INWOOD — La Marina has become one of the top-earning concessions for the city Parks Department over the past two years — and records show that customers at the controversial bar and restaurant are coughing up wads of cash to smoke its hookahs.
The hot spot raked in $18.4 million in total revenue from its opening in June 2012 through August 2014. The city received $722,373 of that revenue as part of the deal to let La Marina operate on waterfront parkland in Inwood.
That hefty take has quickly made La Marina one of the agency's most profitable concessions, according to documents obtained by DNAinfo New York through a Freedom of Information request.
But the booming business has also been a bane to many residents who have complained about noise and traffic headaches created by La Marina's club. Residents and local groups have said that they believe the Parks Department hasn't addressed their concerns because La Marina makes so much money for the city.
Moving Forward Unidos, a community group focused on quality-of-life issues in Washington Heights and Inwood, criticized the Parks Department "for turning a blind eye to having a nightclub on park land."
"We feel that [the Parks Department's] failure to oversee this establishment — despite the many violations of its contract and the flouting of many laws — is due to the revenue it generates," the group said in a statement to DNAinfo New York. "We feel that the safety and quality of life of residents have been sold out."
Just how lucrative La Marina has been for the city can be seen in a comparison to Madison Square Park's Shake Shack, the decade-old flagship location of celebrity chef Danny Meyer's wildly popular fast-food chain.
The burger joint pulled in nearly $7 million in revenue between July 2012 and June 2013, according to the Parks Department. The agency received $314,680, or about 4.5 percent, of that revenue.
During that same period, La Marina made $7.72 million in gross sales, records show.
Under the deal with the city, La Marina pays the Parks Department 5 percent of its monthly revenue. However, between July 2012 and June 2013, the Parks Department gave La Marina a $170,000 credit line for fees it incurred on behalf of the city by extending a sewer line. So the agency's take ended up being $180,978, records show. (The money then goes into a general city coffer that helps fund municipal services).
One of La Marina's big draws has been its hookahs, a water pipe used for smoking. Between May and August of this year, customers shelled out $160,317 to smoke them, according to monthly expense records. The city bans smoking in parks, but La Marina has a special exemption because its serves a non-tobacco herbal alternative.
Its bar and lounge have also proven very lucrative.
La Marina's most profitable month this year was June, when it did about $1.92 million in sales, records show. During that time, the main bar, where a magnum of Dom Perignon goes for $1,000, rang up nearly $300,000 in sales. The outdoor lounge made another $543,172.
“While our revenue does not match that of the [Central Park] Boathouse or the previous Tavern on the Green, we are proud of the success to date," said Josh Rosen, one of La Marina's owners. "Despite vocal criticism from some activists in the community, we have built a beautiful uptown venue that most people in the area really enjoy.”
Since it popped its first bottle of champagne, La Marina has been a hot-button issue in Inwood.
Many residents have griped to La Marina's owners and to the Parks Department that the site has morphed into a loud night club from its original plan of a restaurant and accessible waterfront space. Residents have complained about music, rowdy patrons, violence and increased traffic leading to parking problems and street closures.
The ongoing tension has commanded considerable attention from Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, who only started his job in May.
His schedule records show that he has so far held at least four meetings about La Marina. Two meetings were with his staff, one was a tour of La Marina with its owners and one was to hear complaints from residents.
The Parks Department said it works with the local community board, other city agencies, residents and La Marina to respond to complaints.
"When concerns arise regarding any of our facilities or concessions, including La Marina, Parks actively works with local stakeholders to address them," agency spokesman Phil Abramson said.
The Parks Department also pointed to how it partnered with the city Department of Transportation to change traffic signals to facilitate better car flow on streets near La Marina. The agency also said it worked with the NYPD to mitigate noise concerns by installing a regulated audio system at La Marina.
La Marina has also been a good neighbor, hosting community events like a pumpkin carving for kids on Halloween, a Thanksgiving dinner for a local retirement home and an Easter egg hunt, according to the Parks Department.
"La Marina enjoys popular support from many members of the surrounding community," Abramson said.
But Susan Ryan, an Inwood resident and long-time advocate for local parks, called the Parks Department's responses to community complaints "laughable," with smoking, drinking and noise pollution all ongoing problems.
Her beef, she said, is with La Marina's night club, not its restaurants.
"La Marina the restaurant is a beautiful venue and a tremendous asset that should be celebrated," Ryan said. "La Marina the nightclub, however, is an environmental justice issue that's allowed to continue because it makes money for the city."
Resident David Friend said that considering its such a money-maker, La Marina should give the Parks Department a bigger cut of its revenue.
As a Parks Department concessionaire, the Central Park Boat Basin must pay the city a baseline of $535,750 or 14 percent of gross receipts in 2014, according to its license agreement. Another concessionaire, Battery Gardens in Battery Park, pays $350,000 annually to the Parks Department or 13 percent of its revenue, according to its agreement.
"I think it's outrageous that La Marina is contributing so little, especially since they completely misrepresented what their business would be when they presented it to the community for approval," Friend said. "If anything, they should be paying more than other concessions because of the massive disruption that they cause as a basic function of operating."