Huddled Masses Will Get a New Departure Point

October 5, 2009 at 3:40 pm Leave a comment

The National Park Service has reset its sights on a new hub for tourists headed from Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

The National Park Service hopes to ease congestion caused by the screening and boarding of visitors to Liberty and Ellis Islands.
For several years, crowds have clogged the waterfront promenade in Battery Park while they wait to clear security and board ferries to the monuments in the harbor. The imposition has been compounded since 9/11 by the large tents that house the screening checkpoints and block views of the statue.

The park service had planned to move the screening and boarding operations to Pier A, a dilapidated structure at the northern edge of Battery Park. But now, officials have a different destination in mind. They hope to move the whole process, including ticketing, to the site of the Coast Guard building tucked into the southern tip of the park.

At the same time, the park service is preparing to spend $3.1 million to expand an existing pier on Governors Island so it can accommodate the ferries that carry tourists between the Battery and Liberty and Ellis Islands. Those ferries, operated by a private company, Statue Cruises, do not stop at Governors Island, a former military base that is home to another national monument. But city officials have pressed the park service to include more stops around the harbor in its transportation service.

A notice published this week by the Army Corps of Engineers says the park service envisions as many as 500,000 people arriving at the Governors Island pier annually. The federal agency now relies on a smaller ferry operated several months a year by a state agency, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, that docks at a different location on the island.

“If we have our own pier, we could land all types of different vessels for all types of different purposes,” said Darren Boch, a spokesman for the park service. “There’s no plan right now, programmatic or otherwise, with Statue Cruises for them to do regular landings over at Governors Island.”

Indeed, Mr. Boch said, a brief test last year of the idea of adding Governors Island to the tour of the statue and Ellis Island “did not demonstrate any significant demand for it.” Still, the park service has received $3.1 million in federal money for the pier expansion, which is expected to be completed in May, he said.

Separately, Mr. Boch said, the park service has contracted with the Army Engineers to study the feasibility of having the Statue Cruises ferries load and unload at a dock adjacent to the Coast Guard building. That building, which is owned by the federal government, sits at the water’s edge near the Staten Island ferry terminal. Once the home base of the Coast Guard in New York City, the building now contains a recruiting station and offices.

Mr. Boch said the park service was contemplating replacing that building with one that could serve both as the hub for visitors to the statue and Ellis Island and new offices for the Coast Guard.

But the park service’s designs on the site seemed to startle Coast Guard officials. Petty Officer Third Class Barbara Patton, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard who works in that building, said on Wednesday that her superiors were unaware of the park service’s study.

The proposal is still just a “conceptual” alternative to Pier A, Mr. Boch said. The park service had been planning for years to move its security setup to the pier after it was renovated by a developer. Last year, city officials bought the crumbling pier back from the developer and turned it over to the Battery Park City Authority. But the authority could not come to terms with the park service, which determined that Pier A would cost too much and would not provide enough space, according to Mr. Boch.

That leaves the Coast Guard site as the next great hope for ridding Battery Park of the security queues.

“I don’t think you can say this is better for the Battery or worse for the Battery; it’s another idea,” said Warrie Price, president of the Battery Conservancy, which oversees the development of Battery Park.

But Ms. Price is eager to have the park’s promenade cleared of the island-bound throngs. “No one likes it,” she said. “It’s big plastic latex tents right on our historic waterfront. We all know that it’s not the appropriate thing for this historic site.”

By PATRICK McGEEHAN

New York Times

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Entry filed under: Go Coastal, Manhattan, Public Waterfront. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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