Governors Island Climate Research Center hopes include former deputy mayor of Bloomberg


Governors Island is full of ideas for a new climate research center in New York Harbor, including influential former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and several top universities.

Doctoroff, who served as development czar under Mike Bloomberg, was one of 37 individuals and groups who submitted 12 separate proposals to the Trust for Governors Island. The Trust, which launched a call for ideas this summer to anchor a climate center on the 172-acre strip of land, the list announced on Wednesday.

The proposed science center is part of several sweeping changes in the work of Governors Island, as THE CITY reported last November. The city council approved major land use changes for the island in May.

Doctoroff is bidding for the climate project through Sustainable Development Commons, a non-profit organization he founded this month, according to state records. The group will be led by Josh Sirefman, another Bloomberg administration alumnus who helped craft Cornell University’s winning bid for its tech-focused Roosevelt Island campus.

The two men are co-founders of Sidewalk Labs, the Google-backed urban tech company, which served as technical advisor on the proposal, a spokesperson for Doctoroff said. But the pair say they are pursuing the Governors Island business independently of Sidewalk.

Dan Doctoroff joined Mayor Bill de Blasio at the grand opening of The Shed at Hudson Yards on April 1, 2019.
Michael Appleton / Mayor’s Office of Photography

Doctoroff, who was responsible for Hudson Yards and other megaprojects, has long been directly involved in the planning and stewardship of Governors Island.

He oversaw its first redevelopment that began in the late 2000s, after the US Coast Guard handed over the land and its historic buildings to the city.

Doctoroff was vice chairman of the now defunct Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, the forerunner of the current Trust, which was formed in 2010.

The Trust is currently chaired by former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who served as Development Czar under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Launch a global network

The Trust declined to provide further details on the 12 proposals it received for the climate hub. But THE CITY has spoken to supporters of three of those dozen, including a team from Stony Brook University.

The Long Island institution is collaborating with the universities of Oxford, Yale, Stanford and Columbia as well as with the energy research center of Brookhaven National Laboratory to create the “New York Climate Exchange,” its proposal says. The project will be a “living laboratory” on the island with laboratories, classrooms, exhibits, greenhouses and housing, the document said.

Stony Brook promises he can provide up to $ 100 million in philanthropic support to fund the project, adding to the $ 115 million the Trust and the city have already pledged to the climate center.

A coalition called Renewable Nations L3C has submitted a proposal that brings together design and development experts with 15 universities to create a new academic institution on the island.

Academic institutions from Boise, Idaho, to Okinawa, Japan, have signed on, and Goldman Sachs is a funder, according to Lesley Braxton, director at Trahan Architects and one of the main strategists behind the plan.

Governors Island, with Manhattan in the background, September 20, 2020.

People enjoy an outdoor space on Governors Island, September 20, 2020.
Rachel Holliday Smith / THE CITY

She said using the island’s existing structures dating from the 19th and 20th centuries is a priority for the group, which plans to work with Cross Street Partners, a development company specializing in adaptive reuse.

“The most sustainable building is the one you don’t have to build,” she noted.

The as yet unbuilt climate center is expected to use about one-fifth, or 33 acres, of Governors Island’s land mass.

Amy Chester, CEO of Rebuild By Design, a city-based nonprofit that focuses on sustainable and resilient architecture but is not involved in any of the climate center proposals, was impressed with the list of respondents.

She cited the “deep expertise” of Deltares, a leading hydraulic engineering company from the Netherlands that has carried out resilience work in New York and around the world.

Attract intelligence

As with Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island, Chester said that “building excitement around a college center is good for New York City.”

“Here, it attracts businesses. It attracts jobs. This creates new educational opportunities and local expertise, which government and New Yorkers can tap into, ”she said.

Still, she has doubts about how the project will play out on a low island in New York Harbor, especially as many parts of the city are struggling to prepare for more extreme weather conditions.

“What the city is going to have to do is invest a lot of money in infrastructure to make this happen, and do it in a way that will reflect on future climate events,” Chester said.

“The city is going to be pulled in many different directions to meet immediate needs like what we saw in Hurricane Ida. But a real plan is one that takes a step back and really thinks holistically. “

Braxton said the Governors Island project “should not hinder” efforts to make New York resilient, but “help the how.”

“We need to repair the infrastructure of our cities. But can we do this smarter? And we are here to understand how we can do it, ”she said.

The timing and feasibility of the climate center are still pending. The concept will need the support of the next mayor of New York. Democratic and Republican mayoral candidates spoke little of the climate center idea during the election campaign.

Representatives for Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa did not respond to THE TOWN’s inquiries on Wednesday.

It is not known when a winning proposal will be chosen. A spokesperson for the Trust for Governors Island only said the group will assess the climate center’s proposals in the coming weeks with the Mayor’s Office for Climate and Sustainability as well as the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and New York City. City Economic Development Corporation.

“These candidates all bring unique qualifications and specialties, and we look forward to finding the perfect fit for this bold step in tackling the climate crisis,” de Blasio said in a statement announcing the proposals on Wednesday.

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