Volume 17 • Issue 34 • Jan. 14 - 20, 2005

Famed sailor to set course at North Cove

By Josh Rogers

American yachting champion Dennis Conner has joined with two Battery Park City residents to run the neighborhood’s marina starting this spring.

The Battery Park City Authority on Tuesday designated a new group that includes Conner to run the North Cove Marina. The other principals of North Cove Marina Management, Inc. are both neighborhood residents, Michael Fortenbaugh, commodore of the Manhattan Sailing Club, and Jordan Gruzen, an architect. Conner, who lived in the neighborhood from 1992 – 1994, has sailed out of the maria several times in recent years.

“I always appreciated the fact that the North Cove Marina was right in my back yard,” Conner, 62, said in a prepared statement. “When I returned to the North Cove following 9/11, I was grateful that the Battery Park City Authority was able to recover it after such a devastating event. To have an opportunity to improve the marina and to make it an unforgettable port of call is a challenge that I greatly look forward to.”

Fortenbaugh, whose club and sailing school use the marina, said Conner was not available for further comment, but he would be at North Cove for a big celebration event sometime in May or June.

Conner won the coveted America’s Cup in 1980, took it back from the Aussies in 1987, and won it again in 1988. He still travels the world racing competitively and is one of the world’s most famous sailors. Fortenbaugh said the skipper will draw more vessel traffic to the marina.

“We want Dennis out to tell people, ‘come to my marina. You’ve got these beautiful boats — come to New York and enjoy the city,’” Fortenbaugh, 42, said in a telephone interview. The marina, built in 1989 west of the World Trade Center site, has always had troubled finances and they were exacerbated by the Sept. 11 attack. Fortenbaugh said his sailing club’s membership dropped from 470 down to 360 and is now back to its pre-9/11 level.

Tim Carey, president of the Battery Park City Authority, said Conner “gives us a bit of style and cachet” in addition to his and Fortenbaugh’s boating experience. The authority and the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy ran the marina for the last two years and they are now looking for someone with more experience to start turning a profit, said Carey.

He said the Conner group was the highest of four bids, outbidding the next closest one by over $300,000 for the course of the ten-year contract. Carey said the final details of what amounts to a five-year lease with a five-year renewal clause are still being finalized and he did not say what the annual rent would be. He said the agreement will provide guaranteed income to the authority and a share of any profits. The authority is a state entity that turns over its annual excess revenue to New York City every year.

“We want someone who has the expertise to make it a profit, who is going to be able to turn it into a financial asset, rather than a liability,” Carey said.

Watermark Associates, Inc. ran the marina until 2002 and was the source of complaints from both its landlord, the B.P.C.A., and many of its tenants, who said the firm did not spend enough to maintain the marina.

Fortenbaugh will essentially be landlord and tenant at the marina and Carey said it was up to Fortenbaugh’s group to determine rent policies.

“Now that I’m charging myself rent I’m going to increase it,” Fortenbaugh said.

He said the financial success of the marina will not hinge on the permanent tenants like his Manhattan Sailing School, or the three charter boats, Shearwater, Calypso and Ventura. The key will be getting more boats to visit. He thinks the combination of Conner and better customer service will attract the ships that used to go to North Cove and now go to Chelsea Piers or to New Jersey docks. Conner will also bring interesting vessels from all over the world, he added.

“We hope the marina constantly looks alive and is exciting and vibrant,” Fortenbaugh said.

In the short term, he expects to have free remote control Laser boats in the marina available weekends in February and March, until it’s time for the big ships to return. Fortenbaugh is looking to create an e-mail list to let residents know when noteworthy ships are docked in the harbor and people can sign up at the new Web site, www.thenorthcove.com.

His group plans to hire divers to recover the Mediterranean mooring system that is now on the Hudson’s floor near the marina. The system, which hasn’t been used since 2001, allows ships to back in to the slips, maximizing the dock space to its pre-9/11 level. Fortenbaugh said the divers will have to pull up the chains connected to concrete anchoring pilings. He assumes the system, which ran through most of the middle of the harbor, will be in need of repairs and will take about a month to reinstall once the work begins.

Fortenbaugh understands the marina’s needs and will be a good landlord said Tom Berton, who owns the Shearwater. Berton hopes to sign a long-tem lease with Fortenbaugh soon.

“Dennis Conner will bring more attention,” added Berton, whose intern is already talking about getting the skipper’s autograph.


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