Parade of Boats goes public

BY LATIMA STEPHENS  |  Once a powerful symbol of economic vitality, the waterways of New York City have suffered from decades of pollution and neglect. In recent years, however, The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance (MWA) — a singular voice for over 500 organizations dedicated to our regional waterways — has employed a variety of strategies to transform the waters of New York and New Jersey Harbors into a destination for businesses, tourists and residents.

On October 11, in an effort to raise public awareness and bring crowds back to the waterfront, their annual Parade of Boats went public for the first time in its brief history. Viewed from Hudson River Park at Pier 62, the dramatic sunset procession featured over two dozen vessels — including Coast Guard cutters, kayaks and the FDNY fireboat Three Forty Three (named for the 343 firefighters lost during 9/11). Narration detailing the story of each participating vessel gave historical context to the visual splash.

“It seemed like a good idea,” said MWA president and CEO Roland Lewis, of the decision to invite the public. “It was time to open the parade so everyone can come out to enjoy the show. There was a symphony of boats out there. We had to turn people away because so many wanted to be involved. Every year it grows and grows,” said Lewis — who was referring to the contingent of participating vessels, but could just have easily been assessing the crowd of onlookers (who numbered in the hundreds). Beginning four years ago as a parade with only eight vessels, this year’s event showcased 28 different boats on the harbor.

The Parade of Boats served as a precursor to the MWA’s annual Heroes of the Harbor Awards Dinner. Special guests in attendance included NYC Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel, Colonel John R. Boulé II (Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers NY District) and Captain Linda Fagan, Commander (U.S. Coast Guard, NY Sector).

This year, Global Container Terminals USA president and CEO Jim Devine was honored. Praising the positive impact Devine’s leadership has had on protecting the environment, Lewis told Chelsea Now, “Jim Devine is a business leader in green port technology and deserves to be recognized as a Hero.” Speaking at the ceremony, Devine pressed for further reforms — telling the crowd, “Our harbor has been a nurturing body of water taken for granted. We abused what gave us life.” He then outlined strategies to help accomplish the shared vision of bringing recreation, transportation and commerce back to area waterways.

Hudson River Park Trust President and CEO Madelyn Wils (who also serves as Chairperson of Community Board 1) was also named a Hero of the Harbor. After accepting the award, Wils recalled how she loved growing up in Lower Manhattan. Unfortunately, that era was a period during which she witnessed the demise of the harbor’s waterways. Noting with pride Hudson River Park’s contribution to the steady improvement in quality of life, Wils noted that more people are moving back to the area. “It is an honor to participate in all the changes to the waterfront,” Wils said.

During her brief tenure as the new head of Hudson River Park, Lewis noted, “Madelyn has done work that has helped promote recreation and economic growth for the waterfront.” Before that, he recalled, “She has shown great leadership throughout her career as Executive Vice President of Planning, Development and Maritime of the New York City Economic Development Corporation.”

Moments before the parade began, Lewis spoke to Chelsea Now about the work yet to be done. “With New York City being an island, it is a problem that there are no places for boats to dock in the city. We need to find a cure for this problem. People also lack the knowledge about the waterways in the city.” The MWA’s efforts to make waterfronts and waterways cleaner and more accessible were bolstered this past March by a plan to rebuild and use the docks in Bay Ridge Brooklyn. “Finally the 120,000 people in Bay Ridge can get from the Ridge to the Bay and the Bay to the Ridge.” Speaking at the awards ceremony on Mayor Bloomberg’s behalf, Deputy Mayor Robert Steel noted that there are about 130 projects planned, and the mayor hopes they can all be completed before he leaves office.

For information about the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, visit waterfrontalliance.org or call 212-935-9831. For the Hudson River Park Trust, hudsonriverpark.org or 212-627-2020. For New York Container Terminal Inc., nycterminal.com or 718-273-7000.