EDC expects more seaplane activity, area residents frustrated that garage will stay and lack of community involvement
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Last Wednesday, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) presented its plan for a $10 million renovation of the Skyport Garage and Marina to area residents at Community Board 6’s most recent Land Use and Waterfront meeting. The proposal, drawn up by Nandinee Phookan Architects, includes the possibility of increased seaplane activity, with an opportunity for larger, two-engine planes headed to Boston or Washington, D.C. to take off from the East River, as well as general infrastructure improvements to fix damage from Hurricane Sandy.
EDC Senior Vice President and Director of Operations Rich Cote said at the meeting that most of the budget is going towards infrastructure improvements.
“Sandy gave us a black eye like it did most of this part of Manhattan,” Cote said. “There was a million dollars worth of damage. We’re giving the place a full facelift, just trying to give the infrastructure some help.”
Cote explained that the garage had been leased to a private entity for fifty years until early 2012, when it reverted back to city ownership and is now under the purview of the EDC because the building was in such bad shape and improvements needed to be made.
In addition to infrastructure repairs to the garage, the plans also include more outdoor space in the form of a floating dock so passengers waiting to board boats will not be loitering in the path of passing cyclists in the bike lane.
Sandy also destroyed the wave screen, which stops waves from damaging ships and prevents ships from slamming into the docks, and part of the plan is to repair the screen. The reconfiguration of the marina would also allow for the possibility to bring in planes bigger than the single-engine aircraft that currently land in and take off from the dock.
“The wingspan would be twice as large and those would be two engine planes. But with any seaplanes, most of the noise is out on the river because that’s when they start revving up,” Cote said. “They’re not that loud. The most we envision would be two to three times a day. The increase would be 20 to 25 planes, from 10 to 15. It won’t create an overwhelming amount of air traffic and it wouldn’t be TSA-level travel.”
Cote added that the plan also includes some aesthetic changes to make the garage nicer to look at.
Instead of adding to the light pollution with spotlights, which are currently on the face of the garage, there would be blue LEDs on the face of the building for more understated illumination. He added that none of the plans are set in stone yet and are subject to change, especially due to community input, and not all of the plans have been approved.
“The Public Design Commission might not even go for these lights,” he said.
Land Use and Waterfront Committee Vice Chair Ellen Imbimbo said that she was disappointed with the proposal.
“This plan is directionally opposite of what we were expecting,” she said. “We heard comments that the EDC would incorporate this into Stuyvesant Cove and diminish the garage activity. The community board is opposed to a garage on the waterfront. The water should be for leisure, not for parking.”
In response, Cote said that there are currently no plans to change the function of the building, mostly due to budgetary constraints.
“Six million dollars of the budget for the project is just to repair the infrastructure,” Cote said. “Using all that money, we wouldn’t even change the face one bit.”
Committee members expressed interest in having the roof of the building open to accommodate community activities, but Cote said that even though it doesn’t seem like that would be a big project, having the roof open for people gathering would require a much bigger budget.
“The roof is currently ramped so to make that open to the public there would need to be structural modifications,” he said. “The $10 million budget would have to be doubled.”
Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Association, also expressed frustration at the meeting that the EDC has continuously left Waterside Plaza tenants in the dark about their plans.
“We have asked for a say and we’ve been blown off entirely,” Handal said. “There was no consultation with us, so we oppose a resolution until they consult us.”
Committee chair Terry O’Neal noted that EDC has kept the board out of the loop in the past and another committee member added that EDC proposals often come to the board at the last minute.
A representative for the EDC at the meeting said that the lack of communication about the plans so far was mostly due to the fact that the proposal was drawn up during the summer when the committee did not have any meetings, but added that members would be getting more updates on the project in the future.