We always try to keep on top of Staten Island's real estate progress. And there is always much to talk about with this ever-changing borough!
But it's also interesting to reminisce on those projects lost to the wind too. What could have been, you may wonder? Were they better off unfinished?
So in reverse order, let's count down the Top 6 White Elephants in Staten Island real estate before these strange events are left in the sands of time.
6. Fast Ferry
We are certainly grateful to have a free 24/7 ferry leaving from St. George every 30 minutes that docks in Manhattan. However, residents on Staten Island's South Shore face the longest commute times in the country- about a quarter of them have commutes of at least two hours each way.
The idea of a South Shore fast ferry has been tossed around to provide some relief- after all, Mayor DeBlasio's new "Five Borough Fast Ferry" program includes every borough EXCEPT the forgotten borough. Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, a fast ferry was introduced for Great Kills residents. For 8 weeks, a $2 fare would bring riders from Great Kills to Pier 11 at South Street, the Wall Street area, and 35th street.
But alas, despite initial enthusiasm, ridership tapered off and ultimately ended the temporary fast ferry service after the 8 weeks elapsed. A proposal was floated for a private ferry service which would cost riders $500/month. If riders couldn't cough up $2 a ride, how likely would they be to pay such a hefty price?
5. Waterfront Commons
Empire Outlets is not the first outlet mall to be planned for Staten Island. In 2006, a parcel of land in Richmond Valley was purchased by Puretz Development. The new owners planned to build a 380,000 square foot outlet mall, the first of its kind in New York City. This $90 million project ultimately folded when Lieb Puretz defaulted on his loan in 2009. His company later filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
Another interesting tidbit on this white elephant was that non-profit Kars for Kids invested charity dollars in the project. In 2010, the organization declared $5 million in real estate losses; much of which was tied up into Waterfront Commons.
4. Spanish Colony
The Spanish Colony is by far the most ancient on our list- with roots dating back to 1923. This neighborhood in present-day Annadale was settled by Spanish anarchists. A collection of cottages dotted the small neighborhood, offering its own streets and services independent of the city government.
For many years, the secluded colony continued this way of life. The Spanish Colony was then owned by The Spanish Naturopath Association. It was not until 2000 that things were shaken up when the founders' grandchildren sold this land to developer John DiSicala. This not only prompted an outcry from other residents, including those who wished to preserve and landmark the former home of Dorothy Day, but the ill-timed sale occurred right before the real estate bubble burst. In 2006, DiSicala's firm went bankrupt as they attempted to sell the land off to other developers.
3. Homeport Revitalization
Unlike most cities, Staten Island lacks a true downtown area- a center for work and social gatherings with block parties, retail, and urban living. We do have our share of town centers spread out but no main destination.
This void, along with the under-used North Shore waterfront, sparked inspiration for NYCEDC's Homeport Re-Development. Encompassing the neighborhoods closest to The Staten Island Ferry- St. George, Tompkinsville, and Stapleton- the idea was to create a core downtown with a radius of leisure activities and business to draw both borough residents and visits to a central destination.
Not truly a single "development", this city-driven nonprofit project has essentially stalled out. There has been some ground broken with the addition of new projects like Urby apartments, Flagship Brewery, and DaddyO's BBQ. However, the area still lacks a coherent vision and nightlife is largely nonexistent. According to the NYCEDC website, the last marked progress occurred in 2016 with a ribbon-cutting for Stapleton's new waterfront park.
2. The Nascar Track
Back in 2006, Nascar fans had their hopes dashed when the planned 82,000 seat auto racing track was scrapped. Conceived in an abandoned oil field, Staten Island Marine Development purchased the 671-acre land parcel near Goethals Bridge. According to the latest estimates, roughly 300 of these acres have been primed for developers already.
Ultimately, the development was squashed for two main reasons. First, the logistics proved too complicated for the largely vacant West Shore to accommodate the sheer amount of traffic for an estimated 3 races per year. The additional ferries and public transit needed were just not feasible. Environmental impact was also a major. Largely spongy wetlands in this spot would need to be drained and filled to support the Nascar track. Not only are wetlands an important part of our natural landscape, swamps act as a shock-absorber for large storms and flooding. As seen in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, some land should just be left alone.
1. The New York Wheel
Yes, we know The Wheel is technically suspended at the moment and not axed entirely. But considering that the largest observation wheel in North America was slated for completion this year, and all we have is a base to show for it, this claimed the #1 spot on our list for all the hype we have endured over it.
Buzz over the St. George revitalization has been a long time coming. The closest neighborhood to Manhattan is also Staten Island's port into Wall Street. With few decent jobs and recreation, the St. George area has tons of potential (as we touched on in the Homeport section). The New York Wheel was supposed to be a beacon of hope for St. George. The construction and traffic was well worth it, they said, to bolster the tax base and attract tourists from the boat that carries 60,000 commuters and travelers each day.
But it has now been more than a year since contractor Mammoet-Starneth walked off the job, causing a work stoppage that continues today. In January, CEO Rich Marin stepped down. Reportedly over $400 million of the $580 million budget has been spent already; and because of safety violations, only the base of the ferris wheel was built. Currently, negotiations are in place to obtain continued financing with the September 5 deadline fast approaching.
We aren't holding our breath.