Mayor: Don’t fret about the ferry — yet

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By Zach Gottehrer-Cohen

zgottehrer@liherald.com

Although state and federal agencies have not pushed back a January 2019 deadline for the City of Glen Cove to retain a ferry operator, or to pay back over $16 million in grants that helped build the Glen Cove Ferry Terminal, Mayor Tim Tenke said he was hopeful that those agencies would ultimately be persuaded to do so.

The state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, which oversee the grants, “both have an enormous amount of money invested in this,” Tenke said, referring to the city’s plan to establish permanent ferry service between Glen Cove and Manhattan. “They both want to see this be successful.”

The city applied for the grants in 2004, according to Ann Fangmann, executive director of the Glen Cove Community Development Agency. “We’re talking almost 15 years later,” she said. “Things change.”

The biggest change that has impacted the city’s ability to establish the service is the Garvies Point development. While it is under way, barges carrying construction materials could interfere with the ferry’s travel routes, Tenke said, and could pose a safety risk.

“They just want to be sure that [a ferry service] is actually going to happen,” said Deputy Mayor Maureen Basdavanos said of the DOT and the FHA. “That’s what we’ve wanted all along ourselves.” Basdavanos added that grant administrators were looking for tangible steps by the city to retain a ferry operator.

The city is creating an action plan, as well as a short- and long-term timeline to put it in motion.

Tenke said that ferry operators are looking for subsidies that would reduce their financial risk. Operators are concerned, he said, because there is no way to predict whether a sufficient number of Glen Cove commuters would use a ferry. New York City subsidizes almost all of the ferries that use its ports, Tenke explained, adding that he couldn’t imagine that a Glen Cove ferry could operate any differently.

The real estate company behind the Garvies Point development, RXR Realty, has already offered up to $1 million in subsidies, according to Basdavanos. Officials at RXR — which features the ferry as a selling point on the website for the Garvies Point project — have told city officials that they hope that a ferry service within walking distance of the 1,110 condominiums and apartments they are planning to build will help attract New York City commuters to buy or rent. Once the project is complete and ferry service is up and running, Tenke said, he estimated that 50 percent of regular ferry riders would be Garvies Point residents.

City Councilman Kevin Maccarone said that the ride into Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road is almost a half-hour longer for Glen Cove residents than it is for those in nearby communities, and the trains don’t run as frequently. “Having this ferry would greatly alleviate [our residents’ commute],” he said. “It’s a little quicker, it’s a nice view,” and for Garvies Point residents, the walk to the ferry terminal would take less than five minutes.

Maccarone said he was concerned that the low ridership for the ferry service last year, during the LIRR’s so-called “summer of hell,” may have dissuaded potential operators from bidding to provide the service. But, he noted, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority-run service offered only two morning and two evening trips, all four of which were about an hour too early for most commuters. “No one wants to get into the city at 7:45 a.m. and then sit around for an hour,” Maccarone said.

If there were more trips scheduled at more appropriate times, he said, he is confident that more residents would take advantage of the ferry. He also said that even though Glen Cove doesn’t have a reputation as a weekend destination, with more commercial development, a ferry service that offered off-peak — and especially weekend — trips could potentially bring New York City-dwellers out to the North Shore for recreation. “There’s an endless amount of opportunity,” Maccarone said.