Volume 18 • Issue 27 | November 18 - 24, 2005

Downtown Express photos by Talisman Brolin

Richard MacKenzie-Childs outside his Yankee Ferry, which is facing eviction from Pier 25 to make way for construction of the Hudson River Park’s Tribeca section. He is hoping for permission to move the ship to another pier in the park.

Trust threatens to cut power as Yankee digs in spikes

By Ellen Keohane

On Saturday Yankee ferry owner Richard MacKenzie-Childs greeted a stream of visitors who stopped by Pier 25 in Tribeca to say goodbye—for now—to the 1907 historic vessel. The once lush garden lining the pier adjacent to the ferry had been reduced to dirt, roots and scattered leaves. “I’ve been digging up all the plants and trying to find homes for them,” MacKenzie-Childs said.

Told by the Hudson River Park Trust to leave Pier 25 by Nov. 14, the Yankee’s owners Richard and Victoria MacKenzie-Childs have yet to secure a new space for the ferry within Hudson River Park.

Last week engineers for the Hudson River Park Trust told Laurie Lewis, the Yankee’s caretaker, that Con Edison would eventually need to shut off the Yankee’s power, but did not give a specific date. As of Nov. 16, the boat’s power was still on.
Loss of power is a serious safety concern for the vessel as the historic boat’s pumps need to be engaged, Victoria MacKenzie-Childs said. If the electricity is shut off, the boat will need to be powered with a generator, said Richard MacKenzie-Childs, who has been in close touch with the Trust regarding the issue. When contacted by e-mail, Christopher Martin, the Hudson River Park Trust’s spokesperson, did not say when the Trust would actually shut off the Yankee’s power but made it clear the state-city authority felt it had the right to do it now.

For three years the Yankee’s owners knew Pier 25, rotting and beyond repair, needed to be replaced. But it wasn’t until July that they received an eviction notice from the Trust. “We gave them ample notice. This process has been going on for months,” Martin said.

A programmatic agreement dated March 31, 2000 and signed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Hudson River Park Trust may grant the Yankee a legal right to stay in the park. The agreement identifies 10 historic properties including the Yankee and states that the construction of Hudson River Park “will have no effect on these historic properties.”

The Park Trust, however, does not believe that the Yankee has any right to stay in the park. “There is no obligation under the Programmatic Agreement or any other federal or state permit that we provide space for the Yankee in the park either as an interim use or following redevelopment,” Martin said.

On Monday morning Richard MacKenzie-Childs and Lewis met with nine members of the North River Historic Ship Society, a group dedicated to historic vessels in New York harbor, Lewis said. “Whatever happens to the Yankee could set precedence for the other historic vessels in the park,” she said.

Society members John Doswell, co-owner of the historic John J. Harvey fireboat at Pier 63, attended the meeting along with maritime writer Betsy Haggerty and Julie Nadel, a member of the board of directors of the Hudson River Park Trust.

“I can’t believe in a five-and-a-half-mile park there’s not room for one 100-year-old former Ellis Island ferry that’s been in the park since 1990,” Nadel said. “This is a valuable historic property in Hudson River Park and it adds a lot of character to the park.”

“I’m very supportive of the Yankee staying in the park,” said Haggerty. “The Yankee is part of the fabric of U.S. history — to lose it from the park, there’s no guarantee that it will ever come back,” she said.

While Pier 25 is under construction, the Yankee could move to Pier 54 or 97, which are also designated for historic ships, Doswell said. “While Pier 25 is being rebuilt, it [the Yankee] should stay in the park if at all possible,” he said.

The Yankee’s previous owner, Jimmy Gallagher, said that prior to selling the boat to Richard and Victoria MacKenzie-Childs in 2003, he had looked for places within Hudson River Park where the Yankee could relocate when demolition of Pier 25 began. Like Doswell, Gallagher also thought Piers 54 and 97 are options, as well as Pier 40. He said he thought each location would require a one-time investment of no more than $10,000 to accommodate the boat.

Although there is room for the Yankee on the north side of Pier 40, the Trust wants to keep the space open for visiting ships and the south side of the pier would need to undergo repairs to accommodate the Yankee, Martin said. Piers 54 and 97 are not an option as Pier 54 has no fendering, which is necessary for docking, and Pier 97 is actively used as a New York City Sanitation Department garage, he said.

The Yankee’s owners would prefer to stay within Hudson River Park, and ideally they would like to move to Pier 40 so they could remain within the same community, Richard MacKenzie-Childs said. However, if Hudson River Park doesn’t work out, they are open to moving the Yankee to Pier A in Battery Park, Chelsea Piers, Staten Island or Red Hook, Brooklyn, he said.

MacKenzie-Childs pays the Hudson River Park Trust $500 a month to dock the Yankee at Pier 25. In lieu of higher docking fees, from May through September they offer public tours of the vessel, and host free events and community meetings, Richard MacKenzie-Childs said.

There’s no guarantee the Yankee will be able to return to Pier 25 after it is rebuilt. The ferry must apply for docking space under the Trust’s historic vessel policy in order to return to the Park, Martin said.

According to the policy, the Trust does not allow people to permanently live on a boat moored in the park. Due to the fragility of the Yankee, someone needs to be on board 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Lewis said.

With Pier 25 officially closed to the public, the Yankee’s owners are diligently looking for a place to move. “We’re completely ready to untie ourselves and go as soon as we find a spot,” Richard MacKenzie-Childs said.

With reporting by Josh Rogers


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