Community Board 1 (CB1) has passed a resolution calling upon the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) to live up to promises about keeping in North Cove Marina historic boats that provide affordable public sailing.
The resolution is based on a discussion at the May 3 meeting of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, in which the captains of Shearwater and Ventura, two vintage racing vessels that have been moored at North Cove for decades, shared their concerns.
Skipper Tom Berton, who operates Shearwater, said, “we both have historic ships and we provide public sailing. But we have been facing hardship after hardship. It’s been incredibly frustrating. Our rents have doubled in the course of a year. Our seasons have been shortened. Our hours of operation for each day have been shortened. And we are barred from the Marina on important dates, like the Fourth of July.”
Skipper Pat Harris added, “we are also constantly being subjected to micro-management about issues like signs and what kind of tools we are allowed to use for repairs.”
BPCA spokesman Nick Sbordone responded, “today the North Cove Marina — after a multi-million dollar investment in renovations and upgrades — is truly a world-class asset for a world-class neighborhood, and we’re committed to realizing a vibrant, accessible community asset within a consistent framework of rules and regulations. We value the Battery Park City Committee’s input, are mindful of specific issues regarding the Shearwater and Ventura, and are actively working with Brookfield and IGY to review these concerns in full.”
These concerns have arisen against the backdrop of the BPCA’s controversial 2015 decision to force out of North Cove Marina Michael Fortenbaugh, the Battery Park City resident and small businessman who operated highly regarded community programs in the facility for more than a decade.
In his place, the Authority installed at the Marina (which is legally mapped as parkland) Brookfield Properties and International Global Yachting (IGY). The former is the owner of the giant office and retail complex alongside the Marina. Although Brookfield had no previous 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 additionally 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.”
Captain Harris at the helm of Ventura: “They are using the terms of the contract for their own game. They would like nothing better than to force Ventura and Shearwater out so they can put mega-yachts in there and make more money.”
“Brookfield and IGY came along and suddenly there was a whole new ballgame,” Captain Harris said. “They key question,” he added, “is whether Brookfield, through the BPCA, wants these two boats out. IGY has told me this is a loss-leader operation for them, meaning they’ll be lucky to break even on what they pay in rent. But it’s a jewel in the constellation of marinas that they operate around the world. They want to be able to say to their big, VIP clients — and they have a list of these guys — ‘we can put you in North Cove, because you’ve spent so much money with us at other locations.’ And they can make a ton more money that way than having our two boats there.”
“The pattern is very clear to me,” he observed. “They are using the terms of the contract for their own game. They would like nothing better than to force Venturaand Shearwater out so they can put mega-yachts in there and make more money.”
Nina Segarra, the co-chair of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, responded, “that’s the real agenda here.”
Such allegations, if true, would contradict a series of public assurances made by the BPCA when it gave North Cove Marina to Brookfield and IGY, which promised that affordable community sailing aboard historic vessels would continue as part of, “diverse operations in a vibrant marina.”
Shearwater sails to the Statue of Liberty, with Captain Tom Berton at the helm: “It’s been incredibly frustrating. Our rents have doubled in the course of a year. Our seasons have been shortened. Our hours of operation for each day have been shortened. Everything that’s happening is creating an environment that makes it so hard to stay.”
“Ventura and Shearwater are part of the fabric of this community,” Captain Harris added. “What I always loved during the past 20 years was pulling Ventura into North Cove, sitting on the boat, and having people walk by and say ‘I know summer’s around the corner because Ventura is back.'”
He also recalled ferrying more than 1,000 refugees out of Lower Manhattan during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (free of charge), and reprising this public service during the Northeast Blackout of 2003. “Not a single one of those mega-yachts did anything like that on either one of those occasions,” he added.
Maria Smith, a member of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, said, “you guys were like the Dunkirk evacuation. That needs to be acknowledged. These are good neighbors, which is what we want in Battery Park City. It’s not always about money.”
Anthony Notaro, chair of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, “the value of what you do is very different from a mega-yacht coming in. We want the BPCA to support local small businesses. And that is what you are: vibrant small businesses that have been really tormented.”
Committee member Jeff Mihok said that Shearwater and Ventura, “offer people access to the water on a daily, affordable basis. That’s an amazing amenity to have in our community. And it should be prized above having more mega-yachts in the Marina.”
“The fabric of our community is being ripped apart,” Captain Harris said, as he recounted community programs that he and Captain Berton have been forced to scale back. “A recently deceased Navy veteran wanted his ashes scattered beyond the Verrazano Bridge, in his home waters, off of Fort Schuyler. But the tides meant we would have to leave before 6:00 am to make this work. And we can’t do that because of the hours that IGY has imposed.”
A night sail in the harbor aboard Ventura
He also noted, “we used to have star-gazing groups that would go out at 10:30 pm, sail under the Verrazano Bridge looking at the stars and come back at 1:30 am. But under IGY’s rules about operating hours, I have to be back at the dock no later than 12:59 am. If I’ve one minute later than that, it says in the contract that I can be thrown out, and the contract is void. So we can’t do that anymore.”
Mr. Notaro noted, “those hours of operation really make no sense. There’s no business rationale for this.”
Captain Harris also observed that being barred from North Cove during important occasions, such as the Fourth of July and the recent Americas Cup trials, not only hurts the business operations of both vessels, but also impacts the community.
“The BPCA made five tables with five seats each available for residents during the Americas Cup event,” he said. “Our boats could have taken more than 25 people at a time out for a couple of hours, and done that four or five times. But we couldn’t, because IGY wanted the dock space for large mega-yachts.”
Captain Berton recalled that State Senator Daniel Squadron, “arranged a conversation with IGY, BPCA and myself. We talked about signage, hours, and other issues, like how to communicate. That was November. Since then, nothing.”
This led Battery Park City Committee member Tom Goodkind, to quip, “we’re in the same boat as you are. The BPCA has been ignoring us, too.”
Mr. Notaro weighed in, “this violates the request for proposals that the Authority used to bring in Brookfield and IGY. That space is public parkland and one of the elements of the operation is supposed to be having historic ships there to provide affordable accessibility to the community to the waterfront and the harbor.”
Captain Berton replied, “everything that’s happening is creating an environment that makes it so hard to stay.”
At the conclusion of the May 3 discussion, CB1’s Battery Park City Committee passed a resolution urging the BPCA to address the concerns raised by Captains Berton and Harris. This resolution was endorsed by the full board at its monthly meeting, on May 24.
A BPCA source directly familiar with the situation says that the Brookfield and IGY have requested, and the Authority has approved, a modification to the hours during which boats can enter and leave the North Cove Marina, which will allow boats moored in North Cove to depart as early as 6:00 am, with the caveat that Brookfield and IGY will continue to be respectful of nearby residents and businesses. The same source says that the request for late-night operations is currently under review, as is a request to allow Shearwater and Ventura to display signs, similar to those already permitted for the sailing school in North Cove.
But the rents that Brookfield and IGY charge to Shearwater and Ventura may be another matter. The BPCA source says that, while the Authority monitors these fees, “it does not play a role in private negotiations between the Marina owner and its tenants.”