Governors Island: A Different Idea

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Gov. David Paterson recently relinquished the state’s one-half control of Governors Island to New York City, giving Mayor Michael Bloomberg complete authority over the future of the 172-acre property. Numerous proposals have been floated for this space, but few offer an appropriate use of the remaining land. I would like to propose a novel idea: Move the United Nations there. Given the benefits, it is a no-brainer:

• The U.N.’s current facilities are crumbling, including its technological infrastructure. In fact, the U.N. is about to undergo a major restoration. Instead of a $2 billion Band-Aid, moving it to Governors Island would permit the construction of new buildings with state-of-the-art facilities and technologies at approximately the same cost. A design competition could be held, with the requirement that buildings be as “green” as possible. Construction of the new facilities would create thousands of critically needed jobs.

• Additional facilities could be built to accommodate visiting dignitaries, including a hotel and restaurants. Again, a design competition could be held, and both construction and staffing of these facilities would create thousands of jobs.

• Because it is an island, this new location would provide unparalleled security. Public access could be completely restricted during General Assembly sessions. A heliport could be built to fly world leaders directly to the island from area airports.

• Moving the U.N. would eliminate all the traffic nightmares associated with major events there. This would not only cut down on pollution (and frustration), but also millions of dollars in overtime for the New York City Police Department and other city agencies.

• Moving the U.N. would free up a huge parcel of land on the East Side, allowing the creation of a multi-use complex, including both residential and office buildings, shopping, restaurants and, of course, lots of parkland and waterfront access.

I can see only two concerns with this proposal. First, that the city might lose some revenue, since visiting dignitaries spend money in Manhattan. However, visitors would have to come to Manhattan to shop because stores would not be permitted on the island. Revenue generated by the hotel and restaurants would offset any potential loss.

Second, that this proposal would limit public access to the island. But the U.N. only holds major events once or twice per year, for a few days, and access would only be completely restricted during those times. Otherwise, the island would be open to the public. In fact, having a hotel and restaurants on the island might increase tourism, since many national and international visitors may view staying on the island as something special. And the presence of the U.N. itself would be a tourist attraction.

The U.N. was founded in 1945. In 1946, John D. Rockefeller donated the land on which it currently sits. It would be both fitting and historic if the city itself donated a portion of Governors Island, for which it paid the tidy sum of $1, as the new site. Ground could be broken late this year—in time for the organization’s 65th anniversary. n


Ian Alterman is a long-time resident and community activist on the Upper West Side.

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