While some coastal areas in Staten Island cope with the devastation of Sandy, the city is moving ahead with a public meeting tonight about a parking-saturated mega-development for the north end of the island. According to one developer, the project will include “every possible bit of parking” that can be built there. At the same time, the developers will contribute nothing to improve surface transit to the site, even though it is located in the most transit-accessible part of Staten Island and the MTA is planning a new busway that will directly serve the area.
The city’s proposal to build a 1.46 million square-foot regional shopping, entertainment, and hotel complex in St. George would concentrate development in a transit-accessible location and improve pedestrian connections between Richmond Terrace and the waterfront. But these benefits stand to be overshadowed by a huge amount of parking — 2,200 spaces — that will disrupt the pedestrian environment and attract street-clogging car trips.
The project will include between 50 and 125 retailers, a 200-room hotel, waterfront restaurants, a banquet facility, and — who could forget? — the world’s largest ferris wheel.
Today, the site has 1,606 parking spaces, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation: a 230-space EDC lot southeast of the Staten Island Yankees stadium, two DOT commuter lots totaling 556 spaces at the Staten Island Ferry terminal and an 820-space EDC lot northwest of the ballpark. The complex as currently proposed would include 2,200 parking spaces, which is intended not only for visitors to the new development but also Staten Island Yankees fans and ferry riders, according to EDC.
“All the parking spaces that were removed for these developments will be replaced, and then some,” Mayor Bloomberg said at the press conference announcing the development.
“We’re kind of hoping that demands at certain hours of the day will offset each other,” Joe Ferrara of project developer BFC Partners told the Staten Island Advance. Streetsblog reached out to BFC for more information but has not received a reply. A three-level garage on the “south site” (the retail-hotel complex near the ferry terminal) will have 1,250 spaces, while 950 (plus 20 spaces for buses) will be in a garage on the “north site,” which will have additional retail and restaurant space and the New York Wheel.
When asked why 950 spaces are planned for the north site, Richard A. Marin, president and CEO of New York Wheel, LLC, told Streetsblog, “We’re at 950 because that’s basically what we can fit into the space that we have” without obstructing the views of nearby residents. “It’s not because of any programmatic things that we’re doing,” he said. “We literally are putting every possible bit of parking on that spot that we can.”
The project’s north site is seeking LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council to be designated as one of the nation’s most environmentally-friendly new buildings.
The development would deck over but not eliminate the 50-foot wide rail right-of-way designated for a proposed North Shore busway. It does not include any improvements to facilitate transit service along the North Shore rail corridor. The MTA says the shopping, entertainment, and hotel complex has not figured into planning for the new transit route, and it does not expect the new development to affect ridership.
Even without the proposed busway, St. George is the single most transit-accessible place on Staten Island. The project’s draft scope of work, which describes the complex as “transit-oriented development,” calls the neighborhood “a transportation hub of rail and ferry service for Staten Island,” served by the Staten Island Ferry, Staten Island Railway and 22 bus lines.
“The idea is to make St. George an area where you don’t need a car,” Staten Island Borough President James P. Molinaro told the Post. But the project’s huge amount of parking undermines that goal, and the developer says existing transit service isn’t enough to encourage Staten Islanders not to drive.
“We’re assuming that the Staten Island population, especially the South Shore, will be driving over,” BFC’s Ferrara told the Advance. But as a borough, Staten Island has lower car commute rates than Portland or Los Angeles.
NYC EDC and the Department of City Planning have a long track record of building unnecessary parking and subsidizing it with taxpayer dollars, though in this case, at least, public officials have made a point of saying that the St. George development will not receive any subsidies. For this project, EDC put together the “request for expressions of interest” from developers and negotiated the lease of the site, while the City Planning Commission will have to approve the high volume of parking.
Instead of supporting a development with 2,200 parking spaces, which will lead to more driving and traffic congestion, the city could have trimmed down mall parking in what is already the island’s most transit-friendly neighborhood and used the development to help advance the MTA’s planned transitway instead of simply decking it over.
The only increased transit capacity proposed by the project is a new dock and water taxi, but EDC’s planning documents are noncommittal about whether these will be part of the final development.
The development’s parking facilities need special permits from the City Planning Commission, and the project must also navigate the city’s environmental review process. The first public meeting will be held today at 6:00 p.m. in the Music Hall of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden at 1000 Richmond Terrace. It will be followed by a 10-day public comment period.
EDC expects to complete the review process and begin construction in early 2014, with the complex opening by 2016.