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The Transformation of Governors Island

Real Estate Developments

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is eager to transform Governors Island by implementing 4.5 million square feet of new development. On August 24, 2018, the administration announced its plans to rezone 33 acres of the south half of Governors Island. The rezoning will allow the city to “unlock up to 4.5 million square feet of commercial, academic, cultural and institutional development that would complement and financially sustain the Island’s popular park, public programming, and cultural amenities.”[1]

Governors Island has historically been neglected, but its rich history includes the island functioning as a nut repository for the native Lenape tribe to a U.S. military base. The 172-acres has extraordinary potential to not only attract tourists but to create a cultural destination and jobs for New Yorkers. Due to the Island’s successful 43-acre park, the city is enthusiastic about the prospective rezoning plans. Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, explained that this “rezoning represents the next step in marrying the Island’s rich history with its future role as a global hub for convening, the arts, tech, and education”.[2]

The administration’s proposed rezoning plans cover 7 acres on the west side of the Island, featuring views of the Statute of Liberty, and 26 acres on the east side, which is where the new developments are set to take place.[3]  Since 2003, there has been a federal deed restriction that prohibits residential use of the land, however, the rezoning plans are in favor of changing this. According to Crain’s report, the rezoning “would encourage relatively low-rise commercial properties with large floor plates … Dorm or hotel buildings, on the other hand, would be allowed to rise to a height of around 300 feet.”[4]

There are currently only two year-round tenants on Governors Island, the New York Harbor School and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Art Center. The new development will encourage more tenants to move onto the Island, which will facilitate greater job growth. Before the proposal is accepted it will need to undergo a public review by the City Council, which is expected to happen in the fall of 2019. If the proposal is successful, the city will begin to review proposals from interested parties.

One of the main concerns with such a large development is the transportation from Manhattan to Governors Island. A second ferry will be running to ensure there is only a 10 to 15 minute wait, however, this will not be enough once more tenants start to move onto the Island. As we have previously discussed, the city may develop an 800 meter aerial gondola between Manhattan and Governors Island, which may help lessen the burden.[5]

[1] Governors Island. (Aug. 24, 2018) “De Blasio Administration Announces Next Step in Transformation of Governors Island into Year-Round Hub for Education, Innovation and Recreation.” Governors Island. Available at: Accessed on Aug. 29, 2018.

[2] Ib.

[3] Ib.

[4] Anuta, J. (Aug. 24, 2018) “City Launches Effort to Rezone Governors Island.” Crain’s. Available at: Accessed on Aug. 29, 2018.

[5] See Guzov, LLC. (April 4, 2018) “Aerial Gondola, Take Two.” Available at: Accessed on Aug. 29, 2018.

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