Red Hook

NYC ferry expansion pushes tourist cruise company to Jersey

The city’s Economic Development Corporation displaces TopView across the harbor, citing “unprecedented growth of maritime industry.”

October 12, 2022 George Joseph, THE CITY
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The pricey NYC Ferry expansion aims to foster economic development, but it’s made at least one business pack up and sail away.

TopView, a company that takes tourists on cruises around New York City, shifted its boat docking operations from Brooklyn’s Red Hook to Jersey City late last month after receiving notice from the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s waterfront operator that it had to make room for a new ferry maintenance center.

DockNYC, the EDC’s berthing management program, helped two other boating companies based in Red Hook relocate to other parts of Brooklyn, but could not find any coveted waterfront space for TopView’s boats ahead of the construction, officials conceded.

“DockNYC has been working with those affected to find alternative berthing accommodations since last year,” an EDC spokesperson said in an email. “Two of the three have been successfully relocated with berthing elsewhere within the DockNYC portfolio, while the third found a temporary location on their own but will ultimately be berthing at a DockNYC site.”

Pressed by THE CITY for more details, the agency added: “Another industrial maritime site in Brooklyn is being contemplated, and it’s being worked through.”

Hasty evictions

Community leaders and elected officials in Red Hook expressed concern about the company’s ejection from the Atlantic Basin terminal, which some assert was rushed and could cost local jobs. TopView’s departure came around the same time that the EDC pushed through the demolition of a beloved waterfront playground in the area.

“The berth permits have a 30-day revocable clause, so it was shocking to find our neighbors racing around the pier trying to load out on 4 days notice, from Monday to Friday,” Carolina Salguero, founder and executive director of Portside, a local nonprofit, wrote in an email, noting that the city needs more piers for boats.

“Without those, there aren’t fallback options.… We heard that boats were told they would not be able to pick up passengers at another EDC/DockNYC pier if they didn’t get their boats off this one by deadline,” she wrote.

Alexa Avilés, a City Councilmember who represents Sunset Park and Red Hook, vowed her office will check in with EDC to ensure it keeps its promises to local businesses.

“We’ve been in touch with EDC extensively about waterfront development and the buildout of NYC Ferry’s homeport in Red Hook and will continue to be,” said Avilés. “EDC has committed to work with current tenants to offer suitable space for relocation and that’s what we expect the agency to follow through on.”

But in statements to THE CITY, the EDC, a nonprofit city-funded entity, and BillyBey, the waterfront operator that works with it, argued that the marina businesses, including Top View, had plenty of advance warning, though the timelines they provided appeared to differ.

“Top View has been aware of the need to vacate Atlantic Basin for several months and has been working with DockNYC and the City to identify and secure an alternative Brooklyn location,” said Donald Liloia, a DockNYC representative. “The move to New Jersey is temporary and the duration of which will be determined by the planning and approval process for the new site.”

“NYCEDC’s operator of the DockNYC Program, Billybey Marina Service, notified the three affected vessel operators last year that the construction of the NYC Ferry 2nd Homeport, a critical maintenance facility for the Citywide Ferry vessels, would commence and that they would have to relocate,” the EDC spokesperson said in an email.

‘That presents a problem’

TopView did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but vessel tracking data shows that several of the company’s boats have been docked in Jersey City since at least Oct. 3.

“If you have to move from Brooklyn to New Jersey, that presents a problem, especially when you’re trying to get skilled and licensed individuals,” said Jim Chambers, a former NYPD Marine Division officer and a longtime boat captain, who says he has seen TopView’s boats in their New Jersey City location. “I mean, you don’t want to add three or four hours to a person’s workday.”

Chambers, who has worked for various cruise and maritime companies on the New York waterfront since leaving the department, predicts that Topview’s departure will result in job losses for the company and the city.

“The fact is they end up losing people because all of a sudden it’s costing them 40 bucks a day to go to work,” he said.

In an email, the EDC said that growing jobs was a priority, but suggested that TopView’s options were constrained by larger political economic forces.

“Unfortunately, tie-up space with adequate infrastructure is finite on NY Harbor’s Upper Bay,” the EDC spokesperson said. “With an unprecedented growth of maritime industry with more container shipping traffic, more passenger ferry operations, and the emergence of maritime oriented renewable energy development every linear foot of vessel ready berthing is in short supply.”

The new ferry homeport in Red Hook is just the latest piece in New York City’s ongoing expansion of its waterfront transportation network, which expanded in earnest under former Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Last month, City Comptroller Brad Lander released a scathing report revealing that the Economic Development Corporation had underreported the system’s costs by nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. In response to the comptroller’s audit, which also pointed to the system’s high costs, Mayor Eric Adams promised to increase single-ride fares from $2.75 to $4 and boost revenues by seeking public-private partnerships.

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