Remember 2004? For Lower Manhattan, it was still a time of grief, since the local economy in the Financial District was still very much on its knees after the 9-11 WTC attacks. It was a time when starting a business in the lowest part of the Island was seen as madness. It would take until 2006 before the building of One World Trade Center would actually start, and 10 years before the first tenants would work in any of the restored and rebuilt WTC buildings.
That didn’t stop Michael Fortenbaugh from continuing to develop his dream in the North Cove Marina. Mr. Fortenbaugh had brought his sailing club and sailing school to the North Cove Marina in 1994. When the original operator of the marina left operations to the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) after 9/11, he stepped in. In 2004, he decided to bid for the North Cove Marina to keep the Manhattan Sailing Club growing here. His vision became instrumental as a way out of the dark days for the west end of Financial District and Battery Park City.
More than 20 years after he started the work, and 10 years after he took control over the cove, it could all be in jeopardy. The neighborhood is all but happy with the evolution. Not only does it appear as if the bidding process is stalled to favor the big corporations that see a chance to monetize this neighborhood gem, but at the same time, the transparency that should surround a bid for such an important landmark seems lacking.
Battery Park City
To build the World Trade Center in the ’70s, a large area of dirt was excavated to reach the bedrock, to ensure all towers would be safe from water infiltration with the Hudson so close. The excavated dirt was brought to the west side of the West Highway and became the beginning of the most recent addition to Manhattan: Battery Park City.
Battery Park City (or BPC, as we like to shorten everything here in NYC) became the home of the World Financial Center (WFC). The WFC was heavily damaged in the attacks of 9-11 and is now reopening as Brookfield Place, a combination of offices, restaurants and shops, and the Fulton Transit Center. Several new residential buildings were constructed in the new neighborhood, including my current home. BPC also got two coves, a South Cove and a North Cove. The latter would be the future home of the North Cove Marina.
The North Cove Marina
A couple of years after Battery Park City was built, in 1988, a company started building the North Cove Marina. The next year they started operating it. But before they could make a profit, in part as an effect of the 9-11 attacks that happened across the West Highway, that operator gave back control over the marina to the Battery Park City Authority in 2002. The Manhattan Sailing Club had been using the cove since 1994. Later, in 2004, they also started operating the marina.
Under the leadership of Dennis Conner and Michael Fortenbaugh of the sailing club, the North Cove Marina became home to several initiatives. Dennis Conner is one of America’s most renowned sailors. And at the age of 25, Mr. Fortenbaugh managed to get 17 sailing clubs to New York to participate in a regatta there. The New York Times called it a daring move. Under the leadership of Conner and Fortenbaugh, the club grew to more than 800 members, surviving a Wall Street crash in its first year of existence as well as the effects of the attack on the Twin Towers, which were located less than 300 yards from the marina. They managed to find a balance between the luxury yachts that rent space and the initiatives that benefit all people in the area.
Sailing School & Youth Program
One of the better known initiatives of the sailing club is the Sailing School. Since 1994, the school has provided ASA-approved schooling and exams for those seeking a first sailing experience as well as for experienced sailors seeking coastal experience, or those who feel the need for speed when learning the principles of sail races.
Last year, 1500 adults and 300 juniors learned to sail in one of the most urban settings possible. Yours truly was one of those people (re)-learning to sail on the Hudson River. Learning new tricks in the shadow of One World Trade Center, while navigating next to Lady Liberty, is for many New Yorkers the first discovery of a new passion.
During summer camp sessions, youngsters are trained in the ins and outs of sailing in a side arm of the Hudson, away from the sometimes busy traffic. And three days per week there are sailing races on the Hudson.
These programs not only create a love for the sport, but also make the club house a center during and after each of the courses, where New Yorkers can meet people socializing along the board of the Hudson.
The organization also operates the Honorable William Wall, a platform on the Hudson next to Ellis Island. People come here to follow the races, or just to have a nice view of Lower Manhattan. Fifteen thousand people every season have the chance to experience an evening out on the water here. For many people in BPC and FiDi, it’s the first contact with life on the Hudson.
