With a developer abandoning plans for a giant observation wheel on the North Shore of Staten Island, efforts to capitalize on the crush of tourists taking the ferry have come full circle.
The New York Wheel development team announced Tuesday that it was formally abandoning plans for a 630-foot observation wheel, slated to rise on city-owned land just north of the Richmond County Bank Ballpark. The move comes after the developers unsuccessfully sought government assistance in financing what had been an entirely privately backed attraction. As the wheel’s development and now-bankrupt construction team deliberate over project parts, the city’s Economic Development Corporation will resume discussions about the site, sparking frustration among those who wish the city did more to support a central thrust of the shore’s bid for a development boom.
Linda Baran, president and CEO of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, expressed disappointment that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration did not “step up” with funding assistance when the financial challenges became evident.
“It’s a bump in the road — I’m not going to say it’s a small bump — but really since the Wheel, there has been so much positive focus and excitement about Staten Island that I think will continue,” said Baran.
The New York Wheel pushed the city and state to issue bonds on behalf of the project, before backing out Tuesday, as was first reported by Staten Island Advance. The de Blasio administration demurred, arguing the endeavor had become too speculative and risky for public investment.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled plans in 2012 for what was billed as the tallest observation wheel in the Western Hemisphere. The attraction was initially expected to cost $230 million and debut in 2015. Delays and legal disputes have since pushed the price up to nearly $1 billion, according to a source familiar with the project.
Last year, the construction company, Mammoet-Starneth, walked off the job amid disputes over compensation. The developer and construction firm wound up in court over the matter, with Mammoet-Starneth ultimately filing for bankruptcy.
The two parties parted ways, placing parts of the wheel in storage in Brooklyn, according to a source.
Mammoet-Starneth did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The developer issued a statement highlighting its disappointment in walking away from a project expected to generate “thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic growth.”
“We sincerely thank the people of Staten Island for joining us in believing in this important project and urge the City to think big and dedicate the site to tourism development that will help to support the Empire Outlets, the Richmond County Bank Ballpark — home of the Staten Island Yankees — and the rich cultural institutions that line the North Shore of Staten Island,” the statement read.
Nearly 415 individuals pooled together resources for a $206 million loan extended to the wheel through the EB-5 program, where foreign funding is provided in exchange for visas. CamAm Enterprises, which was involved with the arrangement, will see the investors through the immigration process, according to the investment firm’s CEO, Tom Rosenfeld.
“As a secured creditor, we also expect to enforce our rights and remedies including, among other things, in the collateral pledged to secure our loan,” Rosenfeld said in a statement.
The EDC is prepared to work on other pitches for the site, according to its spokeswoman, Stephanie Baez.
“While the developers were unable to secure the necessary funding for this project, the city is committed to working with the community and local stakeholders to determine potential uses for the wheel site,” Baez said in a statement.
Staten Islanders were not surprised such a fraught project was terminated.
The wheel was viewed as a linchpin in the “revitalization” of the Island’s North Shore, as local officials have called the recent development near the Staten Island Ferry.
City Councilwoman Debi Rose criticized the mayor and developers for not doing enough to keep the project afloat, especially because she viewed many of its components — like a public park and children’s space — as crucial for the neighborhood.
“The developer’s inability to complete the project is a deep disappointment for me and a blow to my district, as is the city’s refusal to issue bonds at no cost or risk to taxpayers, denying Staten Islanders needed amenities and a vision promised years ago,” Rose said in a series of tweets.
Baran and others noted the area has seen an influx of local shops and will soon welcome the Empire Outlets mall and Lighthouse Point, a development that will add more residential, retail and dining venues.
“These are all other attractions and you have tons of businesses opening in the area stretching down to Stapleton,” said Holly Olivieri, a real estate broker on the Island who expected the demand for housing there to continue. “Anything with oceanfront views are always moving briskly.”
Still, some local residents were frustrated by what the wheel left behind. Its developers have been criticized for a 325,000-square-foot concrete parking garage built to replace the parking lot on which the wheel was being constructed. The developers said the garage will continue to operate, but some residents felt the trade off was not worth it.
“I was for it in the beginning — and I’m not saying I’m against it now — except for the big, ugly, concrete bunker of a parking garage,” said Sarah Power, of St. George Civic Association. “It’s a shuttle bus away from the ferry terminal and very poorly designed and planned.”
Rather than targeting tourists, some residents would like the city to prioritize locals’ preferences.
“I’m upset that all that money was wasted instead of being spent on something actually useful,” said Denise Johnson, a hospital worker from Mariners Harbor. “We didn’t need a Ferris wheel; we need better buses or a train or something for the kids here.”