If They Build It, Will They Come — to Staten Island?

How big of a boon will a Ferris wheel and outlet stores be for the borough's existing attractions?

Monday, March 31, 2014

More than two years before an enormous observation wheel, an outlet mall and new housing and hotels are scheduled to open on Staten Island, the borough's long-languishing cultural attractions are already drawing up plans to appeal to a new wave of tourists. 

"The wheel, the outlets and the new housing that's coming to this area is going to have an amazing positive impact," said Wayne Miller, executive director of the St. George Theatre, a short walk from the ferry terminal. 

Even before construction begins, he's planning a series of readings of new plays as well as lunchtime theater to appeal to local, national and international visitors. At the nearby Staten Island Museum, the staff is expanding exhibits about the ferry. Meanwhile, many museums and attractions are exploring the idea of creating a joint ticket that could be used for multiple attractions.

"We're talking to various entities like the Children's museum and now the new Lighthouse museum about putting together a ticket package of some kind, whether it's a wristband, or actually a card of some kind," said Steve Violetta, CEO of the Staten Island Yankees.

Already, the Staten Island Ferry carries two million tourists a year. With the new attractions, it's expected to carry millions more.

The impetus for this collective brainstorm are three economic development projects breaking ground this year that are expected to transform the island's North Shore from a concrete eyesore into a mixed-use neighborhood lined with parks, shopping malls and tourist attractions.

A large, unsightly parking lot next to the ferry terminal will become Empire Outlets, the city's first outlet mall, with 125 shops and a 200-room hotel. A short walk down the waterfront, the New York Wheel will rise 630 feet in the air, the largest in the world. Another project called Lighthouse Point will bring new housing, hotels, retail and restaurants to an area short on all four. 

The Wheel alone is expected to attract 4.5 million tourists a year, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation

"If I can get even just ten percent of that annual visitation, that could double what I get today," said Lynn Kelly, CEO of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, which currently sees 250,000 visitors a year. 

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Snug Harbor was a home for retired sailors. Now it features museums, a theater, a botanical garden, the city's largest working farm and landmarked Greek Revival buildings. But getting there has never been easy. 

The 83-acre museum campus lies just under two miles from the Staten Island ferry terminal. There's no subway access, and the walk, while possible, passes through an industrial strip lined with auto body shops, warehouses and a salt plant. Car and bus are the only realistic ways to get there now. 

But once the Wheel and outlet mall are built, one out of three shuttle buses that service those sites will continue on to Snug Harbor, and the city is looking into building a new dock for high-speed ferries and water taxis. 

"What you're about to see is the renaissance of Staten Island's waterfront," Kelly said. "This is a game changer for us."


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Comments [26]

Natalie from NY NY

this is not a good idea. SI is crowded enough and people are wasting all their money on a stupid ride! This will be a repeat of 9/11 and people will get killed somehow! totally agreeing with janet........and annie i hope you visit soon

Apr. 20 2014 10:19 PM

"Charles from downtown"... If you don't like tourists - then be prepared to pay higher taxes. Will you?

Apr. 08 2014 01:13 PM
Ellen from Lataurette

I think it's all great but my concern is parking. I would like to see the old rail track's reconnected from St George to Totenville along the west shore with park and rides for those of us who live mid-island and on the South shore. If consideration is not given to this,an area which is already congested,will be more so and the cost of parking expensive

Apr. 06 2014 05:51 PM

Tourists already come to Staten Island, literally by the boatload. More of them stay for an hour or so to walk around St. George, grab a quick bite and take some photos before getting on the ferry for the return trip. The Ferris wheel and shopping outlet will give them further reasons to stay longer and spend more money, which tourists LOVE to do when on vacation.

Apr. 02 2014 01:11 PM
VMGillen from Staten Island

When will NYC hit critical mass on the hotels? What are the occupancy rates in the outer boroughs?

We now have people getting off the ferry, walking around the terminal, and getting back on the same boat they arrived on... with the Wheel, they'll get off the boat, ride the wheel, and get back on the boat. No one will go anywhere beyond the terminal if we don't fix our mass transit! Or -shudder- are we expecting them to drive? As far as bike paths are concerned, Staten Island's north shore has narrow streets, ruled by 53' trucks. There is no possible widening, and commerce trumps pansy bikers as far as politicians and police enforcement are concerned.

