Volume 21, Number 45 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | March 20 - 26, 2009
Downtown Express photos by Milo Hess
Commuters leaving the B.P.C. terminal on Wednesday, the opening day for the long-delayed ferry space.
B.P.C. ferry terminal
By Julie Shapiro
The new Battery Park City ferry terminal welcomed its first commuters Wednesday morning when the project more than 10 years in the making finally opened.
“It’s about time,” said Jeanett Fuente, 48, who lives in New Jersey and works at Merrill Lynch in the World Financial Center. “It’s long overdue.”
The $91.5 million floating terminal faced cost overruns and many delays over the past 10 years, but it opened to mostly positive reviews Wednesday morning.
“It’s great,” said John McGinley, 36, who was waiting in the terminal to catch a ferry to Jersey City. “It’s good for New York. It’s the kind of thing other cities have that we should have.”
The new terminal at Vesey St. replaces the bare-bones temporary one to the north that has been operating since 2003. The new terminal has six slips, twice as many as the temporary one, along with heated restrooms. A coffee and newspaper stand will open within a month.
The six new ferry slips branch off of a 22,000-square-foot waiting room that looks like a continuation of the B.P.C. esplanade, with benches, hex pavers and a railing. A glass windscreen affords views of the Statue of Liberty and the Jersey City skyline, while a sweeping white fabric canopy protects passengers from the elements. The terminal is open to the public weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
The Port Authority built the terminal and owns it, but BillyBey Ferry Company is running it, working with NY Waterway to operate boats.
Questions of financial viability arose as the terminal opened, since many city businesses are shedding jobs, reducing the number of commuters. This week, the head of Waterway, which runs the ferries from Hoboken and Jersey City to the new terminal, said his company could be slipping toward bankruptcy unless a public agency takes over.
Ridership on the Jersey City and Hoboken lines was down 10 percent in the first two months of the year compared to the beginning of 2008, said Paul Goodman, C.E.O. of BillyBey, which owns Waterway’s Lower Manhattan ferries.
“Service will continue no matter what,” Goodman promised from the new terminal Wednesday. “We’ll be fine.” Gesturing to the gleaming glass and steel that surrounded him, he added, “The best evidence of the future of the ferry industry in New York City is this terminal. We’re here to stay.”
New York Water Taxi and Liberty Water Taxi are the other companies going to the new terminal.
Steve Coleman, spokesperson for the Port Authority, said the B.P.C. stop is initially serving only about 3,050 people a day, though it can accommodate more than 10,000. As the economy improves and Downtown’s rebuilding continues — including the new Goldman Sachs headquarters slated to open near the terminal by the end of the year — Coleman hopes ferry ridership will bounce back as well.
The new ferry terminal had a long and rocky path to Wednesday’s opening. One of the first mentions of the new B.P.C. ferry terminal in Downtown Express was in 1998, when it was supposed to cost $25 million and open in 2000. At the end of 2001, when ferry ridership tripled because of the destruction of the World Trade Center PATH station, the estimated terminal cost stretched to $38 million and the Port planned a 2003 opening. Near the end of 2006, the Port said the terminal would cost nearly $70 million and the opening was less than six months away.
Coleman said engineering challenges were to blame — many of the project’s pieces were much harder to build than anyone had anticipated. The fabric canopy and glass-covered gangways, in particular, presented challenges, he said.
Asked whether it was worth the extra time and money to achieve the final product, Coleman didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely,” he said.
Bruce Marcus, 46, was less certain.
“It looks very nice,” Marcus said as he waited for a ferry to Jersey City. “But you have to wonder if it was worth [$91.5 million].”
Many commuters praised the size of the terminal, which makes it less prone to pitching and rocking on the waves like the old terminal did, and they also liked the new amenities and scenic views.
“It’s beautiful,” said Lou Ferriello, 54, after taking a Water Taxi ferry down to B.P.C. from Haverstraw, N.Y. Asked what his favorite part of the station was, Ferriello paused, then said, “It’s open!”
There were no ribbon cuttings and no speeches Wednesday morning, just ferries pulling in and out, an ebb and flow of commuters, and a cadre of Port Authority engineers who posed for photos and sipped free coffee as they took in the final result. The terminal’s debut went smoothly, with the first ferry from Paulus Hook pulling in at 6:07 a.m. and a steady stream following it.
Most of the commuters who poured into the new ferry terminal Wednesday morning strode off to their jobs without looking around, but several paused to explore the terminal and the mini esplanade on its tip that affords views from farther into the Hudson than any other point in Lower Manhattan.
Also visible from the new terminal is the old one, which bobbed emptily Wednesday morning. The city will likely buy the three-slip barge, possibly to use it for expanded ferry service on the East River, said Goodman, with BillyBey. Goodman expects the old terminal to be gone by the summer.
Bob Clark, 71, was jogging down the esplanade past both terminals Wednesday morning, but he slowed as he passed the new one and craned his neck to peer in.
The sleek new terminal made him think about the contrast with the old Lackawanna terminal in New Jersey where he once caught ferries to Lower Manhattan with his father back in the 1940s and ’50s. Back then, the boats docked on one of many piers that stretched out from Lower Manhattan’s shoreline, long before condo towers sprouted up on the landfill that became Battery Park City. The boats to cross the Hudson were as large as the Staten Island ferry, with multiple levels and coffee service on top, Clark recalled. The river was crowded with boat traffic.
“This is a lot different,” Clark said as he caught his breath, glancing out over the nearly empty Hudson. “A lot of memories come back, but life goes on. That’s progress.”
Not everyone is a fan of that progress. A Parks Enforcement Patrol officer with scraggly graying hair said the new terminal looked “like a space ship” and he’d prefer one that looked more like the Lackawanna terminal.
“But it’s all about change,” the PEP officer said, as he continued sweeping the esplanade clean near the old terminal.
One person who hadn’t adjusted yet was a tall man in a suit who spoke hurriedly into his cell phone as he power-walked toward the old ferry terminal. He got partway down the gangplank before he saw the gate and the sign closing it off. He exhaled heavily, spun around and headed still faster toward the new terminal.
Asked if many people had tried to go to the old terminal that morning, the PEP officer laughed and nodded.
“I’m just waiting for a boat to dock there,” he said.