December 15, 2004
Few Rescuers Are Heeding Ferry Service's S O S Call
By PATRICK McGEEHAN
Arthur Imperatore Jr. sent out an S O S to government officials last week hoping that they would rescue his financially swamped ferry company, New York Waterway. But, along the Hudson River waterfront, the response to that distress call has been muted.
Among the most significant obstacles to keeping the ferries running into the new year is Mr. Imperatore himself. Though his father started the ferry service in 1986 and is widely regarded as politically powerful, Mr. Imperatore and his company's plight have drawn little sympathy from elected officials or other boat operators.
Some of them say that a government-led solution to the ferry quandary would come more swiftly if the Imperatores were not the ones in need. As valuable as the ferries have proved in times of crisis, few government officials want to be seen bailing out a wealthy family whose business practices have been questioned.
For nearly two years, New York Waterway has been the subject of federal and state investigations into subsidies it received to expand its service after Sept. 11. Mr. Imperatore cited the $4 million he said the company has spent defending itself as a factor that contributed to its financial troubles.
Other boat operators have complained about what they have called New York Waterway's hard-headed business tactics as the company came to dominate ferry service between New Jersey and Manhattan. Mr. Imperatore admitted last week that the company had expanded too fast and paid too much to control some routes.
Now, he and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are in a waiting game, with about 30,000 passengers involved. Officials in Hudson County in New Jersey recently took action to save the company, but their plan to pay off New York Waterway's bank loan and take over the operation stalled late last week.
The company also looked to the Port Authority for help. But so far that agency's executives are staring down the Imperatores, promising only that the failure of New York Waterway would not cause a long disruption of commuter service.
At the moment, New Jersey Transit can offer little help. Although the agency is building a new ferry terminal in Weehawken, N.J., adjacent to New York Waterway's home base, its charter does not allow it to operate ferries, only buses and trains.
New Jersey's transportation commissioner, Jack Lettiere, said he was hoping to prevent any disruption, but he did not rule out the possibility of a bankruptcy filing by New York Waterway.
"You could have a structured bankruptcy where there is no shutdown," Mr. Lettiere said in a phone interview.
Indeed, a detour through bankruptcy court appears more likely with each passing day. Mr. Imperatore said his family had lost all of its equity in the business, so they would have little to lose but their legacy if the company were carved up by lawyers and bankers.
The most important assets are the boats, many of which were built to run back and forth between docks along the Hudson. The company's bank, J. P. Morgan Chase, could claim some of those boats any day because New York Waterway is in default on its debt of about $20 million. Unless someone steps forward within the next week or two with an offer to pay off the bank loan, Chase and the company's financial advisers will probably have to arrange a piecemeal sale of its operations.
A group of competing ferry services and other boat operators recently drafted a plan to replace most of New York Waterway's service if the company should fail. They had intended to present it to officials of the Port Authority and other government agencies, but they have now decided it would not work without government intervention, said Tom Fox, the president of New York Water Taxi.
New York Waterway's system is too complex to run without a coordinating agency and some financial assistance, Mr. Fox said. New York Waterway operates shuttle buses in New Jersey and Manhattan, and one of its affiliates owns the main parking lot at the Weehawken terminal.
"It was just too big for us to get our arms around," Mr. Fox said. Nonetheless, they are still interested in taking over some of New York Waterway's routes, especially if they can get their hands on some of its boats at bargain prices.
In the meantime, the mayors of Weehawken and Hoboken, N.J., are sweating out the prospect of a shutdown of a service that many of their constituents have come to depend on.
"It's like a hostage situation," said David Roberts, the mayor of Hoboken, who had supported a publicly financed takeover of New York Waterway.
Mr. Roberts said he did not have an interest in the survival of New York Waterway, but he did not want to lose the ferry service that had lured businesses and spurred luxury development along the entire waterfront of his city.
"Everyone agrees that ferry service should be ongoing and not discontinued and held to a price that's reasonable," Mr. Roberts said. "There's universal bipartisan support for that, but there are few people willing to roll their sleeves up and put a plan together to make sure that it happens.
"Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die."
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
December 22, 2004
Lawyer Is Said to Offer Plan to Preserve Ferry Service
By PATRICK McGEEHAN
A Manhattan lawyer is trying to work out an agreement with the Imperatore family to help save the Hudson River ferry service operated by the family's financially troubled company, New York Waterway, people close to the talks said yesterday.
The lawyer, William B. Wachtel, a partner in the law firm of Wachtel & Masyr, has devised a tentative plan to take over about half of New York Waterway's commuter service, which serves about 30,000 riders a day, these people said. The plan would require the approval and cooperation of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the federal Maritime Administration and New York Waterway's bank, J. P. Morgan Chase.
The president of New York Waterway, Arthur Imperatore Jr., has been seeking help from government officials to stave off a collapse of the company, which was founded by his father in 1986. Mr. Imperatore said this month that the company was sinking under debt and might run out of cash any day.
In recent days, no government agency has shown an interest in bailing out the Imperatores' operation, though Port Authority officials have assured commuters that ferry service would continue. But this week, Mr. Wachtel offered to work out a plan with the family that would allow it to continue operating some of the service, while Mr. Wachtel and the unidentified entity he represents would handle the rest.
Mr. Wachtel, 50, declined to comment yesterday.
In private conversations, government officials on both sides of the river described the tentative agreement as at least a temporary patch to ensure that service would not be disrupted within the next month.
Pat Smith, a spokesman for New York Waterway, said that "there are complex negotiations under way to save the commuter ferry system. These negotiations are not helped by talking about them at this time."
A Port Authority spokesman, Steve Coleman, said his agency had not signed off on any agreement.
"We're continuing to talk to private operators," Mr. Coleman said. "We're working toward making sure there is no disruption."
But, Mr. Coleman added, "I would tell you as strongly as I can that there is no deal that's been approved by the Port Authority." Any discussion of one is "extremely premature," he said.
The Port Authority controls one of the key routes across the Hudson, between Lower Manhattan and the New Jersey Transit train station on the southern edge of Hoboken. New York Waterway pays the Port Authority $50,000 a month to operate that route.
Under Mr. Wachtel's plan, he would assume operation of ferries to Lower Manhattan from the main Hoboken dock and docks in Jersey City, the people close to the talks said. Doing so would require the use of about a dozen ferries owned by New York Waterway but pledged as collateral on bank loans. The Imperatores would continue to run ferries to West 38th Street from their home base in Weehawken and from the north end of Hoboken, these people said.
Mr. Wachtel, 50, was a late arrival on the scene. His law firm has represented major land developers in the area, but he has been involved in the ferry business only tangentially. He was involved with Wings Point Associates, a group that was redeveloping Pier A near Battery Park before the Sept. 11 attack.
But after the attack on the World Trade Center destroyed PATH train service to Jersey City, the City of New York seized control of the pier and cleared New York Waterway to land ferries at a floating dock that was moored to it.
Tom Ickovic, a partner with Mr. Wachtel in Wings Point Associates, said his group, which plans to make Pier A a gateway for tourists, sued New York Waterway last year to obtain landing fees for the ferry's use of the pier. New York Waterway agreed to pay $1.5 million to resolve that suit, but has not yet paid, Mr. Ickovic said last night.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
The Jersey Journal
NYC lawyer to take over Hoboken, Jersey City routes from NY Waterway
Tuesday, February 15, 2005 By Bonnie Friedman
Journal staff writer
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a private investor have reached a tentative agreement to ensure continued ferry service from Hudson County to New York, according to a statement released by the Port Authority.
Under the terms of the agreement - which is subject to the approval of the federal Maritime Administration and the board of commissioners of the Port Authority - NY Waterway will turn over ferry routes from Hoboken and Jersey City to BillyBey Ferry Company LLC, which is owned by New York City attorney William B. Wachtel.
The contract will remain in effect until 2009, with an option to extend it for an additional five years.