No one has mentioned that the plan calls for a two-story barrier along Richmond Terrace, effectively blocking our views unless we enter the project area. That is a serious design flaw, IMO.

Oh well. It's happening. I'd like to see the developers buy demolition insurance, that way we won't end up with another crap hole if it fails.

Apr. 02 2014 08:52 AM

I agree with Janet's comments as well. Also Mr.Tucker should take on Lindajwink's suggestion and come back to report on the real downsides to this project with regard to the St. George residential community. Ms. Kelly seems to have only concerns for the tourists without any thought of this development and the negative impact to the people who live in the area. Why couldn't St George be considered for the Cornell Campus which is going to Roosevelt Island? St George used to be the neighborhood for a CUNY school which was the former Richmond College.
I don't see tourism as a benefit here. Whatever gains are forecast are greatly exaggerated. The outlet Mall shops appear to be modeled after the ports of the cruise ship industry where people gravitate to these shops which are a short walk and then go back to the ship. The port of St Thomas is such a design.

Apr. 01 2014 11:29 PM
Charles from Downtown

The Bloomberg tourism is horrible! Ask anyone who lives in in a tourist plagued neighborhood.

Apr. 01 2014 10:31 AM

I live in Manhattan and have had the chance to poke around SI, including Snug Harbor, historic district, the Sri Lankan restaurant that Anthony Bourdain raved about, etc and there are plenty of other places we have yet to visit (Alice Austen house, lighthouse etc). SI has a lot of cool things going on and I hope that more people will be able to visit and appreciate these beautiful sites . But it does seem like a place that is in need of some care and attention, and getting around to these different places is an adventure in itself (We just walked, which was not easy). Boat loads of people are taken to SI everyday, but nobody sticks around to explore because it is just not walkable or inviting. Developing the north shore to be pedestrian friendly, with bike lanes, good restaurants/cafes, etc and showing the historic beauty of that area (the old theatre!) would be great. I am just worried that the development will be overly commercialized with a bunch of starbucks and generic stores, which would just be a waste of time and money for everyone.

Mar. 31 2014 09:11 PM
E. Gregory from New Brighton, SI, NY

The Wheel and other features coming to St. G. may anticipate their visitation coming from the Ferry. Which is true. But my experience in the area teaches that no one thing will draw more than a small portion of ferry tourists to any attraction. Having several attractions: a hotel, a wheel, shops, restaurants, is a much better scenario. But to be a true success, and to bring success to the neighboring restaurants, galleries, shops and attractions, the entire infrastructure of the North Shore needs to be re-imagined. Rebuilding the North Shore Railroad, and connecting it via Bayonne or Elizabeth to NJ Transit; bringing a rail line over the Narrows to the SIRT, being sure that the Empire Outlets connects to the community at Richmond Terrace, adding waterfront bike paths that go somewhere, and many other details will create the true tourism corridor that will bring users to the site.

Mar. 31 2014 08:04 PM
Mary Caroddo from Floral Pk NY

You missed what may become the biggest tourist draw in Staten Islands near future. The former Great Kills garbage dump developing into a recreation and nature preserve park, which when completed in 20 years will be 3x the size of Central Park.
Worth a ride there just to see it as it develops in stages. If the city wants to encourage interest, it should set up shuttle buses from the ferry terminal to the site. Governors Island had tours last year into the section under development. It was cool to see parts of what was once in disarray next to completed sections, new and beautiful, using innovative design and landscape plants native to that area. Going back when season opens to see finished area.

Mar. 31 2014 06:41 PM
Steve from St. George Staten Island

All of this sounds great, the better question I ask is "When they build it will I Stay". Having seen and experienced the issues that were and still effecting our community from the stadium, I have to wonder what will happen to those of us that call St.George home.Living about 3 blocks up from where the whee will be located has me concerned about several issues. What about increased traffic in the area, or parking around our homes. Will there be bright lights, like those from the stadium that took months getting adjusted to keep from shining into people's widows. We love living in St.George, but I'm concerned what will happen here when all the improvements are completed. What does the community at large gain from a giant Ferris wheel?

