On paper, the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island seems to have it all:
- Commanding views of New York Harbor and the Manhattan skyline.
- A ferry, rail and bus transportation hub linking Manhattan to almost every neighborhood of Staten Island.
- A complex of century-old municipal buildings designed by the architecture firm Carrere & Hastings.
- A baseball field that is home to the New York Yankees’ minor league team, the Staten Island Yankees.
- A 1920s-era vaudeville theater that seats 2,800 people and has, in recent years, hosted Tony Bennett, the B-52s, k.d. lang, Cyndi Lauper, Rosie O’Donnell and the Jonas Brothers.
- A historic district encompassing 78 homes and a Roman Catholic Church designed in the Romanesque Revival style.
- One of Staten Island’s two farmers’ markets
It sounds like a great place to live and visit. But while walking through the neighborhood, I can’t help but feel frustrated. The Staten Island Yankees don’t sell nearly as many tickets as the Brooklyn Cyclones, across the Narrows. Many of the homes in the area are poorly maintained. A long promenade just East of the ferry terminal is full of crumbling, abandoned buildings, waiting to perhaps someday be the home of a National Lighthouse Museum. Most telling: The Staten Island Ferry is one of New York City’s most visited tourist attractions, and yet nearly all tourists who arrive in St. George turn around and take the ferry back. And I can’t blame them.
Last Saturday, I took a walking tour of St. George through the Municipal Art Society. Led by lifelong Staten Islander Georgia Trivizas, the tour brought about a dozen people along the waterfront and through the historic district. I was the only Staten Islander on the tour. The others were inquisitive, asking questions and trying to learn more about this borough. But I wondered whether they saw anything that would prompt them to return.
Better days should be ahead for St. George. It may soon be home to the world’s largest Ferris wheel and a 100-store outlet mall. Most Staten Islanders I know oppose the project. I have supported the Ferris wheel since the idea was unveiled last September. It will give tourists visiting Manhattan a reason to spend some time in Staten Island. They will ride the wheel and then enjoy our restaurants and views. (I was less sold on the outlet mall idea, until Trivizas pointed out on the tour that outlet malls in the New York City area are a huge draw for European tourists. I’d be more inclined to support a project that will draw tourists on foot than one that would draw locals by car—though I’m sure both will shop at the mall.)
Perhaps, too, the buildings that are designated to someday be the home of the National Lighthouse Museum will be put to good use. The promenade is gorgeous, leading to an old pier and new residential developments. But the space is desolate now, and wasted. Whether they become a museum—or shops or cafes, they have potential.
St. George has all the ingredients for a thriving, successful neighborhood, a neighborhood that people want to visit. Let’s build the wheel and restore the architecture.