The transformation of a 30-acre swath of unused, non-historic land on Governors Island — the military base turned FDNY testing ground/place where giant floating recycled umbrella orbs go to retire/car-less urban oasis situated in Upper New York Harbor — into a stunning destination park complete with man-made hills made from demolition debris, ball fields, formal gardens, public lawns, and a “Hammock Grove” is coming along quite nicely as 5,000 curious visitors to the island got to see first-hand this weekend during a public preview.
With construction due to wrap up later this month, sections of the West 8-designed Governors Island Park will officially open to the public — and their bikes — when the 172-acre island reopens for its 40-day season on May 30, 2014.
As for the aforementioned artificial hills constructed from infill and rubble left behind by demolished Coast Guard barracks, warehouses, and parking lots, those will not be completed until 2015 as part of the next phase of the project. There will be four of them, and they are being hailed as the "crowning jewel of the new park."
One, Outlook Hill, will rise as high as 80-feet and, thanks to some spectacular, 360-degree panoramic views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan, is being touted as “New York City’s newest destination.” The 40-foot Slide Hill will feature a quartet of slides (!) built into the hillside while the gently slopping Grassy Hill is just that. Rising to 60-feet, Discovery Hill will be the “setting for the convergence of nature and art with site-specific art along its pathways.”
And then there’s Hammock Grove, a lush, 10-acre pocket of parkland that will eventually be home to 50 lounge-ready hammocks (and I'm guessing long queues to use them). This section of the park, which also will include kids' play areas, won’t truly be complete for at least another 15 years. More than 1,5000 saplings have been planted and the first of the hammocks have indeed been installed but it will be some years until the trees actually start to provide shade.
“This will be a forest,” explains Leslie Koch, president of the nonprofit the Trust for Governors Island, to the New York Times.
But like Liggett Terrace — a six-acre recreation area featuring a “hedge labyrinth, flower gardens and a plaza” that visitors will first encounter when passing through the arched entrance to the new park at Leggett Hall, the cupola-topped Neo-Georgian brick structure that bisects the north and south sections of the island — to the north and the park's 14-acre expanse of public lawns and Little League-ready turf playing fields, Hammock Grove will indeed be ready for the public when next May rolls around (just minus the shade).
On the topic of trees, Governors Island lost only eight out of 1,700 specimens dotting the island during Superstorm Sandy, an event that Koch refers to as a “big stress test on our landscape.” None of the island's buildings were damaged in the storm. One of those buildings, in the island's historic Nolan Park section, played host to a special photography exhibition documenting the wrath — and recovery — of Sandy over the summer.
The northern end of Governors Island, home to a 92-acre National Historic Monument and Historic District including Fort Jay, Castle Williams, and Colonials Row, will remain relatively undisturbed throughout the dramatic $260 million facelift currently taking place in the southern section of the island.
However, the NPS-governed historic district will be treated to some cosmetic changes, “respectfully rejuvenated landscapes,” new amenities, and updated signage as part of the overhaul.
As for the commercial development of 33 acres of land adjacent to the new park and the reuse of 40 landmark buildings in the historic district, those plans are still yet to be determined (non-student housing is definitely out of the question) although some interesting proposals surfaced just this week.
In addition to the Hills, future features of Governors Island Park that will not be ready for the 2014 season include Liberty Terrace, revamped sections of the 2.2-mile Great Promenade that circles the island, and the South Prow, which will include one of the more intriguing new features of the new park, the Wetland Gardens (currently, the South Prow is known as Picnic Point.) These sections are pending future funding.
As someone who has explored, enjoyed, and repeatedly napped on Governors Island numerous times over the years (the island is just across the
street Buttermilk Channel from my apartment in Red Hook, Brooklyn) getting to preview the new park to see what's in store was quite the treat.
For this hardcore G.I. lover, May couldn’t come sooner.
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