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TIMELINE: Ferris Wheel Sparks Huge Staten Island Resurgence

By Nicholas Rizzi | July 13, 2015 10:25am | Updated on July 14, 2015 7:23pm
 Mega-projects like the New York Wheel and Empire Outlets brought higher rents and new businesses to Staten Island's waterfront.
The North Shore of Staten Island's Redevelopment
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ST. GEORGE — Developers have tried — and failed — to kick-start Staten Island's North Shore for years, but a Ferris wheel might finally turn the tide.

Mega projects the New York Wheel and Empire Outlets, which will be the city's only outlet mall, have sparked attention to the forgotten borough's waterfront.

"In 18 months, we've had a lot of people walk through these doors in Staten Island who haven't looked at our borough before," Borough President James Oddo said.

"There's some really funky, good things happening across this corridor and I think some people want to be part of that."

Since the two projects — which will cost about $580 million — were announced in 2012, several previously announced developments have moved forward, new businesses have cropped up and prices for apartments have risen sharply.

"I look on the computer daily for something in St. George, there's virtually nothing affordable," Norma Sue Wolfe, a real estate agent in the neighborhood for nearly 30 years, said. 

"If you come back in five more years, you and I will not recognize the place. There'll be this whole infusion of glass-sided [buildings] and hoity toity, much higher income people."

Wolfe, who said she now has a waiting list of people looking to move into the neighborhood, recently sold an apartment for more than a million dollars and has people regularly bid thousands over list prices to snag places.

Housing stock will increase in the neighborhood when large projects like URL in Stapleton and Lighthouse Point in St. George open. Other smaller developments also will bring more apartments to the North Shore.

Joseph Ferrara, the principal with Empire Outlets' developer BFC Partners, said his company started to invest in the North Shore nearly a decade ago with The Rail in Stapleton, and others have finally started to take notice.

"People are kind of believing the mojo, stuff is actually starting to change," Ferrara said. "It's going to bring millions of people that are going to spend dollars in the neighborhood. If that's not a spark to be able to jump start a neighborhood, I don’t know what is."

For Rich Marin, CEO of the New York Wheel, the decision to invest in the North Shore was a fairly simple one. The city wanted him to put his project there.

"I don't know that I would of logically come to the decision of the North Shore of Staten Island, but I sure am glad somebody pointed us in this direction," Marin, who recently moved into St. George, said.

"It turned out to be the perfect location for what we are doing."

While several projects were already planned before the wheel was announced, buzz has picked up about the neighborhood and Marin said plenty of people ask him about investing and moving to the area.

"This community is really picking up serious momentum," he said.

"Unlike Williamsburg, this is happening on an accelerated pace and all happening at the same time."

In 2009, it seemed unlikely that momentum would come.

Developer Leib Puretz bought and refurbished three large condo buildings in St. George between 2006 and 2009 and planned to do even more. Other projects also took shape during those years, with Triangle Equities getting permission to redevelop an historic Coast Guard base in 2006 into Lighthouse Point and Ironstate Developments announcing plans for the former Stapleton Homeport in 2009.

However, when the economic crisis hit the country, it took Puretz's plan with it. He defaulted on his loans in 2009 and left his buildings sitting mostly unfinished and empty.

Two years later, the city issued a request for proposals for the two parking lots adjacent to the St. George Ferry Terminal, which would eventually become the home of the outlet and wheel.

The tide started to turn in 2012 when companies started to buy Puretz's old buildings and open them as either condos or rentals. Then, in September 2012, the city officially announced the Empire Outlets and the New York Wheel.

Since then, Ironstate broke ground on the Homeport to turn it into URL and will spend $150 million to build 900 residential units, 35,000 square feet of ground floor retail and a public plaza.

The first phase of the project, with 571 rentals, will finish in September with the next three parts opening after that, a spokesman for Ironstate Development said.

"We've been talking about reinvigorating the Homeport, waterfront, North Shore for two decades plus," Oddo said. "Actually seeing the steel go up I think was an actual visible sign that this is really happening."

Triangle Equities secured a lease for its $200 million Lighthouse Point and plans to break ground soon on the project which has a 120-unit residential tower, more than 60,000 square feet of retail and a hotel, the Real Deal reported.

Last month, the city issued an RFP to turn a building formerly used by the Department of Health in St. George into a hub for tech or media companies.

Aside from the large projects, the neighborhoods also added three co-working spaces, a brewery and new restaurants.

Sal Himani opened River Dock Cafe in the St. George Ferry Terminal in January, hoping that when the wheel and mall come, so would business. He said it didn't take long.

"We’re doing a lot better than we expected," he said.

"Just with the buzz now that's in the air with the mall and the wheel, people are exploring a little more and they're looking to see what the island has to offer."

Himani said he and his partners are looking for more opportunities in the area to open a new space, but it's getting harder and harder to find.

"That area is just set to boom, it's tough now to find spots and people are just snatching everything up," he said. "We're lucky that we got in at the time."

Oddo, who's made a large push to increase technology jobs in the borough, wants the strip of Bay Street and Richmond Terrace from St. George to Stapleton to transform into an "innovation corridor," anchored by 55 Stuyvesant and the Bayely Seton site, which people have plans to turn into a headquarters for green start ups.

He said that this push of redevelopment — unlike others — has tried to add more amenities and develop further into the neighborhood, instead of just plopping down huge condos.

Oddo recently held a walking tour with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen in St. George, where the two talked about adding Citi Bikes and looked for more development opportunities.

While activity's increasing along the waterfront, Oddo said attention has also increased across the borough's entire 59 square miles with new projects, which he hopes to capitalize on for residents.

"It’s not just for tourists who come, it’s not just for Rich Marin who’s going to run the wheel," he said.

"It's to create this positivity to move it inland, to move it further up [Richmond] Terrace, and to create jobs."