Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Staten Island Commute

The New York Times has a new column for the month of January called New Stops. It features New York City commutes and is written by Billie Cohen. To read the one on about the ferry commute go HERE. Prodigal Borough also featured two of our own personal Staten Island to Manhattan commutes with pictures and time stamps. To see the Staten Island to West Village commute go HERE. To see the Staten Island to Times Square commute go HERE.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Staten Island Wonderland

Photograph courtesy of Forgotten NY

Forgotten NY features fantastic tours of little-known New York City neighborhoods. Our friend Kevin Walsh, at Forgotten NY, has another Staten Island post up on his site. This time he is featuring Hamilton Park. Click "HERE" for the article and pictures.

Did you know that we found Staten Island through his site? I had never been to Staten Island before I read about it on Forgotten NY about three years ago. We almost bought a building we saw on his site, in Vinegar Hill, but the foundation was badly eaten by termites. So, we methodically visited every Forgotten NY neighborhood before deciding that St. George was the one for us.

The Prodigal Borough was almost named The Forgotten Borough (if you type in www.forgottenborough.com you arrive at our site) but we decided that the name was too similar to Kevin's site name. But you never know, we might still use it someday or maybe we should share it and make a page that features all of Kevin's Staten Island Forgotten NY tours. Get busy Kevin! Kevin grew up on Staten Island. Buy Kevin's book, Forgotten NY "HERE. "

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Please Move To Tompkinsville: Another North Shore Neighborhood in the Press

At the Everything Goes Bookstore and Cafe, in Tompkinsville, the performers Christoph and Trish sing their song "Please Move To Tompkinsville"

Excerpt from The New York Times
By Carole Braden
Published: December 9, 2007
For the full article and pictures click on the headline above.

During the morning rush, commuters from the rest of Staten Island, bound for offices in Manhattan and elsewhere, exit the Staten Island Railway at Tompkinsville, a stop before the ferry terminal in St. George, and head out to the street in droves.

It takes a local resident like James Boivin to know that these people aren’t alighting here out of any particular wish to visit the neighborhood, but to duck Staten Island’s sole bank of MetroCard turnstiles at the ferry stop. “They avoid the fare by getting off at Tompkinsville,” said Mr. Boivin, “and walking the rest of the way to the ferry terminal.”

Deirdre Parker, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, explained that because a majority of Staten Island Railway riders are commuters to Manhattan and beyond, the authority had decided against the expense of installing turnstiles anywhere else along the line. Thus Tompkinsville, which is wedged between the better-established North Shore neighborhoods of St. George and Stapleton, has become the hop-off point for fare dodgers who get on at points south.

Mr. Boivin, a community activist who works as a freelance garden designer and real estate broker, has lived in the area for more than 20 years. He moved into his current home in Tompkinsville in 1999 after a stint in Europe, and runs a bed-and-breakfast out of his two-floor rental in a 1910 brownstone on Montgomery Avenue, for which he originally paid $500 a month (he would not reveal his current rent). He described the area as one of the most “robust, diverse” ones in the city, pointing to the mix in the local school playgrounds as proof. (School data cite a student population speaking 37 languages.)

Census figures from 2000 show a general neighborhood population of about 4,300, roughly 60 percent nonwhite, though more recent estimates suggest the numbers have climbed. Boroughwide, the overall population has jumped 7 percent since 2000, while the minority population has increased 25 percent.

The accurate figure for Tompkinsville, of course, depends on pinning down exact neighborhood boundaries, which proves an elusive task. The heart of the community, about a quarter-mile square and surrounding a vest-pocket triangle called Tompkinsville Park, is not at issue. It spans from New York Harbor on the east to St. Paul’s Avenue on the west, from Victory Boulevard to the north to Grant Street on the south.

It’s once you wander farther that the debates begin about this area named for an early 19th-century state governor, Daniel D. Tompkins. Many residents declare it larger, stretching it north to Benziger Avenue and beyond (an area that others consider part of St. George), or south to surround Clinton and Baltic Streets (more often claimed by Stapleton). Many also maintain that Tompkinsville encompasses Ward Hill, a grander area bound by St. Paul’s and Cebra Avenues and Victory Boulevard.

“You can’t be wrong” when it comes to boundaries on Staten Island, said Thomas W. Matteo, the borough historian — leaving unstated the obvious corollary that you can’t be right either.

One border that nobody argues about is the one that the harbor’s edge enforces — the area that stands to bring in more house hunters someday, residents and real estate brokers say. One condominium building and two midrise co-ops, both former warehouses, overlook the water from Bay Street Landing, a dead end at the northern tip of this neighborhood’s largely undeveloped waterfront (or the southern tip of St. George’s). This area is to be part of the St. George Esplanade in coming years.

