(January 20, 2022) — Governor Kathy Hochul is planning to tap former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lead the United Nations Development Corporation (UNDC), the state-controlled entity created in 1968 to assist the United Nations (UN) community with its real estate development and property management needs. Bloomberg is expected to accept the chairmanship of the public benefit corporation, and will be tasked with convincing the UN community to move some of the operations located at its iconic headquarters on the Eastside of Manhattan to Governors Island, where security concerns can be better satisfied.
Among the operations that Hochul wants to relocate is the UN General Assembly, which presents the most intensive security risks. It’s thought that other operations like the UN Secretariat, visitors center, training center, museum, and the administrative bureaucracy would remain at the current headquarters site.
In recent decades, the Midtown Manhattan location has posed security risks that limit the facility’s use and impose burdens on the surrounding neighborhood, long the cause of traffic headaches stemming from security protocols required when foreign heads of state are present. It’s thought that a location on Governors Island would be able to accommodate larger diplomatic conventions under more secure circumstances, and that a leafy-campus like setting could accommodate space for a larger UN footprint in New York overtime.
“In a manner of speaking, Governor Hochul wants to renegotiate the UN’s lease, and she is willing to build a new palatial waterfront headquarters that aspires to make an even more iconic impact on New York’s skyline and it’s role in global diplomacy than the current property,” a source familiar with the plan tells The Chronicle. “Let’s be honest, the current headquarters is drab and doesn’t accommodate the person-to-person diplomacy that could be more robustly enabled in a well-secured campus setting.”
She insists that everyday New Yorkers will continue to have easy access to the island when foreign heads of State are not present, and when they are, access will still be available through a security checkpoint.
It’s an exciting prospect to architects, urban planners, and those who are passionate about historic preservation, all of whom can imagine spectacular possibilities for Governors Island, originally a colonial fort that’s served in many subsequent roles, from a military barracks to a coast guard station. A small portion of the Island — including the historic Fort Jay and Castle Williams — is operated by the National Park Service, while the Trust for Governors Island operates the remaining 150 acres (including 52 historic buildings) as a public park.
The Trust is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created by the City of New York, responsible for its planning, operations, and ongoing development. Since its transfer from federal to local control in 2003, Governors Island has undergone one of the most remarkable transformations in New York City’s history, including the construction of over 43 acres of new, award-winning park space, created public programs, and commissioned artworks that welcome nearly one-million visitors annually. The Trust continues to rehabilitate historic buildings in partnership with educational and cultural tenants, but nearly all of the island’s 52 historic structures have yet to be restored or repurposed.
The UNDC develops and operates office space and other facilities that help meet the current and future needs of the United Nations, diplomatic missions to the UN, and UN-related programs. The Corporation also provides advice and services with respect to real estate planning as requested by the State or City of New York, the United States, or the UN.
Under its enabling statute, the Corporation is currently permitted to develop and operate real estate only within a prescribed development district in the vicinity of UN headquarters in Manhattan. The boundaries of the Development District and other powers of the Corporation are subject to change to the extent provided by additional legislation.