Mar. 31 2014 05:52 PM
Mick from St. George

Hey Linda, the author clearly came to the Island. If you listen to the audio, he describes walking from the Ferry to Snug Harbor and - accurately - describes the industrial and auto repair shop path blocked from the water, and then describes the "magical" (his word) Snug Harbor that is so worth a visit. And he is right that the parking lots around the ferry and the bus ramps are concrete eyesores. The waterfront has to be made more accessible and "user friendly" and then people will be inspired to wander around and maybe the eyesores will begin to become eye-catchers.

Mar. 31 2014 05:07 PM
Kristin Widener from Staten Island

Snug Harbor is a beautiful place that I frequently visit. How about opening a top notch restaurant on the grounds. As far as I know a hot dog and soda is about the most you can find. Also, I visited the children's museum this past weekend and it seems like it has seen better days. Maybe a little sprucing up would help.

Mar. 31 2014 04:04 PM

if its cool, and not too expensive

Mar. 31 2014 02:07 PM

Douglas, that "eyesore" comment was a direct quote from the article, not a commenter. I wonder if the reporter came to our shores at all. It seems like a typical one sided piece promoting the NYEDC's version of things, not the reality that exists for tens of thousands of ferry commuters, residents who already live here on the North Shore, or local small business owners.
Daniel Tucker: why not write a follow up addressing those issues, as well as the problems that will be generated?

Mar. 31 2014 11:58 AM
Tyco Bahs

For the first time ever, Staten Island looks interesting!

Mar. 31 2014 11:43 AM
Gregory N from St. George

It ALL depends on how it's done. The odds are steep that funding for the project will be equitable, affordable, and not disruptive to the region's existing business. Examples: Will our local Staten Island businesses get first invitations to set up business in the new mall with no hiked rent? Will salaries for retail workers be well beyond the minimum-wage, at least $13/hour? Will Union workers be pushed out of consideration? Does the development plan include mixed use affordable housing? Will artists be ignored (as they typically are) as in: Will there be LIVE performance as opposed to mass-produced entertainment? How about affordable artists live-work space? And will the Wheel admission fee be no more than $15? (The Coney Island wheel is $7) Does the parent corporation have any of these priorities planned?

Mar. 31 2014 11:27 AM
Douglas from SI, NY


When a prior commentor said that the North Shore is an eyesore, I'm sure most would agree that St. George (and Snug Harbor) are the exceptions. It may not be as exciting or busy as the rest of the City, but it is a tidy neighborhood. Much of the North Shore though, especially along Richmond Terrace, is industrial and run-down. There's an abandoned train line running through. You can tell there's a lot of poverty.

Of course, go inland a few blocks to Forest Ave., and it's quite busy and lovely.

There is much to love about SI. The beaches and boardwalk and parks are great ammenities; there is good shopping and a nice indoor mall; there are some truly yummy restaurants.

I'm happy for any development in SI along the waterfront that will make it more useful and pleasant. I hope in future years that they redevelop the North Shore SI Railway and think about road/infrastrucutre improvements (the fact that two-lane Todt Hill Road is a pretty major cross-island thoroughfare is a fine example).

Mar. 31 2014 11:19 AM
Mick from St. George

Unfortunately , many people who comment are uninformed. These projects will turn ugly, huge parking lots below street level into a seven acre park with a 15,000 square foot playground, an exhibition center, and boulevard style shopping center all designed to increas waterfront access. The 9/11 memorial will be preserved with space around it and will get more visitors who will be affected by what Staten Island lost. The waterfront promenade is sadly underused now because it is too isolated - this will make it more friendly to all. Yes, it will change the feeling of the watefront but it is designed to highlight our island feel rather than undermine it. And, Annie from Australia, I can't wait for you to return in a couple of years and see what is happening.

Mar. 31 2014 10:43 AM

I really resent the North Shore being referred to as "a concrete eyesore" when St. George, where the Staten Island Ferry docks and our center of local government is, has the refurbished landmark St. George Theatre mentioned in the article, as well as a re brick 100 year old public library,Carrere and Hastings designed NYC landmark borough hall, and courthouses in a quaint hillside community, with many thriving local businesses and lots of already available apartments and condos. Lots of them, already there, and empty for literally years: how will a ferris wheel and tourist hordes make these places more appealing as residences? I personally don't see that it will, and once again people here are drinking the "renaissance" KoolAid that's been thrust our way time and again. Try reading some news articles from when the Navy Homeport was on SI, and all the surrounding hype - we've heard it all before.
Now the comparisions are to Hoboken, Williamsburg and Soho. Unless we have a direct rail connection off the island, the commute will always be longer than those places, and never allow Staten Island to compete for the same residents as those who can afford to live closer to where they work. This is a bedroom community which lacks direct access to the city/Manhattan other than the ferry, which currently still runs once an hour overnight and on weekends. That's another promise, the ferry will have increased service, but won't mean anything when there are insufficient boats in service or other circumstances which occur regularly with the ferry. And needless to say, adding vehicular traffic that will include tractor trailer trucks and tour buses won't help the horrendous traffic that already exists on this island. And that ferry which is expecting more passengers, already encounters "overcapacity" issues where there are too many people to board the boat in the time allotted, which throws off the schedule causing delays.

Mar. 31 2014 10:38 AM
Camille from Crown Heights, Brooklyn

It only makes sense to at least put *something* to attract tourists in St. George. Thousands of tourists touch those shores every day and literally race onto to the next ferry without spending a dime or any time there. As a former SI resident, I can say that Staten Island puts no effort into getting people to even come in and poke around. I guess some people (especially in Stapleton and St. George) are somehow worried that people will see it, like it and come live there/ruin it for them, but it just seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Most of the people that come that way to sample tourist fare will be out-of-towners not Williamsburg hipsters looking to muscle their way in.

Mar. 31 2014 10:35 AM
ericka from Staten Island

This is a bad idea, but then NY area waterfront "development" is in the wrong hands --plans for South Street Seaport, Queens waterfront, Jersey City are examples, Brooklyn Bridge Park the exception. When its 20 degrees, wind howling, very few will want to pay $40 to climb into a cab for a better view of Bayonne's oil tanks. Jobs generated will be minimum wage and unlikely to filter back and uplift the depressed parts of North Shore. Tired chain stores are a slapdash formula, instead of working with locals to cultivate unique eateries and retail. SI's waterfront is industrial; ship repair, small manufacturing, and hopefully the Lighthouse Museum. Cut the vast parking lots, plant more trees, encourage exploration. Otherwise, the future is Atlantic City, in NY.

Mar. 31 2014 10:16 AM
Rita from SINY

Annie From Australia ... stay in Austrailia our island is not decrepit .. that was your opnion .. maybe if New York City didn't shit all over the Island it would look better but that doesn't happen .. they just keep shoving more things down our throats and lying about it to us .. just like the Bridge .. If you don't like the Island stay wherever the hell you are and don't come here .. trust me we won't miss you!~

Mar. 31 2014 09:41 AM
Mary from Staten Island

I live on Staten Island, formerly in St. George. I'm with Janet.

Mar. 31 2014 09:40 AM
Janet from St. George, Staten Island

Not all of us who actually live in St. George and surrounding areas are thrilled, nor do we consider our area an "eyesore". There are already at least two or three luxury buildings in the neighborhood with apartments that don't seem to be able to find renters/buyers, but green spaces are still being destroyed by developers for more "luxury" buildings. Our roads, already insufficiently maintained and crowded, will become more so. The waterfront where many of us love to walk, sit on benches, watch the boats in the harbor, and quietly enjoy the grass, trees, and water, is being turned into a "tourist destination" of shops and a giant ferris wheel -- which will sit practically up against the beautiful and eloquent Staten Island 9/11 memorial! Not to mention that nearby, a developer is getting ready to cut down old growth trees to turn a beautiful former Jesuit retreat center into 250 townhouses. No, we do not all view this as progress.

Mar. 31 2014 07:50 AM
Annie from Australia

I hope Staten Island revives. I visited in 2007 and it seemed very tired and a bit decrepit.....the beach was crowded with people on the hot day I was there and were all enjoying themselves.......but new infrastructure will bring back the golden days of this place once more. Good luck for its future. Hope to visit again.

Mar. 31 2014 07:44 AM

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