NEW YORK—The City Council approved on Wednesday plans for the development of the St. George waterfront on Staten Island, which includes a high-end mall, hotel, and the tallest observation wheel in the Western Hemisphere.
The mall, hotel, and observation wheel will be built on sites currently occupied by parking lots for the St. George Ferris Terminal and the Richmond County Bank Ballpark. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is expected to sign the batch of proposals into law shortly, first proposed the plans in September of last year.
Some 2 million people ride the ferries to Staten Island every year, only to turn around at the terminal and take the ferry heading back to Manhattan. Council member Debi Rose, in whose district the new developments lie, said that the new attractions will give visitors more reasons to stay on Staten Island.
The towering structure of the observation wheel, at 625 feet, is four times taller than the Statue of Liberty. It will be visible from Liberty Island, Governors Island, and Ellis Island, and be a visual magnet beckoning visitors to visit Staten Island. A trip to St. George will be even more alluring since the Staten Island Ferry is free, lands steps from the proposed attractions, runs round the clock, and offers stunning views of the New York City skyline.
“Staten Island will no longer be the forgotten borough,” Rose said at a press conference which followed a unanimous vote of approval for the project by the Committee on Zoning and Franchises.
Rose spearheaded the effort in the council and in her district. More than a year after the initial proposal, Rose managed to secure a formidable list of commitments from the city and the developers, including $35 million for increased Staten Island ferry service and unlimited free rides on the wheel for Staten Island children. Children from New York will ride free for a year.
The final committee vote was stalled for nearly six hours as developers, city officials, and unions negotiated a last minute labor deal. The city and the developers ended up granting 100 percent of the jobs to the unions, up from 15 percent in the initial deal.
Construction on the projects is expected to begin in early 2014 and complete in 2016. Officials estimate the combined private investments in the project to total $580 million. The city has committed $51 million to the project.
New York Wheel
Although officials referred to the observation wheel as the tallest in the world prior to the City Council vote, the New York Wheel, at 625 feet, will actually be the second tallest when completed.
The New York Wheel was the tallest wheel when it was first announced, but Dubai announced that it will construct a 688-foot observation wheel just a day after Bloomberg unveiled the wheel at St. George. New York’s wheel will still be the tallest in the Western Hemisphere upon completion.
The wheel will carry 1,440 people per ride and up to 30,000 people per day.
The observation wheel, mall, and hotel are the centerpiece of a large-scale development of Staten Island’s North Shore area, stretching from the Arlington Marsh in the west to the Kill Van Kull in the north.
“This is the Renaissance of the North Shore,” said Council member Vincent Ignizio. “We are wheelie, wheelie excited.”