By Nicholas Rizzi, DNAinfo Reporter/Producer
STATEN ISLAND — They sat empty and unfinished for years, but two huge housing units that stood like a North Shore monument to the recession are finally being filled.
The Rail in Stapleton and The Pointe in St. George have been planned for seven years, but development stalled before they could be occupied.
Both opened their doors to potential residents two months ago.
The Rail offers 91 rental units, with a part of the building set off for affordable housing, while The Pointe is a 57-unit luxury condominium building.
The Pointe was nearly completed with five apartments sold when its owner, Leib Puretz, defaulted on his loans in 2009, according to Crain’s New York.
The building sat unfinished for three years, until earlier this year when Meadow Partners bought Puertz’s $56 million debt for $26 million, according to Crain’s.
Since then, The Pointe has attracted plenty of interest, said Jacqueline Urgo, president of The Marketing Directors, which is the sales agent for The Pointe.
“People are responding incredibly well to the value property that we’re offering,” Urgo said. “I think the buyers respect the financial commitment that’s being made to the area. It’s resonating to them.”
Since offering one- and two-bedroom condos, which start at $300,000, The Pointe has sold 12 units, and two more units are likely to sell soon, Urgo said.
Most of the sales were generated by signs placed in front of the 155 Bay St. building.
Urgo said buyers have been excited to get into the early stages of St. George’s redevelopment, which they think has the potential to become the next exciting New York neighborhood.
“They see an exciting future and they know they’re buying in at the right the time,” Urgo said. “It really represents a very good opportunity and a vibrant new destination that’s going to be here.”
Community Board 1 chairwoman Leticia Remauro said the transformation of the North Shore has already begun, with the help of these buildings, and young artists and professionals are moving into the neighborhood, changing it from simply being a hub for government and the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.
“It goes from being an ancillary community circling a government hub — it only operated from 7 [a.m.] to 7 o’clock at night — to being a 24-hour community, and that’s very important,” she said.
The Rail’s construction stalled seven years ago, not just because of the bad economy, but because of community opposition over losing parking spaces, said Joseph Ferrara, owner and partner of BFC Partners, the developer of the building on Prospect Street.
“There was a lot of community opposition to my building because I took over a municipal parking lot,” Ferrara said.
Construction for the building was completed two months ago, and residents have followed, Ferrara said.
“It’s going very well for us over there,” he said.
He said that while the project has been successful since it opened, he has been having a hard time finding tenants whose income is less than the maximum limit required for affordable housing. The income limits vary based on the unit.
“I’m not going to tell you that it’s been a breeze trying to fill it,” Ferrara said. “It’s been a challenge, but we’re getting through it.”
And while the community initially opposed the building, residents have recognized the The Rail’s potential to kickstart the nearby economy, Remauro said.
“It looks beautiful. It is a fabulous addition to the community,” she said. “It seems to me that the surrounding buildings have primped themselves up.”
The North Shore buildings have also started to attract empty-nesters and young professionals who don’t want to move off the Island but can’t afford — or don’t want to buy — a house, Remauro said.
“We’re providing them with the opportunity to have rental housing, and that’s something that I think is important for young people and old people,” Remauro said. “They need to be able to have a rental space until, if, and when they want to purchase.”
Ferrara said about 90 percent of the Rail’s residents are from Staten Island, but Urgo said residents are a mix from Staten Island, Brooklyn, New Jersey and Manhattan.
The Rail, unlike other storefronts on Bay Street, also locked in the Deal$ bargain store to rent the ground-level retail space, something other building owners near it have had trouble doing, Ferrara said. The Pointe has not gotten a tenant for its ground-level retail space yet, Urgo said.
While things are looking up for the revitalization of the North Shore, Ferrara said it’s still hard to attract tenants to live there because people still think the neighborhood is dangerous.
The biggest problem has been the stigma that Stapleton has behind it,” he said. “When people think of Stapleton, they’re thinking of one of the worst neighborhoods to live in on Staten Island.”
Several other projects in the neighborhood have been left unfinished since the recession, but Remauro said several developers have already expressed interest in the buildings.
“There’s just so many positive things happening in the area,” she said. “We the community are anxiously awaiting.”