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Staten Island Awaits Giant Ferris Wheel, Transformation

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Welcome back to Camera Obscura, Curbed's series of photo essays by Nathan Kensinger. This week, as part of a series on soon-to-change neighborhoods, Kensinger visits northern Staten Island.

[The waterfront of St. George, in north Staten Island, may soon be transformed by a 630 foot ferris wheel and New York City's first outlet mall. All photos by Nathan Kensinger.]

For over 130 years, the shoreline of northern Staten Island has been a quiet place to contemplate the New York harbor. Little has changed here since 1878, when a reporter from the New York Times wandered through the "nooks on the North Shore" and found an "untidy water front" with inspiring views of New Jersey industry. Today, this same shoreline is still populated by solitary wanderers?beach combers, local fishermen, sunbathers, wild geese?who watch the tugboats ply the Kill Van Kull. But this isolation could soon be a thing of the past, as the city moves forward with several megaprojects that will transform the area by luring millions of visitors out of the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

In St. George, where the Staten Island Ferry comes to land, the waterfront is slated for a major redevelopment that includes the New York Wheel, a 60-story ferris wheel that "will accommodate up to 1,440 people per ride." Alongside this behemoth will be Empire Outlets, a "1,000,000-Square-Foot Complex" with "100 Designer Outlet Shops and a 200-Room Hotel." These two projects will replace a pair of parking lots that flank the Staten Island Yankees ballpark. Despite the promise of jobs and shopping opportunities, not all local residents are looking forward to these developments, or to the crowds they will bring. "That's going to create havoc in Staten Island," said Kenny Taclay, a lifelong resident of the North Shore. "They don't think about the traffic. It's going to be horrendous over here."

For small business owners on the St. George waterfront, these projects raise difficult questions about the future. "I've been here 23, 24 years," said Max, the owner of M&M Deli, which is located across from the proposed ferris wheel site. "All this news does is raise people's rent." For Max and other business owners nearby, megaprojects have not always translated into hordes of new customers. After the ballpark opened up down the street in 2001, several local stores were closed down or sold off. "The only business the ballpark gave was to the ballpark," said Max, who will miss the old waterfront. "It's kind of sad, with the scarcity of land, that everything has to be commercialized so much."

This parking lot, a former brownfield that was once home to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad yards, is slated to become the ferris wheel, with a ground breaking planned for 2014.

At water's edge, a park designed by HM White provides panoramic views of the Kill Van Kull and New Jersey's industrial shoreline. 

The park is a haven for wild geese. "I used to hop the trains over here," recalls lifelong resident Kenny Taclay. "This was all railroad tracks. Then one day they decided to knock it down."

The park's esplanade was damaged during Hurricane Sandy. "The water went underneath," said local resident John Donlon. "Everything just fell right in. That's the way it is. It's on an island."

"Postcards," a September 11th memorial designed by Masayuki Sono, provides another location for quiet contemplation of the waterfront.

"It's a nice place to enjoy the sun," said a fisherman near the memorial. "Last week I caught five striped bass and a sand shark."

Looking inland from the esplanade provides a sense of the scale for the ferris wheel, which will tower above these St. George residences. "It's going to be a big thing staring at you," said Kenny Taclay. "Who wants that now? People on the ferris wheel staring at you."

On Richmond Terrace, near the redevelopment location, historic homes sit next to empty lots. "It might change the whole area?for the good," said resident John Donlon.  "They need it here on this side of the island. It's pretty barren."

This building site on Richmond Terrace has been abandoned for many years. "So many projects have come up over the years, and nothing really happens," said Max, the owner of M&M Deli. "I hope good things happen to the neighborhood?I've been waiting long enough."

Further up the hill in St. George, the homes begin to grow in stature. "This used to be a tropical paradise for the rich," said John Donlon.

At the top of the hill, multistory homes face the area where the ferris wheel is scheduled to be built. "I don't like it. I don't like the ferris wheel," said one hilltop resident. "That's all I have to say about that."

The unimpeded view from these hilltop mansions has remained essentially the same since the 1800's, looking out onto "the horizon of 20 miles of cities," according to the Times, and allowing residents to "contemplate its vastness and glory without its pettiness and squallor."
?Nathan Kensinger
· Nathan Kensinger [official]
· New York Wheel coverage [Curbed]
· Camera Obscura archives [Curbed]