In turn, BillyBey will assume $19.1 million in federal maritime loans for 16 boats that will operate between Hoboken and Jersey City.
NY Waterway will continue to own and operate routes in Weehawken, as well as in Belford and Haverstraw, N.Y.
In a separate agreement, Weehawken-based NY Waterway will provide personnel and continue to manage and operate the Hoboken and Jersey City lines.
Last year, NY Waterway closed its route between Newport in Jersey City and Pier 11 in Manhattan and threatened to close routes from Port Liberte and Hoboken Terminal to Pier 11.
The Port Liberte and Hoboken routes will continue to operate, though the Newport route will not be restored, officials said.
The private operator can only raise fares on the Hoboken routes by 50 cents per one-way trip per year. There are no limits on the Jersey City fares, officials said.
BillyBey is also planning to add an additional route - from Hoboken to Pier A in Lower Manhattan, officials said.
The Port Authority has also agreed to waive the $50,000-a-month fee it charges to dock at Hoboken Terminal.
In lieu of that fee, the Port Authority will collect a 10-cents-per-passenger fee for Hoboken departures, a share of receipts from advertising and concession services, and fees from other operators that use the docks at Battery Park City and at 14th Street in Hoboken.
Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority, estimated the per-passenger fees would bring in $10,750 a month, adding that projections for advertising, concession and the others fees were not available.
The figure will increase to 15 cents per passenger if the deal is extended for an additional five years, Coleman added.
Officials acknowledged that the revised formula likely will generate less than half of what the agency had been collecting from NY Waterway.
The fee had been one of the factors that put NY Waterway's busy Hoboken routes in the red, officials said.
Acting Gov. Richard Codey and officials at the Port Authority praised the deal, which will preserve ferry service for the estimated 15,000 daily riders.
"As our roads and rails become more congested, ferry service has provided an alternative for thousands of New Jersey residents to get to and from Manhattan," Codey said in a written statement.
"I applaud the hard work and perseverance of our Hudson County elected officials, as well as the Port Authority staff, for making sure that service on this vitally important transportation mode is not interrupted."
Not everyone is thrilled about the agreement between Wachtel and the Port Authority.
"This is scandalous," said Deborah Jack, one of the founders of Ferry Friends, an activist group. "This sounds like they're getting into business with a private operator."
Jack questioned the wisdom of the revised payment formula.
"If the concessions and the advertising revenues were so great to begin with, then NY Waterway wouldn't be in the jam that it's in," she said. "Somehow Wachtel has gotten a great deal for himself. Waterway gets to keep its ferries running. But what about the passengers? Who's watching out for us?"
Wachtel, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, provided a written comment through the Port Authority.
"We are pleased to be part of this private sector solution that is being facilitated by the Port Authority and officials of New York and New Jersey," he said. "The ferry system has grown to become an important, environmentally sensitive part of the region's transportation system."
Jim McQueeny, a spokesman for Wachtel, refused to provide additional information about his client or the deal, except to say that the name of the company -BillyBey - is an honorific title used in Turkey.
"The term conveys his winsome recollection of his love of ferries in that area," said McQueeny, adding that Wachtel plans to disclose more about his plans in the coming weeks.
News of the agreement came on the same day the Assembly Transportation Committee met at the West New York Middle School and unanimously authorized NJ Transit to take over the ferry system if a private operator was unable to maintain adequate service.
The bill, sponsored by Speaker Albio Sires, the mayor of West New York, is largely a last resort option, and many who testified spoke about the need for a more permanent solution.
George Warrington, executive director of NJ Transit, noted the importance ferry service played on Sept. 11, 2001 and during the August 2003 blackout.
"Ferry service emerged as an important safety net and relief valve," Warrington said. "We worked to create a backup plan that calls for the commandeering of maritime vessels to be used for evacuation."
Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, Hoboken Mayor David Roberts and Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, who had proposed a plan for the Hudson County Improvement Authority to buy the ferry system, also testified at yesterday's hearing.
