Just days after the New York Daily News proclaimed that “Staten Island wants to be the new Brooklyn,” 20 intrepid Untapped Cities readers met at the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island at 10 am on a Saturday for a Behind the Scenes NYC Tour of the borough’s north shore developments with the NYCEDC. It’s not lost on residents, community leaders and small businesses on this traditionally forgotten boroughthat Staten Island could be the new frontier. Combine rising rents in other boroughs with substantial city investment and redevelopments plans for Staten Island (plus space), and you’ve got the makings of a new destination, those involved hope.
Nor is it lost on community leaders that Staten Island needs a rebranding campaign, stat. “Staten Island has a tough time being cool,” announced Kamillah Hanks, founder of the Historic Tappen Park Community Partnership to the group. “Come to Stapleton and be cool here!” she encouraged, as she showed us an outdoor exhibition of vintage streetscape photographs along historic Bay Street.
The encompassing tour, led by Munro Johnson NYCEDC Vice President of Staten Island, included stops across the spectrum of development happening here. Even for doubters, it showed a vibrant cultural community that is uniquely melding the artist, makerspace and technology scene. Our walk in Stapleton showed a neighborhood on the cusp, with an unofficial, industrial vibe Bushwick came to be famous for. And most importantly for any urban transformation, the artists are already here.
The first stop was the URL Staten Island project by Ironstate Development on the New Stapleton Waterfront, a 900-unit project slated to open by this year on the site of the former naval homeport. We stepped onto the construction site to see the in-construction buildings, targeted for a rental-only demographic in their 20s and 30s, with 20% affordable housing. Greg Russo, our guide for the site from Ironstate Development believes that initially there will be a high percentage of Staten Island residents moving here–up to 80%–and it seems that the borough hopes to catch millennials who may otherwise move out when they join the workforce.
Like many multi-use developments in New York City, URL Staten Island is planned with ground-floor retail, public space (planned by the park department), and an upgrade of connector streets to the site. A waterfront esplanade is going in, with the “dream to connect” the entire north shore of Staten Island, along with a wetlands reclamation program. What’s unique to this site is that the open space will be planned by the Parks Department, a public cafe will be situated in the lobby of the residential development, and local operators will be leasing the retail space. The site sits within the New Stapleton Special Zoning District, and the height of the buildings is the max this development is going to hit due to construction costs, the limit of market demand and the desire of the community to maintain view corridors to the harbor.
Our next step, just steps away, shows the contrast between what’s coming and what’s currently there. The Staten Island Makerspace is a former oven manufacturing facility turned auto repair space now a co-working space and makerspace run by artists Scott Van Campen and DB Lampman. One half of the space is a metalworking and woodshop shop, the other a mix of open space desks, computer lab and sewing studio.
DB Lampman also has a new art piece in Tappen Park, a pick in our 35 Outdoor Art Installations Not to Miss in NYC This Month, that was made at Staten Island Makerspace. The range of businesses inside is notable as well–a local beer company getting their start, Toilets for People which produces and installs low-cost composting toilets for developing countries, a graffiti artist and a glass worker. There’s even a class called “Women, Wine and Welding.” Next, SI Makerspace wants to take the educational component on the road in a mobile makerspace.
Tappen Park is the second oldest park on Staten Island, and Kamillah Hanks walked us around the weekend bazaar being set up by local residents, along with the historic buildings within and adjacent to the park. “You can still sense a community here,” noted one of the guests of the former shopping district, just before a notable Staten Island musician in the park nearly pummeled a tour-goer with a bear hug. Part of that community sense may derive from the urban planning of this neighborhood, one of the few designed as a traditional town square. Inside the park, the red brick Village Hall was once the courthouse for all of Staten Island’s north shore and DeFonte’s Pizza of Brooklyn has taken up residence on along the park–a sure sign to many of what’s coming.
Former Paramount Movie Theater in Bay Street
After a walk by the “Windows into the Past” outdoor photography exhibition on Bay Street we headed uphill along Wave Street, passing by the Staten Island Artists Building Corporation (S.I.A.B.C.), host to many street art pieces (one by ErinKelli Killbane featured in our picks for top street art murals of the year so far). Just up the street is TechBox, a co-working space run by John Salis from S.I.A.B.C., with an optional affordable housing component. As evidenced by the makerspace/artist/technology meld Johnson spoke of earlier, there was a 3D printing facility working away in the back of TechBox.
3D Printing in TechBox
Our final stop, after a walk through the St. Paul’s Avenue-Stapleton Heights historic district peppered with Victorian mansions, was to go behind the scenes at the The Flagship Brewing Company, whose tag line is “Unforgettable Beer in the Forgotten Borough.” The company got its start in part with a grant from NYCEDC’s “Staten Island Storefronts” competition, bringing the tradition of beer brewing back to Staten Island, once a major player in the industry before Prohibition. Flagship is nearing capacity production based on their current space but are planning to make modifications to the brewing area before expanding physically. The other half of the space is a tasting room, as a priority for Flagship is to activate the neighborhod and serve as a destination for locals.
Staten Island is poised to become a new residential community for millennials, a new tourist destination with the arrival of the St. George Waterfront and the New York Wheel, and an affordable location for startup businesses and artists. The waterfront from St. George down to Stapleton is already lined with new developments on the way, including Lighthouse Point where the new National Lighthouse Museum is located. The city is ready, as are certain key constituents on Staten Island. Is the rest of New York City ready?
Join us for our next Behind the Scenes Tour with NYCEDC of Harlem, or get tickets to our upcoming tours of the Woolworth Building and Remnants of Penn Station. Sign up for advance notice for our Harlem tour here: