BY KAYODE OLA
On June 25, ULI New York’s first Borough Development Series, Transforming Staten Island’s Waterfront, was held in a packed conference room inside the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The panel consisted of Joseph Ferrara, Partner at BFC Partners, Elysa Goldman, Director of Development at Triangle Equities, Rich Marin, President and CEO of New York Wheel, James S. Oddo, Staten Island Borough President, and Marilyn Schlossbach, Chef and future tenant of the New Stapleton Waterfront, and was moderated by Lynn Kelly, President and CEO of Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden.
Kelly kicked off the discussion asking the panelists about their vision for Staten Island. In response, Oddo emphasized creating opportunity on the waterfront while maintaining Staten Island’s identity as a bedroom community. “We do not just want people to come spend a few hours off the boat, we want them to spend a day or two,” he explained.
That shouldn’t be a problem considering the amenities coming to the waterfront. Empire Outlets will accommodate 100 boutique stores, sub-grade parking and a 198-key hotel above the ground floor retail. Neighboring Empire Outlets will be the three-acre Triangle Equities development, Lighthouse Point. Made of four 19th-century buildings, Lighthouse Point seeks to be a “historic waterfront village.” Goldman highlighted the uniqueness of the borough as the major inspiration for the project. “There is no other place like this in the city, the fact that you have a ferry terminal that brings 25 million people annually, a magnificent site, a free transportation hub, and fantastic views is truly incredible,” she said echoing Ferrara’s sentiment. Schlossbach, who plans to open two restaurants at URL Stapleton brought color to the conversation through her experience with community work in Asbury Park, from where she hails. “When you come to a new neighborhood that is struggling, it is an opportunity to lift people up,” she explained. “We intend to do this while keeping that suburban city life intact for Staten Islanders.”
The plans appear to have parallel aims for both tourists and the existing community. Marin, who recently became a resident of the borough, envisions Staten Island as an “urban getaway.” The New York Wheel, an observation wheel which is expected to be the tallest in the Western Hemisphere, is expected to have 2,200 riders per hour, which Marin boasts is twice the hourly capacity of the One World Trade Center’s new observatory. Besides being a magnet for a projected 4 million tourists, a 14,000 square-foot playground is planned beneath the wheel to cater for the needs of local resideents.
When a member of the audience questioned the absence of a master plan and resultant implications for traffic, parking and other infrastructural challenges, Oddo responded, “I would rather have a rejuvenated waterfront with the challenges than not have anything at all.”
The Borough President expects a total shift from what he termed the “perverse self-flagellation” that is common with Staten Islanders as they think of themselves as the “forgotten borough.” He looks to the St. George developments as a beacon for opportunity where talent can be found and retained. To do this, he explained, “it is important to make sure that perceptions are changed.”