After hearing about the agreement, Turner said the passage of the Assembly bill is even more apropos.
"We always have to have a concern," Turner said. "When you look down the road, and if something indeed happens, if oil prices go up, if it proves not to be successful, with all the variables, we are setting the stage for some government action, if it's needed, but we are still giving the private sector as much chance to succeed as possible."
Newhouse News Service contributed to this report.
February 15, 2005
Port Authority Picks Lawyer to Run Ferries on Hudson
By PATRICK McGEEHAN
he Port Authority of New York and New Jersey put a name and a price yesterday on its plan to preserve commuter ferry service across the Hudson River.
Saying that it had averted the prospect of a shutdown of most of the ferries that run between New Jersey and New York City, the Port Authority announced that it had reached a tentative agreement with a new company, BillyBey Ferry Company L.L.C., that would take over about half of the operations of New York Waterway, which has been floundering. BillyBey is owned by William B. Wachtel, a partner in a Manhattan law firm.
In exchange for agreeing to maintain service from docks in Hoboken and Jersey City, BillyBey will get a break on a fee that New York Waterway could not afford. The Port Authority has been charging the company, which is owned by Arthur Imperatore and his family, $50,000 a month to carry commuters between Hoboken and Pier 11 in Lower Manhattan.
That expense and a pile of debt New York Waterway took on to buy boats left the company struggling to avoid bankruptcy. Late last year, its owners said it might not survive beyond mid-January.
Then, Mr. Wachtel appeared, offering to pay off $19.1 million the company owes to the Federal Maritime Administration on 16 boats. Mr. Wachtel has never operated a ferry company or anything similar, but he does control a group that is redeveloping Pier A near Battery Park.
After weeks of negotiations, the Port Authority agreed to restructure the lease it gave New York Waterway in Hoboken. Under terms of the tentative agreement, Mr. Wachtel's company would pay the Port Authority 10 cents for every passenger departing from Hoboken, and an undisclosed share of revenue from advertising and concessions and any fees it collects from other ferry operators that land at Hoboken or the World Financial Center.
A Port Authority spokesman said the agency estimated the passenger fees would amount to $10,750 a month. Several people who have been briefed on the contract said they expected that the Port Authority would receive less than half as much as New York Waterway had been paying.
Charles A. Gargano, vice chairman of the Port Authority, said the new deal was struck to ensure that there would be no disruption in service. "If someone was willing to come in and take over some of the routes and keep the Waterway service going, we felt that that was the best solution at this time."
Indeed, Mr. Wachtel plans to hire Mr. Imperatore's company to operate and maintain his boats. New York Waterway will also continue to operate ferries from its base in Weehawken. Mr. Wachtel declined to comment, but people who have been briefed on his plan said that passengers might not even notice the changeover because Mr. Wachtel does not intend to change the logo.
"Bill Wachtel is no Donald Trump," said Jim McQueeny, a spokesman. "He's a very practical man who's dealing with a transportation system he loves. He's had a fascination with boats and ferries since he was a little kid shuttling to Fire Island."
The agreement still requires the blessing of officials at the maritime administration and the approval of the Port Authority's board, which is scheduled to vote on it next week.
But operators of other ferry and sightseeing services in New York harbor already were objecting to the deal yesterday, arguing that the Port Authority should seek bids on the Hoboken route.
Tom Fox, president of New York Water Taxi, said his company "has been ready, willing and able to take over the operation of these routes." He said his company, which operates ferries across the Hudson and the East River, responded to requests from the Port Authority and New York Waterway to take over the routes but received no response.
J. B. Meyer, president of Circle Line Harbor Cruises, said his company had bid for the Hoboken service when New York Waterway's troubles became known and would like another shot at it.
"Given that there appear to be material changes in this contract, we question why everybody else wasn't given a chance to look at this proposal," Mr. Meyer said.
Marian Raab, a ferry commuter from Maplewood, N.J., who has been an advocate for other riders, also expressed concern about the deal.