Developers like Leib Puretz, who owns 130 Bay Street Landing, are angling to get in on the action with residential properties, near the water and farther inland.

Zoning rules don’t allow new construction exceeding five or six stories, said Joseph Carroll, the district manager of Community Board 1, but he acknowledged that the zoning could change. “Most people agree that there is a need for height here,” Mr. Carroll said. Upward construction would greatly increase the housing opportunities in the area, and its cachet. Or so local brokers hope.

What You’ll Find

Tompkinsville is a grab bag, offering everything from Victorians, colonials and Federal-style structures to 21st-century conversions. There are town houses, co-ops, condos, rentals and, for would-be landlords, multiunit buildings.

On Tompkins Circle and Ward Avenue, on the Ward Hill edge, houses are more luxurious; on St. Paul’s Avenue, they are slightly more modest, though often with water views.

“There isn’t a house here that you couldn’t make into a wonder,” said Norma Sue Wolfe, a sales associate for Gateway Arms Realty. Streets including Swan, Grant and Van Duzer are an odd mix: original clapboard facades and aging brick buildings, side by side with vinyl-clad homes and other surprises.

Closer to the bustle of Victory Boulevard are a number of lavishly redone buildings. Because Staten Island over all is “just not a sexy place,” said Kevin Barry, who owns 15 buildings in the borough, he is doing his bit toward changing that, with sleek rentals marketed to younger buyers priced out of Manhattan and Brooklyn. He describes his three-story 11-unit building at Victory Boulevard and St. Marks Place as having a “young dorm feel.”

Beyond the foot of Victory Boulevard, near the waterfront, stand the condos, co-ops and town houses of Bay Street Landing. It was the views that brought Linda Daller here. A 28-year resident of Suffolk County on Long Island, Ms. Daller spent eight years on South Shore Staten Island before finding and closing on a 910-square-foot unit at 10 Bay Street Landing. “I thought about Manhattan for a while,” she said, “but it’s 10 times the price.”

What You’ll Pay

There are deals, but many of them need updating. Still, those in sticker shock from other areas will find this one refreshingly affordable.

For one thing, the borough has not proved as slump-proof as Manhattan. “Prices in this area are down at least 13 percent from last year,” said Adele Sammarco, a spokeswoman for the Staten Island Board of Realtors.

According to the board, the median price in Tompkinsville this year was $442,500. At the moment inventory is not huge, judging from a Multiple Listing Service search that yielded 31 properties. These ranged in price from $239,900, for a 1910 two-family colonial with 1,700 square feet of living space, to $999,000, for a 4,500-square-foot Ward Hill five-bedroom with harbor views. A 1930 single-family attached home with an Art Deco facade, listed at $335,000, has an accepted offer. Dimas Lespier of Exit Realty Solutions recently sold a three-bedroom, three-bath town house on Margo Loop for $360,000.

New construction includes a condo, The Pointe, at Victory Boulevard and Bay Street. The broker, Casandra Properties, says the 57-unit complex is half sold.

Rentals seem strong. George Christo, a developer, hopes to get as much as $2,500 for the 800-square-foot penthouse of his as-yet-unnamed new building, and $2,200 for the units below it.

Nick Purpura, who moved from SoHo two months ago to a two-bedroom in a former firehouse at Hannah and Van Duzer Streets, said he pays “Manhattan rent,” but gets “way more space.”

What to Do

The Every Thing Goes Book Cafe and Neighborhood Stage, on Bay Street, draws a varied crowd with organic espresso, local cider, art exhibitions and music nights. But Tompkinsville has yet to nurture the upscale restaurants and bars found nearby in both St. George and Stapleton. Still, its restaurants offer Mexican, Dominican, Honduran, Jamaican and Sri Lankan food. Residents tend to wish aloud for a grocery like Whole Foods, but for now they make do with bodegas, as well as a Western Beef supermarket nearby.

The George Cromwell Recreation Center at Pier No. 6 offers sports from boxing to basketball, and the Joseph H. Lyons Pool is a summer wonderland. (Adult membership is a total of $75 a year for both facilities.)

The Commute

Commuters favor the 25-minute free ride on the Staten Island Ferry to Battery Park. The walk to the terminal takes about 10 minutes.
Everything Goes Bookstore and Cafe in Tompkinsville is currently displaying paintings by Mary Bullock.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Christmas on the Ferry

New York Times writers, Ken Belson and Nate Schweber, took a ride on the ferry on Christmas day and interviewed a few people for the December 26, 2007 issue. Click on the headline above to read the full article.