Opinion | Don’t Listen to Grand Street Ferry Naysayers

File photo: East River Ferry.

File photo: East River Ferry.
File photo: East River Ferry.

In recent weeks, some opposition has emerged regarding the city’s plan to to build a ferry stop on the East River at Grand Street. In response, Joe Hanania, who led the campaign to bring ferry service to this location, has penned the following letter to Community Board 3. This article represents the opinions of the author and is not a reflection of The Lo-Down’s editorial point of view. Unsolicited submissions from readers are welcome at info@thelodownny.com. 

I have read much misinformation about the proposed Grand Street ferry stop, and CB3 apparently plans to weigh in on this. So, as one of two organizers of the petition to bring the ferry to Grand Street, please allow me to set the facts straight.

First, when Jim Keenan and I started our petition, there was no guarantee the LES would have a ferry stop. We decided to make it so – without any help from the individuals now complaining. They did not help bring the ferry to the Lower East Side. Now, they are crying the ferry stop should be in another location. Here is why we disagree.

Two, we picked Grand Street because of the approximately 5,000 coops here. These include Amalgamated, Hillman, East River Coop, and Seward Park. The latter two coops have about 1,700 apartments apiece. Nearby public housing with a few thousand more apartments include Vladeck and Baruch as well as Masaryk Towers, a city-subsidized coop. By contrast, the housing near their alternative proposed site, near Montgomery St./Two Bridges, lacks this density – making for fewer passengers.

Three, contrary to their assertions, it is the entire neighborhood, not primarily East River Coops, which has been behind this petition. About 60 East River residents signed a paper version of the petition – but that number pales compared to the more than 600 from all over who signed the petition online.

And who are these 600? Many are from Seward Park, which promoted the petition under the leadership of Board President Wei-Li F. X. Tjong, Esq. Others are merchants with the Lower East Side BID, whose business services manager, Katie Archer, also promoted it, and whose merchants saw a real benefit to bringing the ferry here. The now being built Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, with its 14-screen movie theater and expanded Essex Street Market, as well as 1,000 additional apartments, will only increase the vast numbers who benefit from the ferry. What, by comparison, what makes a proposed stop at Montgomery Street/Two Bridges competitive?

Four, there is also the matter of access to public transportation, which the complainers allege is superior in their area. Really? Ask yourself this. It is a wintry day; you get off the ferry. Which would you rather do: walk one block over to Grand St. and FDR to get on one of three bus lines – all of which, incidentally, stop by the F train stations? Or walk several windy blocks, minus bus access, to a distant F train station?

Five, Tobi Elkin on CB3’s Parks subcommittee laments how the proposed ferry stop will take away park space. What park space is she talking about? The proposed Grand Street stop is where fireboats launched from in the early 1900’s. The brick building there – now headquarters for the LES Ecology Center – was formerly the firemen’s headquarters. Nothing has changed there. And that building has a working kitchen – once used by the firemen – and a large deck with tables. The Grand Street stop would utilize existing facilities, perhaps even helping bring a café to a 69-acre park, which has none. (The Ecology Center’s sole objection to our proposal was that we were hoping the EDC would sponsor a café here. Instead, Christine Datz-Romero, executive director of the Ecology Center, took me out to lunch and told me she wants her own group to do this. Either way works for us).

Meanwhile, Elkin’s proposed facility is quite a distance from any of this. Who would really benefit from his johnny-come-lately proposal?

Finally, East River Park has several ball fields which attract hundreds of players not just from downtown and midtown Manhattan but from outlying boroughs as well. Those individuals, particularly from Brooklyn and Queens, have been among the petition signers. Why not give them a chance to get to the park by ferry, rather than by car, which only congests parking here? Then, add in the hundreds who attend each of the summer concerts at the amphitheater a block away from the proposed Grand Street stop – few of whom would walk over from the distantly situated Montgomery St./Two Bridges area.

In short, these naysayers would replace a ferry stop which works by tapping into a large market with a stop in a remote area, inaccessible to mass transit, with far less housing density, and away from interested businesses. Clearly, we can – and should – do better. Let’s leave the proposed ferry stop exactly where it is: at Grand Street.