"Who is this guy Wachtel and what are his qualifications to run a major ferry link transporting tens of thousands of commuters every day?" she asked.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
February 26, 2005
Assemblyman Opens Inquiry Into New Plan for Ferry Service
By PATRICK McGEEHAN
resh from pressuring transit officials to seek bids for the proposed stadium site on the West Side, Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky began an inquiry yesterday into a plan to preserve commuter ferry service across the Hudson River.
Mr. Brodsky, a Democrat from Westchester County and the chairman of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions in the State Assembly, asked the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to explain how it had reassigned a contract for ferries between Lower Manhattan and Hudson County in New Jersey. On Thursday, with no bidding or public discussion, the Port Authority's board of commissioners approved the transfer to a new company run by William B. Wachtel, a Manhattan lawyer.
Mr. Wachtel had agreed to take over about half of the operations of New York Waterway, the longtime ferry operator that ran into financial trouble last year.
Mr. Wachtel's company, BillyBey Ferry Company, would assume responsibility for maintaining the Port Authority's terminals in Hoboken and at Battery Park City and would take on the rest of a six-year contract to run boats between the Hoboken terminal and Pier 11 near the South Street Seaport.
New York Waterway won that contract in November 2003 by offering to pay the Port Authority at least $50,000 a month. The Port Authority said on Thursday that it would receive only about one-third as much under its revised arrangement with Mr. Wachtel.
The deal has angered other ferry operators who had offered to take over different parts of New York Waterway's operation when the company warned late last year that it might not survive past mid-January. Those competitors also suspect that Mr. Wachtel, who plans few changes to the service he is taking over, is simply helping New York Waterway wriggle out of an onerous contract.
"The service will continue to be called New York Waterway, operated and managed by New York Waterway," said Tom Fox, president of New York Water Taxi, another ferry operator. "What's changed except the length and term of their contract?" Mr. Wachtel has declined to comment.
Mr. Brodsky, who is running to succeed Eliot Spitzer as attorney general, declined to say whether the other ferry operators had sought his help.
"The question is whether this restructuring amounted to essentially a new bidding process," Mr. Brodsky said. "At what point does a restructuring become a refusal to go to bid?"
Mr. Brodsky said he did not know enough of the details to comment on the Port Authority's procedures in this case. But, he added, "bad contracts historically have come from bad processes."
Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman , said, "When the assemblyman learns all of the facts, he will see that this is a good deal for the 15,000 New Jersey and New York residents who use the ferry each weekday." He added that "the agreement with BillyBey Ferry Company was the only way to ensure that there would be no interruption of service on any of the existing trans-Hudson routes between Hoboken, Jersey City and Manhattan."
Mr. Brodsky recently helped to derail a plan under which the Metropolitan Transportation Authority would have sold its development rights for the West Side railyards to the New York Jets for a new stadium without seeking other offers.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
May 01, 2005
NY Water Taxi to Staten Island
Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island signed a deal with New York Water Taxi, which will begin offering roundtrip service on June 12.
New York Water Taxi will initially provide one roundtrip on Sundays, leaving from and returning to Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport.
COPYRIGHT 2005 CRAIN COMMUNICATIONS INC.
New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
BY WARREN WOODBERRY JR., DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Wednesday, July 27th, 2005
You'd love to get to the beach, but you can't find the time to trek all the way out to Long Island, the Rockaways or even Orchard Beach or Coney Island. Why not try Long Island City?
It's not well known, but more than 400 tons of pristine sand, a bar that serves tropical drinks and volleyball are all just a short ferry ride across the East River from Manhattan at Water Taxi Beach in Long Island City. The beach, which opened last Friday, is free to the public.
"We work so much that we can't even get to Coney Island," said Mara Evans, 29, who visited the beach opening day with her boyfriend, Jonas Elrod, 33. "We came out to spend some time together on the waterfront."
Situated at the foot of Borden Ave. next to the Hunters Point ferry dock, the beach offers panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline, and provides such amenities as picnic tables, beach umbrellas and a snack shop - Harry's at Water Taxi Beach.
