ferries

Developer Floats Ferry Link Between Upper East Side and Astoria

An NYC Ferry pulls into Astoria, April 5, 2019.
An NYC Ferry pulls into Astoria, April 5, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A developer wants the city to extend a ferry line by one stop to connect Astoria with the Upper East Side – at public expense.

The Durst Organization recently opened the first tower in a planned seven-building residential complex in Astoria, about a 10-minute walk from the neighborhood’s ferry terminal.

The ferry route currently runs from Wall Street to 34th Street, with subsequent stops at Long Island City, Roosevelt Island and Astoria. The Durst Organization is calling for the line to stretch back over the East River, ending at the 90th Street ferry terminal in Yorkville.

“It’s about 1,000 feet between the two ferry stops. The trip would take less than five minutes,” said Jordan Barowitz, a Durst spokesperson.

Barowitz stressed the proposal was preliminary. He added the developer would rely on the New York City Economic Development Corporation to pick up the tab.

The Astoria-to-Upper East Side proposition comes as budget watchdogs scrutinize ferry subsidies amounting to $10.73 per ride. City Comptroller Scott Stringer has demanded the city move the ferry operation out of EDC’s purview following THE CITY’s reporting that taxpayers are on the hook for as much as $369 million in ferry purchases.

The developer plans to float the proposal before a Manhattan community board Wednesday before making a formal pitch to the Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the city’s ferry service.

For Durst, an impetus for the plan is to improve transit options for residents within its planned 2,400-unit Astoria development, Halletts Point, which opened its first tower to tenants earlier this year.

But the ferry link also could be a boon for Upper East Siders and Roosevelt Island residents, said Craig Lader, co-chair of Manhattan Community Board 8’s transportation committee, which will hear the Durst presentation.

“There’s clearly some merit to the concept,” including easier access to work opportunities and recreation for people on both sides of the East River, he said.

Still, board members will reserve judgement until they’ve heard specifics, he stressed: “The devil is always in the details.”

For example, he’d like to know how the Durst proposal would affect service at the 90th Street terminal, which has faced periodic overcrowding since the NYC Ferry service first landed there when the Soundview route launched last summer.

“Any plan that would eventually be implemented would have to address the capacity needs that we’ve already experienced,” he said.

According to NYC Ferry, the Soundview line had 2,300 riders per weekday immediately after its opening. By comparison, the Astoria line — the second most popular route — had 3,821 weekday riders during the same time period.

EDC spokesperson Stephanie Baez said in a statement the agency is looking forward to hearing details from Durst. EDC is “focused on providing a high-quality service and reaching New Yorkers that reside in transit-starved neighborhoods,” she added.

The Halletts Point development in Astoria, April 5, 2019.
The Halletts Point development in Astoria, April 5, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Durst has long lobbied for improved ferry access in the Halletts Point area. In 2014, the company pushed the city for a new ferry route between Manhattan and Astoria soon after purchasing a controlling stake in the Queens development for more than $100 million, the Commercial Observer reported at the time.

That wish came true when the Astoria route opened in August 2017. But at just about the same time, Mayor Bill de Blasio used the company — which for a time invested in a ferry company, New York Water Taxi — as an example of a big donor that didn’t get what it wanted.

In a Medium post, the mayor noted Durst lost out on the contract for citywide ferry service — a decision made apart from “political donations to me.”

“If anyone fears the rich and powerful always get their way when it comes to city government, look closely at our public record,” the mayor wrote.

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