Staten Island suddenly shifts into high gear

via Amanda Fung/ Crain’s New York

True, the world’s largest Ferris wheel and the city’s first outlet mall are both coming to the North Shore of Staten Island, but the even more surprising news is that they will have lots of company.

In fact, several big developments are set to transform long-underutilized areas that lie between the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and Stapleton, along the harbor, into a bustling waterfront community. Among them is a 286,000-square-foot project including a hotel and housing that Queens-based Triangle Equities plans to build on an erstwhile Coast Guard site. Less than a mile north, plans are taking shape to turn a seven-acre decommissioned U.S. naval base site known as Homeport along the waterfront in Stapleton into another mixed-use development with housing and stores.

“We are seeing more and more creative spark and economic development move into Staten Island,” said David Barry, president of Ironstate Development, the New Jersey-based developer tapped last year by the city to develop the Homeport site.

Homeport will be the first project to take shape. Mr. Barry expects work to get underway on the $115 million first phase, with 520 rental apartments, in the first quarter of next year. He hopes to finalize his construction financing by year’s end. When complete, the $150 million property will have 900 residential units and 30,000 square feet of retail space, plus a public plaza.

“We are very excited,” said Mr. Barry, who started scouting Staten Island for building sites four years ago. “We expect our project to be well received.”

Nearby, smaller efforts have already prospered. Brooklyn-based BFC Partners, one of the first developers to spot opportunity on postrecession Staten Island, recently finished leasing its 91-unit rental building called The Rail, less than a year after putting the units on the market. The six-story building on Bay and Prospect streets, across from the Paramount Theater, features apartments ranging from $700-a-month studios to $1,600-a-month three-bedrooms. Prices are on par with those in comparable buildings in the area, noted Joseph Ferrara, principal at BFC Partners, whose first project on Staten Island was a 105-unit senior housing complex that opened in April.

On top of providing housing for young professionals at deep discounts to Manhattan prices, BFC signed up a big retailer. It is Deal$, which inked a 10-year lease for 10,000 square feet at the base of The Rail. The store opened earlier this year, and business has been brisk.

‘Better retailers’

“When we attract more people, then we will get better retailers,” said Mr. Ferrara, who hopes that the arrival of Deal$ will draw enough traffic to help landlords fill up some of the many vacancies along Bay Street, one of the island’s main shopping strips. The Rail is 100 feet from the Stapleton stop on the Staten Island Railroad, which in turn is just two stops from the ferry terminal, and several stops in the other direction from the island’s ocean beaches. Stapleton is the same stop that will serve Homeport visitors when it is complete.

“I want the North Shore to exist without cars, like a Battery Park City,” said Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro.

Realizing such a dream would throw the borough’s door open to those roughly 2 million tourists who come over on the Staten Island Ferry each year but who rarely leave the ferry building.

In with the outlet

BFC Partners‘ largest and latest development on the island, a 350,000-square-foot outlet mall to be known as Harbor Commons, will certainly help get people onto the sidewalks of the borough. Boasting 100 stores and a 200-room hotel, it will rise on a city-owned site just south of the home of the Staten Island Yankees, St. George’s Richmond County Bank Ballpark. And so will the Ferris wheel, with its 36 capsules that can carry a total of 1,440 passengers, when it opens in early 2016 just north of the ballpark. The Ferris wheel and outlet mall are expected to bring a combined $480 million in private investment into the borough.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ferry terminal, Triangle Equities is expected to start building its $105 million mixed-use project by 2014.

“The North Shore has been ignored for 30 to 40 years,” said Donald Capoccia, managing principal and founder of BFC Partners. “We want to enliven the area and create an urban environment.”

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