For their part, beachgoers are free to bring their own beach chairs, towels, blankets and sunscreen.
"Beer's a dollar, that's great," said Evans who rode four minutes by ferry from the 33rd St. pier.
New York Water Taxi President Tom Fox said he thought having a beach next to the ferry dock might lure more riders to the ferry service. New York Water Taxi has a temporary use lease with the Port Authority for the one-third acre lot on which the beach sits.
"We wanted to see if we could make the weekend work in Queens because we really don't get a lot of weekend traffic in Queens," said Fox, former president of the Hudson River Park Conservancy. "We figured since there is no action, we can create the action."
Water Taxi Beach will be open Fridays from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to midnight, through Labor Day.
Later this summer, possible added attractions - live bands and/or theater performances - may play at the wharf, where the temperature is usually 10 degrees cooler.
"This is part of a trend for reclaiming the waterfront for recreational space," said visitor Zak Van Buren, 27, of Red Hook. "This is just another easy way to get down to the waterfront and to enjoy the water."
Ferries from midtown Manhattan to Hunters Point run every 40 minutes, with the fare $4 each way. A two-day pass for $20 gets riders a free treat at Harry's when they arrive at the beach each day.
Parking is available, and the beach is accessible by bus, Long Island Rail Road and the Long Island Expressway.
For information, visit www.watertaxibeach.com. Ferry ride tickets may be purchased on-line at www.nywatertaxi.com.
July 31, 2005
On the Beach, Courtesy of New Jersey
By JEFF VANDAM
As the 4 p.m. sun ducked behind an accommodating cloud last weekend, two shirtless men of considerable girth discovered they were neighbors. Sipping frothy beverages with their feet tucked into the sand, the neighbors, from Woodside, Queens, reflected on their good fortune.
They had discovered a beach on the East River.
"Ain't like taking the 53 bus to Rockaway," said the older of the two men, a deeply tanned fellow with white-gray hair fashioned into a buzz cut. "You can get here from Grand Central in one stop."
The beach the men were enjoying is composed of 400 tons of sand trucked in from New Jersey. Placed on a wharf in Long Island City, it is operated by New York Water Taxi and sits on land two steps north of the company's dock off Second Street at Borden Avenue. The Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue stop on the No. 7 line is four blocks away. The beach offers beer, cocktails, grilled food, low-key music and a commanding view of Midtown.
In operation only on weekends, Water Taxi Beach opened two weeks ago, to much news media fanfare, but with the television cameras gone, the new beach has settled into its natural rhythms. Visitors lie in the sun, sip $1 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and wolf down hot dogs and burgers prepared by Harry Hawk, the man behind Schnack restaurant on Union Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
"This is the kind of stuff that brings people to the waterfront," said Tom Fox, president of New York Water Taxi and founder of the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition. "And once they're on the waterfront, they get invested and it becomes their waterfront." Many of the beach patrons are Water Taxi customers, but the beach is free and open to the public.
Apart from food and drink, Water Taxi Beach has few amenities, though patrons don't seem to mind. They lounge at picnic tables or on towels and blankets, and children run about with the beach's sand shovels and buckets. In the late afternoon, a volleyball net is flung up, and Bob Marley and the Police blare from speakers wedged into the sand.
There is no swimming, because a fence blocks beachgoers from the water's edge. But all parties agree that bathing in the East River is probably not the best idea. "You'd have to be a very strong swimmer," Mr. Hawk said. The swimless beach can get hot, but there is a river breeze, and Mr. Fox said there were plans to obtain a misting machine.
Lee-Ann Hanham and Brian Fabella, an engaged couple from Queens who were sipping beers at a picnic table last weekend, like the place so much that they may have their wedding pictures taken there. "You walk through the gate, you see sand," Ms. Hanham said, "and you're like, 'Whoa!' "
Is that from a copter?
No, from the cliffs of Weehawken
NICE. A picture like that puts Manhattan's massive size into perspective.Originally Posted by Edward