The North Cove Marina Bid
The North Cove Marina was given in concession to the group headed by Michael Fortenbaugh and Dennis Conner for a period ending in 2014. As it should, the BPCA opened a Request for Proposal (RFP) process, in which interested parties could make offers on the future exploitation of the Marina. Bids were expected at the BPCA by October 24, 2014. The BPCA, as an agency run by New York State, is expected to decide who will run this location for the next 10 years. The RFP process opened on September 22, 2014, leaving about a month for interested parties to enter their bid. It seems speed was required.
And this is where all of a sudden things get a little more complicated.
The BPCA is run under the authority of NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York State. And one of his (now) close friends is bidding for the exploitation. Andrew Farkas, a real estate millionaire, has entered the race. Rumors (as transparent information about the process is lacking) claim Brookfield, the company that runs the renewed WFC as Brookfield Place, bids for the exploitation.
Being a good friend of a governor should not stop anyone from bidding. But it’s now clear that the exploitation of a similar facility in Boston by the group of Farkas ended abruptly, without any comment about why and how. That does not gives a comfortable feeling towards the future here.
And all of a sudden, it appears to the public as if the BPCA starts to do all it can to award the contract to one of the larger corporations, without taking into account the impact on the neighborhood.
On November 7 (more than a week after all entrants for the RFP should have been at the BPCA), the last of seven updates on the RFP was published, stating that: “BPCA reserves the right to negotiate terms and conditions with the highest rated Proposer prior to awarding the License Agreement as long as such negotiations do not result in terms which substantially alter the requirements or specifications set out in the RFP. In the event that BPCA is unsuccessful in negotiations with the highest rated Proposer, BPCA reserves the right to conduct negotiations with the next highest rated Proposer.”
And then meetings of the BPCA got cancelled and are now pushed to be handled in a rush, behind closed doors..
Anthony Notaro, chairman of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, said in the Broadsheet: “it’s important to remember that North Cove Marina is park land. So how it is operated is as important as who operates it. We need somebody who is in tune with the community and responsive to it. We need to continue programs like the sailing school and the camp.” He makes a strong case by comparing the importance of the North Cove Marina with Central Park when he says, “We wouldn’t turn Central Park over to the highest bidder and give them free reign to generate as much money as possible, and that shouldn’t happen here.“
And when the BPCA starts to play with its schedule, by shifting topics and maneuvering the decision out of sight of the outside world, we should be concerned. The local neighborhood has gathered in a committee and is asking that the interests of the people living here be respected, and that the process of decision making be opened to the public.
The latest public action is that last week Mr. Fortenbaugh was invited to the BPCA office and told that he should vacate the Marina by the end of the year. The BPCA claims not to have made a decision, but would like the current operations to be moved out of the harbor when the current contract ends.
Local community speaks out
Sailors, captains, local residents and people who know the Marina have spoken out and have now formed a committee: Save North Cove. They call for a rally on December 15, near the North Cove, to demand transparency in the decision process. For many of them, it’s also a support to the work of Mr. Fortenbaugh.
This is personal
After living in FiDi for years, I decided at the beginning of 2014 to move to Battery Park City. My motive for crossing the West Side Highway in Manhattan and living a little farther away from the subway is because of all the things that make BPC so different. The center of this micro-universe is not the Winter Garden, or the new shopping and dining center, but the life that happens on the Hudson river board and around the North Cove Marina. I believe that we, habitants of the most recent part of Manhattan, as well as all involved from the oldest part of Manhattan (FiDi), should support a transparent process.
I am, along with several hundred people, demanding more transparency in the bidding process. Such an important decision should not be made behind closed doors. The 16,000 people in BPC and the more than 40,000 people in FiDi deserve this respect in a decision about their future. When asked, Robin Forst said in a statement captured by DNA Info, “The Battery Park City Authority is committed to conducting a fair and transparent RFP process.” I can’t wait to see that happen!
Oh, and if you ask me what I believe the outcome of that RFP process should be? I think the current North Cove Marina Management has demonstrated 10 years of managing the marina for the public good and in a manner that has generated huge community support. So, if the concession is given to someone else, the standards set by North Cove Marina Management and by Michael Fortenbaugh should be the minimal requirements. I do hope that the current concession can be extended, with the same dynamics, people and initiatives that are not exclusively driven by money, something I’m afraid will happen when Brookfield or Farkas take over.