The floating docks in North Cove Marina, which is legally mapped as parkland, have been encircled by newly installed metal gates with combination locks and are now off limits to the public. The gates, which were installed without any prior notice or public discussion, represent a significant change in the Marina’s management, because the floating docks had been accessible to the public for decades before the gates were installed, at the end of April.
“There have some questions about the marina being open to the public,” explained Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) spokesman Nick Sbordone at the May 3 meeting of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1). “All the areas that have always been open to the public will continue to be open to the public,” he continued.
This was immediately contradicted by Ninfa Zegarra, co-chair of the Committee, who said, “those floating docks used to be open to us.”
Mr. Sbordone then backed away from his statement of a few moments earlier and acknowledged, “the docks, I believe, used to be open. But I think the issue is that they shouldn’t have been. I believe that they were never supposed to be open to the public. They were private docks.”
Ms. Segarra retorted, “they’ve been open for 30 years.”
Committee member Tammy Meltzer elaborated on this point, telling Mr. Sbordone, “with all due respect, the docks were absolutely open.” She added that when the Marina was managed by Michael Fortenbaugh, the Battery Park City resident and small businessman who was forced out by the BPCA in January, 2015, after operating highly regarded community programs in the facility for more than a decade, “they welcomed the public on the docks. They had a club house and a school on a barge. You were welcome to walk down the dock and go talk to them and get information. You were welcome to walk down and see the boats that were part of the fabulous sailing school that was there. The public was completely welcome on the docks. And your comment, with all due respect, because you don’t live down here, is actually inaccurate.” (This appears to have been a reference to the fact that Mr. Sbordone, who was recently hired as the BPCA’s spokesman, does not live within the community, while the person he replaced, Robin Forst, is a local resident. Ms. Forst was dismissed by the BPCA without explanation a few weeks ago.)
“To see the gates and a combination keypad feels extraordinarily like the privatization of a public asset,” Ms. Meltzer continued. “Because it is now not engaging the public, to access the public waterway, which it was it was always intended to be. It is now a private marina that the public may view from the top or the sides, without the opportunity to walk down and actually talk to the people on any of those boats.”
Mr. Sbordone said, “the gates are being installed as a safety and security measure. They lead to private boats. Private docks with private money.” This statement seemed to suggest that the floating docks were purchased with private-sector funds, but if this was the meaning, it appears to be inaccurate.
The BPCA purchased the floating docks in 2015, using public funds, as a subsidy to the current Marina operator, after forcing out Mr. Fortenbaugh, in spite of unanimous, vocal opposition from community leaders and elected officials. This subsidy was made necessary when the Authority ordered Mr. Fortenbaugh to remove the previous docks, which he had constructed at his own expense. How the Authority expected the new operator the manage the Marina without these docks, which take many months to fabricate, was never made clear.
“There was, unfortunately, before the current operator some issues with burglaries of personal equipment and personal belongings on some of the ships. So we want to make sure that unauthorized access is not granted,” Mr. Sbordone continued.
This rationale was contradicted by Captain Tom Berton, the skipper of the vintage yacht Shearwater, which has operated community sailing programs in North Cove Marina for more than a decade. “During my 16 years of operation, we had an iPad stolen from a teenager and we had a homeless person or two sleep on the boat a couple of times. That’s it.”
“Who is funding and installing these gates?” asked Committee chair Anthony Notaro.
Mr. Sbordone replied, “it’s Brookfield and IGY,” in a reference to Brookfield Properties and International Global Yachting (IGY). The former is the owner of the giant office and retail complex alongside the Marina, which was selected by the BPCA to replace Mr. Fortenbaugh. Although Brookfield has no experience managing yacht harbors, it has a long record of making large contributions to political campaigns of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who controls the BPCA. The latter is a company selected by Brookfield as its subcontractor to manage North Cove. IGY is owned by Andrew Farkas, who also has a long record of making substantial contributions to Mr. Cuomo’s campaigns. He also operates a chain of marinas in the Caribbean, where BPCA chairman Dennis Mehiel has admitted to mooring his mega-yacht, Helios, “any number of times.”
Mr. Notaro continued, “I would like to know if Brookfield/IGY are doing this, was that part of their contract, or are they just arbitrarily deciding to do that? I want to be sure they’re not taking an initiative beyond the scope of their operating agreement.”
Mr. Sbordone replied, “I will check.”
Ms. Meltzer questioned, “how that qualifies as a public park?”
Mr. Notaro pressed the point, saying, “this is a major issue. The marina is mapped as parkland, and while the Authority has the right to have an operator, cutting off access to the waterfront or a part of parkland is a real concern for us.”
Ms. Segarra added, “this is part of a pattern of the Authority making decisions for this community without informing us and without even letting us know that it happened. If it wasn’t for Tammy walking around the Marina, we wouldn’t even know that it happened and it wouldn’t be on the agenda tonight.”
Mr. Notaro continued, “this is symptomatic of the decision happening and we don’t know what’s the rationale and it sounds kind of reasonable, but this is parkland. What gives anyone the right to do that is something we want investigated.”
He added a word of advice to Mr. Sbordone: “you need to be an active member of the the policy and decision process at the Authority and not simply a messenger back and forth. Because we’ve had that before, where a message like this was delivered, and we’d talk about it, and the ivory tower said, ‘give ’em free ice cream.'” (This was a reference to recent Americas Cup trials, which were based in North Cove Marina. During this event, the BPCA’s outreach included distributing free ice cream to residents who were observing the boat races from the Esplanade.)
Ms. Meltzer emphasized this point by saying, “take your ice cream and…”
Before she could finish the thought, Mr. Sbordone interjected, “I understand what you’re saying.”