Investigating the India Street Ferry (Or lack thereof)

© Kristin Laughter/ Green pointers

We’re well aware by now that the imminent five-week G suspension this summer (from late July through the end of August) has many commuters spooked. Adding insult to injury, the New York Waterways ferry landing at India Street—by far the second-best option for many—has been suspended indefinitely since February, when a gangplank failed and plunged into frigid East River waters moments after passengers climbed aboard.

This looming transportation brownout has raised eyebrows for months. At an April 3 meeting organized by State Senator Daniel Squadron at the Polish and Slavic Center on Kent Street, officials addressed community transportation concerns, including the ferry, but they declined to announce a reopening date. Now, almost two months later—and only eight weeks before the G shutdown—that date is still elusive.

The road to Pulaski bridge traffic jams and sweltering MTA shuttle buses is paved with good intentions. So, for the past several weeks, Greenpointers has been investigating the India Street Ferry closure to determine whether anyone can say with confidence that the ferry landing will be operational before the G shuts down.

(The answer: very likely, but not entirely certain.) Here’s what we found out:

Incidents like the one in February are rare. According to engineering sources, the underwater equipment that failed and caused the gangplank collapse typically functions properly for decades. So the episode in February—at which point the ferry had only been operational for a little over two years—rightfully raised serious questions about what went wrong. In response, our local elected officials State Senator Daniel Squadron and Councilman Stephen Levin promptly called for a full investigation into the matter to determine how and why the equipment, before repairs could be authorized.

The party responsible for the investigation and repairs is the ferry landing owner RedSky Capital, our neighbors de jure—they own development rights immediately north of the ferry landing and many other buildings in the area—is a

Ben Bernstein, co-owner of RedSky

major Brooklyn-based real estate investment firm whose thirty-something-year-old head, Ben Bernstein, is tied to the Bernstein Real Estate Group, headed by none other than Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Jonathan Bernstein.

RedSky is heavily invested in Greenpoint and has a lot riding on the successful completion of new residential construction projects in the area. In a 2012 interview with The New York Times in which he disclosed ownership of the India Street Ferry landing, Ben Bernstein made public the vast extent of his family’s interests:

“Besides two luxury waterfront towers currently navigating the city’s approval process,” said The Times, “Mr. Bernstein’s Greenpoint portfolio includes 100 apartments and 15 condominium units. On the commercial side, he is installing a [now open]

© Kristin Laughter / Greenpointers

Sleepy’s franchise at Manhattan and Meserole because, thinking ahead, he figured, ‘Hey, when the residential thing blows up, everybody’s going to need mattresses.’”

The other key player in the equation is the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which legally runs the East River Ferry and contracts New York Waterways to provide services. When first contact for this article, EDC insisted that it was working with RedSky to ensure that an investigation was conducted and repairs completed before the shutdown in July.

The plot thickened on April 22, when The Daily News and Capital New York in close succession published articles indicating that an apparent eight-week standstill in progress was being precipitated by RedSky Capital’s refusal to pay for a crane required to complete the investigation.

When asked to comment for Greenpointers after The Daily News article, Councilman Levin said, “RedSky would rather bring in a crane one time [to do repairs] instead of two [to do the investigation, then repairs]…The pier was built by a private entity and that entity is acting in a recalcitrant manner in doing what needs to be done to repair the landing,” said Levin. Senator Squadron concurred, saying it was clear that there was an issue of cost: “RedSky is being exceedingly difficult; I am exceedingly frustrated and angry; and the clock is really ticking,” he said. RedSky declined several requests for comment.

When first asked in early May, EDC declined to confirm or deny that there was any disagreement with RedSky about the repair process. Then on May 6, when presented with credible allegations that RedSky was being difficult, EDC was emphatic: “We are very much on the same page with RedSky, and continue to work with them to implement a solution that will allow for the ferry landing to reopen safely as soon as possible…We can’t reiterate enough that it’s false to say that there is disagreement about the process.”

You do the math…

Disagreement or not, news finally arrived in mid-May from Councilman Levin’s office that RedSky—facing mounting criticism (and pugnacious Greenpointers inquiries?)—had finally agreed to hire two cranes, instead of one, and that the investigation was back on track.

So, where do things stand?

As of Greenpointers’ most recent contact with Senator Squadron, confidence is growing behind the scenes that RedSky has agreed to do what is necessary to reopen the ferry. It is rumored that the investigation will be completed in short order, after which it will undergo a brief peer-review process and EDC will authorize repairs.

However, the lack of transparency about this vital public resource, coupled with RedSky’s cost reluctance, head scratching, and hand wringing about how to proceed doesn’t inspire much confidence, especially with the looming brownout.

We need to ratchet up community pressure. Our local political leaders should stop providing vague assurances that the ferry “will be opened as soon as safely possible” and demand that RedSky and EDC come out of the shadows to commit publicly to a process and a timeline that will ensure that the ferry is up and running by late July. That’s the neighborly course of action. If not, Greenpointers far and wide will certainly know where NOT to buy their mattresses.

*Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated that RedSky Capital has an ownership interest in Greenpoint Landing. While RedSky owns development rights in the immediate area, it is unaffiliated with Park Tower Group’s Greenpoint Landing project.

About Matt A

Matt A. is a longtime resident of Greenpoint.

16 Comments

  1. Irene says:

    Great article. I agree with you. Pulaski bridge during rush hours is jammed with traffic. The G won’t be running the ferry is out and the developers want to build more houses. Oh and Pulaski bridge will have a bike lane. Give me a break.

    Reply
  2. j says:

    thank you for the great update! the ferry is my mode of work transportation, and the shuttle bus thing is really getting old. this has to get resolved and quickly!

    Reply
    • Ed says:

      I too rely on the ferry to commute, but don’t see the big deal about the shuttle. It doesn’t appreciably change my door-to-door time, and it’s not like it’s a stinky MTA bus. Why the beef?

      Reply
      • Drew says:

        Ed – Are you heading south? It adds plenty of extra minutes on the north-bound journey.

        Reply
      • Mark says:

        You don’t see the big deal about the shuttle? Wait until you have to take it, and have to let 3 buses pass you by because they’re filled to the max. It’s horrible. The MTA is never fully prepared.

        Reply
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  4. Chris says:

    Well done in terms of research. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Cate says:

    I lived in a RedSky building. They were TERRIBLE. Just a truly awful company. They’re exactly the type of developer who is ruining Brooklyn – buying up buildings, raising rent astronomical amounts (they literally doubled our rent), and are incredibly difficult to deal with on the phone.

    When I saw their name attached to this story, I had to laugh. Makes absolute sense to me.

    Reply
  6. Shannon says:

    For real! Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Hvala says:

    Great article and research – this is the most information I’ve found anywhere on this topic. I think the discussion regarding transportation to match the new housing is very important and getting short-shrift. Despite misleading PR anyone who uses the G to commute from Greenpoint in the morning knows that trains are frequently skipped, there is no ‘schedule,’ and crush-loading is to be assumed most days between 8:15 and 9:15.

    It’s preposterous to dump thousands of new residents who will mostly be commuting to Manhattan each morning without increasing transportation capacity. This needs to be required as part of residential re-zoning. Meanwhile the ‘private solutions’ such as the East River Ferry and CitiBike have entirely let down the neighborhood by being absent. Buses are great but with the bottlenecks and congestion through LIC they are not able to match the G or Ferry. Without bikeshare – which probably would help Greenpoint more than an almost any other neighborhood – we’re left with no good options for commuting. This will lower rental demand (not all bad haha) and harm the same developers hoping to make a big windfall on new waterfront condos. Anyone with basic numeracy can see that the relative profits for Redsky vs the cost of the ferry work is a non-factor. These delays and silence are thus more likely related to quiet back room liability ‘negotiatians’ made possible by shady Bloomberg-era privitization. As this same lack of public benefit accountability is responsible for the failure of Citibike to deploy in Greenpoint as was intially promised I think we need to push to ensure there are actual means of reciurse for the public before we hand out the rights to manage these critical transit links to private interests.

    Reply
  8. Darren says:

    If the politicians want the investigation they should have come up with the funds to do so and it should have been done so 7 months ago. Of course no private interest is going to pay for their own investigation due to the liability it might bring. My feeling is there is some criminal negligence that redsky is trying to hide. This is going to happen again let’s find another landing for the ferry because some one might die next time.

    Reply
  9. Matt A says:

    Thanks everyone for your great feedback. I have sent a link to the article to The New York Times metro desk and several other outlets with the hope of shining more light on the problem.

    If all involved can simply get their acts together, the ferry can still be operational by the G-train shutdown. We will post an update to this story in about two weeks—with RedSky’s office phone number, if they don’t act.

    Reply
  10. This is a great post. I would like to share it with our audience as well. Its quite a curious claim by the council member that these professional builders couldn’t erect a crane more than once, especially considering the benefits they have reaped from the community.

    Reply
  11. Michael says:

    Any further updates? I commute to work avery day via the ferry Northbound and I agree the shuttle bus is getting old. Not to mention the worries of crowding when the G goes down.

    Reply
    • Matt A says:

      Michael,

      According to a NY1 report by Jose Martinez on June 18 (which was a response to this blog post), the ferry owners had come to and agreement with the city about restoring service. Both Councilman Levin and State Senator Squadron were quoted in the NY1 piece.

      Unfortunately, as of July 9 there is no visible progress at the landing.

      Could it be that the landing owners’ promises are full of hot air? You bet your bottom dollar. We need to pressure Levin and Squadron to contact the ferry owners DIRECTLY. They are our elected representatives and it is their job to apply pressure to these greedy and negligent nincompoops on our community’s behalf.

      You can also feel free to call RedSky to ask them what’s up…if you can get them to take your call: 718-366-1800. Or maybe several hundred of us need to call them…

      Reply
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