STATEN ISLAND, NY — A slew of failed economic development projects cover the Staten Island waterfront, and most point to a single agency — the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
For years, EDC-related projects like the New York Wheel and its abandoned garage, Lighthouse Point and Pier 1 have languished along the waterfront and its surrounding community.
Republican Borough Chairman Vito Fossella and Councilwoman Kamillah Hanks (D-North Shore), both in their early years in office, emerged as Staten Island’s top spokespersons seeking a new direction than what was proposed.
EDC President and CEO Andrew Kimball spoke briefly to Advance/SILive.com after an unrelated Manhattan news conference on Thursday, and said his organization was working with the two local elected officials to make move forward with shoreline projects.
“These two chosen ones are very important to us,” Kimball said. “We are working with them to assess all of our projects and expect this engagement to yield positive results in the months to come.”
But a recent development regarding a focal point of failure drew a rebuke from Fossella, Hanks and other Staten Island leaders.
The Staten Island Board of Trustees voted late Wednesday to formally oppose the extension of the city’s 50-year ground lease to real estate development company Triangle Equities for the property to become Lighthouse Point, in part because that the city left the local authorities entirely out of the process.
The project, most associated with the 12-story tower at the intersection of Richmond Terrace and Bay Street, dates back to 2007, began in 2015, but has been dormant since 2019 when the original general contractor filed his balance sheet.
Evan Petracca, COO of Triangle Equities, told Community Board 1 members Oct. 6 that their lease on the property had been extended from 49 to 99 years after securing a new construction manager.
City records indicate that the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) owns the site, but an SBS spokesperson pointed to an investigation with EDC.
An EDC spokesperson said a copy of the lease was not publicly available, but there was no need to engage with the borough council because initial approval for the project would not did not limit the terms of the lease.
During a recent tour of the waterfront, Lighthouse Point was one of several EDC projects that Hanks pointed to as indicative of EDC’s mistreatment of Staten Island, particularly its north shore.
“I appreciate the sentiment shared by Chairman Kimball, but we need that sentiment translated into decisive action to deliver results for the community that needs and deserves access to its waterfront,” said Hanks said Thursday. “I intend to continue to hold EDC accountable for delivering these results.”
During Petracca’s virtual presentation to Community Board 1, he said Triangle needed the lease extension in order to secure financing and that the first phase of the project – which includes the 12-story building for residential and commercial – expected to be completed by 2024.
Meeting attendees expressed support for the project’s completion, but doubted it would ever materialize.
In its initial proposal, Triangle included a hotel for its 12-story building, but that disappeared from its latest vision of the site. It’s not on the company’s website, not mentioned in a slideshow presentation given at Community Board 1, and Petracca offered a non-answer at the Oct. 6 meeting.
“There are no plans to not deliver hotels at this time,” he told Community Board 1.
The second phase of Lighthouse Point, which will transform the four historic buildings of the US Lighthouse Depot complex into a mixed-use restaurant, office and hospitality space, does not have an expected completion date on the company’s website.
“All we see are failures and Staten Island is begging New York to fix it,” one attendee said at the Oct. 6 meeting.
Triangle Equities did not return an email request for comment at the time of publication.
Community Board 1 President Nichola Siclari conveyed that sentiment at Wednesday’s borough council meeting. He said Friday that the board’s vote not to support the lease extension was a “proactive” decision, and said he hoped EDC could also secure the funding to repair nearby Pier 1.
Borough councils, as defined in the city charter, fall under the jurisdiction of each borough president, who chairs the borough councils for their borough. The members of the city council and the presidents of the community councils make up the rest of each council.
According to the city’s charter, elected officials can vote on all matters, but community council presidents can only vote on matters that directly concern their district. The votes of the borough council are adopted by simple majority, in accordance with the Charter.
Fossella joined Hanks and Siclari in voting against extending the lease, but the borough president said he still hopes EDC can help developments along the waterfront succeed.
In late September, the borough president floated the idea of a casino for the former New York Wheel site. Hanks envisions a future waterfront with more open spaces, but the two are united in pushing for something different.
“We want to see more positive developments for the North Shore, especially the waterfront which has some of the best views in the world,” Fossella said. “We are committed to working with anyone who shares our goals and our vision. In light of EDC’s extensive portfolio, it is a key player in this process.
On Friday, Community Board 3 President Frank Morano expressed support for Community Board 1’s position, and Community Board 2 President Robert Collegio said he abstained from the question due to a lack of familiarity.
Councilman David Carr’s (R-Mid-Island) office did not respond to a request for comment at press time, and Councilman Joe Borelli (R-South Shore) voted against the resolution opposing to the extension of the lease.
“I do not know [want to] set up a new model where developers can declare bankruptcy and come in and renegotiate a new, more favorable deal at the expense of the community,” Borelli said.
Despite official opposition from the Borough Board, this is unlikely to have much effect on the future of the project under EDC’s deal with Triangle Equity, which has the option to buy the property at the city, according to an EDC spokesperson.
EDC is not a municipal agency. It is a non-profit organization mainly under the control of the mayor. What he has in store for Staten Island and its North Shore waterfront remains to be seen.