country, causing unusually hazy skies above New York City, the climate crisis looms larger than ever.

For solutions, city residents may soon look to the heart of New York Harbor.

The Trust for Governors Island on Thursday unveiled plans to develop a center for climate solutions on Governors Island, leveraging the Island’s unique environment and waterfront location as a public living laboratory.

The proposed center would provide a central convening spot for researchers, advocates, innovators and students from around the globe focused on climate change solutions, while offering opportunities for public engagement, bringing hands-on education, programming and advocacy initiatives regarding climate and environmental issues directly to New Yorkers.

The Trust’s proposal comes as the ongoing pandemic has underscored the need for coordinated, cross-sector planning that centers equity around the world’s most urgent issues.

The center is projected to create 8,000 direct new jobs and $1 billion in economic impact for New York City.

A rendering of the project’s Western Promenade.

The proposal could include an academic or research anchor institution to study the impacts of climate change to advance related fields, bringing climate science, policy, communications, climate justice initiatives and solution development under one roof.

The project would also include a living laboratory to showcase solutions and invite conversations on the environment through public art and programming, as well as a platform for environmental justice organizations and environmental nonprofits to research, host programs and convenings, and connect with New Yorkers.

The Trust seeks to encourage commercial innovation for technological research in the climate field, and to build dormitories on the Island to support an academic anchor and create a uniquely immersive community for learning and innovation.

It would also create space for convenings that offer opportunities for New Yorkers and visitors alike to engage in conversations about climate change, and space for policy, advocacy and programming organizations to engage with the Island’s nearly 1 million annual visitors.

A rendering of the proposed Fort Jay Theater.

 “Governors Island has a distinguished past in New York City, and an even brighter future,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We’re proud to continue the growth of Governors Island as a resource for New York City to fight climate change, create jobs, and showcase our city’s world-class research and scientific talent.”

 In the coming months, the Trust will work with stakeholders, local elected officials, agencies and New Yorkers to help bring the vision to life, including through a proposed rezoning of the South Island to bring a resilient, mixed-use climate innovation district to life.

The new district would allow for academic, commercial, nonprofit, cultural, convening and hospitality facilities.

The rezoning proposal, expected to enter the City’s formal public land-use review process in October, would extend uses allowed in the North Island to designated South Island development sites to support a year-round, 24/7 mixed-use district, anchored by an educational or research center.

A vision for Hammock Grove.

All buildings across the development sites would strictly adhere to flood-resistant construction methods.

The rezoning would expand the Island’s open space, increase its public connections, and protect all open space on the South Island.

No zoning changes are being proposed for the North Island/Governors Island Historic District. All earned revenue generated on the Island through the rezoning would stay on the Island and go toward funding park maintenance, property management, transportation, security, utilities and infrastructure, creating a long-term path for the Trust’s financial sustainability.

As part of this vision, the Trust plans to issue a solicitation to attract an anchor institution and complementing uses. At the same time, The Trust plans to continue to issue requests for proposals for historic buildings within the North Island, including cultural, educational and amenity uses to support expanded public access.

Governors Island, located at the center of New York Harbor, is already imbued with a focus on confronting and adapting to the impacts of a changing climate on a daily basis, from its direct water access and natural upland environment to its award-winning 43-acre park, which is a global leader in resilient landscape design and construction.

A rendering of Yankee Pier Plaza.

Thirty-three acres of development area on the Island’s southern end were designated for future construction as part of the Island’s Park and Public Space Master Plan, released in 2010.

The Island has undergone a wide-ranging transformation over the past decade, including a $400 million investment to build the award-winning 43-acre park and in infrastructure upgrades.

The Island is currently home to year-round tenants, including the New York Harbor School, the Billion Oyster Project and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s newly expanded Arts Center at Governors Island, as well as dozens of seasonal arts and cultural partners.

Since opening to the public in 2005, the Island has welcomed more than 6 million visitors, and welcomed nearly 1 million in 2019 alone. Nearly 80 percent of Governors Island visitors reside in New York City.

In March, the Trust issued a Request for Proposals from artistic, cultural, environmental and educational organizations for the use of two buildings in Nolan Park, a collection of 20 former military officer homes, on a long-term basis.

The RFP is part of the Trust’s broader efforts to breathe new life into several buildings within the Island’s Historic District with year-round tenants in the areas of arts and culture, commercial activity, and hospitality and amenities to support both expanded access and increasing visitorship.

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