"Staten Island has a tough time being cool," said Kamillah Hanks, founder of the Historic Tappen Park Community Partnership, as she spoke to a tour group about the North Shore neighborhood of Stapleton. It's true: New York's forgotten borough, often seen as isolated due to its inaccessibility by bridge or Subway line from Manhattan, doesn't have the same charm or youthful energy that is pervasive in Brooklyn and parts of Queens now. Recently, developers have been aiming to change this perception while also taking advantage of vacant spaces on the island's North Shore, with notableand large&3151;projects including the New York Wheel, Empire Outlets, Lighthouse Point, and URL Staten Island. This past weekend, Curbed took a tour, hosted by Untapped Cities and Munro Johnson, vice president of Staten Island development projects for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, of some of the key sites and newest ventures to hit the island as businesses and residents alike descend on the area after being priced out of other boroughs and neighborhoods.
The tour began mere steps away from the Stapleton Staten Island Railway Station at URL Staten Island (short for "Urban Ready Life," a rental community developed by Ironstate Development that is part of the larger community known as the New Stapleton Waterfront. Greg Russo from Ironstate explained that the 900-unit development, which is slated to open its first phase by the end of this year, is targeting apartment hunters in their 20s or 30s, as the island has experienced an exodus of young people in recent years. The project, which was implemented by the EDC's Capital Program, will also foster community life with a public plaza, a cafe, and 30,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space. Outside of the buildings, the developer hopes to work with the borough to upgrade and create more streets connecting the shore area with the inner neighborhood, as the areas feel very distinct from one another at the moment.
Next, the tour stopped at the Staten Island Makerspace, a hub for the island's makers that started after being selected by the EDC to be a small business incubator on the island. Operated by Scott Van Campen and DB Lampman, both artists and makers in their own right, the 6,000-square-foot space is open to the community for classes and workshops while also allowing makers with specific project ideas or businesses to use the resources offered by Makerspaceincluding a metalshop, a woodshop, a sewing studio, and a computer lab, among othersto launch their ideas. Van Campen highlighted one project currently in the studio: Toilets for People, which is building low-cost composting toilets in developing countries while teaching locals how to make them and continue spreading them in the area. Van Campen and Lampman also proudly stated that, for the first time since they opened in 2013, a project is graduating out of the space and moved on to be independent. "That's kind of the goal," Lampman said.
Further, the owners of Makerspace hope not only to help the individual makers to succeed, but also to foster local creativity and encourage diversity in the maker community. On the latter front, for instance, they offer a class called "Women, Welding, and Wine" to help womenwho currently represent just 5 percent of the welding industry, according to Van Campen, a welder by trainingbecome proficient in the trade. They also are in the process of converting a box truck into a mobile makerspace so that they can travel to schools, parks, and community centers. They intend to call this operation the "Steam Wagon."
We next stopped at Tappen Park, where we were greeted by Hanks, a lifelong Stapleton resident. The area, she explained, used to be considered the shopping district on the shore, and it was one of the only communities designed as a town square. The park is adjacent to historic buildings, such as a library, which recently expanded to another building, and Village Hall, previously serving as the courthouse for the entire North Shore. Hanks also brought us up Bay Street to show us the "Windows Into the Past" exhibition, which featured large black and white photos draped over the windows of a Deals discount store, on the first floor of a new residential building. The project was an effort to combine the old and the new of Stapleton, Hanks said, and it allows viewers to see sites that are just steps away from the location of the photograph as they were many years ago. Across the street from the exhibition, Hanks pointed out the Paramount Theater, whose interior space, untouched other than being flooded out by Hurricane Sandy, is available for development.
"The developers now are much more sensitive to the neighborhoods," Hanks said, when asked how she feels about the coexistence of the new developments with older Stapleton residents. Pointing to all the vacant space and dilapidated buildings on Bay Street, Hanks said the area could actually benefit from "cool" developments and businesses moving into Stapleton.
The tour then took us to TechBox, founded by John Salis, which has studio space for artists, but also contains an entire floor of coworking space for startups and small businesses. Johnson noted that TechBox and Makerspace are just two of at least four coworking spaces that have been founded over the past couple years. By combining tech workers and artists under one building, TechBox, like Makerspace, follows a trend of fusing the two disciplines under the broader idea of "creating." For $600 a month, TechBox gives its tenants office space and many other resources to get them working. They also offer affordable residences down the street for business owners who need a place to stay.
The tour ended at The Flagship Brewing Company, which got its start in part with money won from the EDC's "Staten Island Storefronts" competition. Johnson recalled something that Hanks had said earlier in the tour: Stapleton and the North Shore had once been filled to the brim with breweries and beer culture. Flagship's recent founding serves as a "homecoming for the industry," Johnson said.
Matt McGinley, one of the owners of Flagship, said the brewery's tasting room was intended to be a hang-out spot for localsand yet, the business has seen visitors from all over the world come to drink their beer. While he never wants Flagship to transform into an atmosphere reminiscent of a rowdy sports bar, McGinley said he hoped that the beer could continue to attract diverse drinkers and subsequently convince them of the merits of the surrounding neighborhood and borough.