Plan to Boost Staten Island ‘Downtown’

WSJ Logovia LAURA KUSISTO/ The Wall Street Journal

Staten Island sits just a half-hour ferry ride from the crowded shores of Lower Manhattan, but the area where passengers disembark presents a challenge for city officials and residents who hope to create an urban center in the city’s most suburban borough.

In its last six months, the Bloomberg administration has made a primary focus its efforts to revitalize the area around the ferry terminal and nurture a long-imagined downtown. Officials are set Monday to unveil an incubator to foster businesses for small artists and craftsmen and a program that will pay select retailers to open shops and restaurants.

“In terms of the amount of resources and volume of projects we’re working on, it’s among the very top priorities,” said Thomas McKnight, an executive vice president of the city Economic Development Corp.

A commercial strip of the St. George neighborhood in Staten Island's north shore is pictured in 2011. The neighborhood got the area's first new grocery store in 40 years.

A commercial strip of the St. George neighborhood in Staten Island’s north shore is pictured in 2011. The neighborhood got the area’s first new grocery store in 40 years.

The city has already announced plans for developers to build the world’s tallest Ferris wheel and a new outlet mall by BFC Partners, projects expected to draw about 4 million visitors a year. This month, a developer broke ground on a venture that ultimately will include about 900 residential units and 30,000 square feet of retail at Homeport, a decommissioned naval base overlooking the harbor.

Now the city is also creating a $425,000 pool for retailers it selects who agree to sign three-year leases in the area, including anything from small independent coffee shops to major chains. The idea is to help offset rent or other costs if they gamble on the area. If it works, the program—a first for the city—could be used in other areas.

The north shore, which encompasses parts of the neighborhoods of St. George, Stapleton, Tompkinsville and Clifton, has the quaint charm that modern developers work hard to manufacture, with brick houses, Colonial-style government buildings and white wooden porches.

But the area has declined in recent decades. Suburban-style neighborhoods have sprawled around the island, and the Staten Island Mall has become a major draw for shoppers. About 100,000 square feet of retail space is vacant along the north shore. Most streets are dominated by takeout joints and small bodegas.

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