Pier Work To Divert Fleet Week Ships to S.I. Port
Staten Islanders are preparing to welcome a bigger share of the sailors and Marines deposited in the city for Fleet Week, which begins tomorrow.
Because of construction at the West Side piers and the absence of the USS Intrepid Air, Sea, and Space Museum, which is undergoing repairs in Bayonne, N.J., six of the seven ships in this year’s celebration will dock at the Stapleton Home Port on Staten Island. The largest ship, the USS Wasp, will dock at Manhattan‘s Pier 90.
Since 1984, the steel ships have emerged from the early morning mist of the harbor as if from a time machine, passing the Statue of Liberty and releasing thousands of men and women of the Armed Forces into the streets for Fleet Week. Because there have been years in which the ships haven’t been able to come to New York, this marks the 20th Fleet Week in city history.
The city will be awash in clusters of white as the service members, wearing their summer uniforms, ascend the Empire State Building, pay respects to those lost at ground zero, and, as they have from time immemorial, find love and break a few hearts.
The president of Staten Island Fleet Week, Donna Cutugno, said officials predict there will be more than 50,000 visitors to the Home Port this year, compared with 38,000 in 2006.
“Over here it’s a different experience than in the city,” Ms. Cutugno said. “We’re like a hidden secret.”
Sports competitions and military demonstrations will be held in every borough, and Mayor Bloomberg will host a breakfast for representatives from each of the ships at Gracie Mansion on Thursday. The city has also expanded a job fair for service members it started last year to include 57 organizations, including the New York Police Department.
Ms. Cutugno admitted that the ships’ crews will likely rush off to Manhattan on their first day, but she believes that, by the weekend, the Manhattan prices will have started to take a toll on pocketbooks. Staten Island businesses are offering discounts to sailors and Marines, as well as free detergent for laundry machines and access to Internet.
There is also a bar a stone’s throw away from the ships. Called Notes, its proprietor, Bobby Digi, said that last year the venue wasn’t ready to be opened, but he let in sailors for a night anyway.
“I think it’s probably a relief for them,” Mr. Digi said of Fleet Week. “And for us it’s a significant event where it allows us to realize and appreciate them even more. It’s about direct interaction.”
This will be the first Fleet Week without the USS Intrepid, which in previous years has acted as a kind of home base for the festivities. The museum will instead host a Memorial Day ceremony at the Summer Stage in Central Park.
“It’s bittersweet,” the executive director of the museum, Susan Marenoff, said. “We’re sad that we aren’t able to be the pivotal part of the festivities, but we’ll be active regardless.”
On the anniversary of D -Day (June 6), the USS Intrepid is scheduled to dock at Home Port for a stay of more than a year while the interior is renovated. Its presence, Council Member James Oddo, a Republican of Staten Island, said, will make for an especially patriotic summer on the island.
“Having this history right in our back yard is going to bring people out,” he said.
By BRADLEY HOPE