Bronx Cheer: Updating the Ferry Point Park Affair

PT-AM663_Golf1_G_20090930121421John Paul Newport of the WSJ has filed the most comprehensive update on the Ferry Point Park project in the Bronx that I’ve seen in a while. More than any golf development in recent memory, New Yorkers have a chip on their shoulder about this one, and for good reason.

Plans for this facility date back to the Giuliani Administration, and the course’s progress over the past decade has been defined by an almost-incomprehensible miasma of bureaucratic mismanagement and probably extensive private contractor corruption. And when the Bloomberg Administration picked up the thread, the mayor and comptroller Bill Thompson (who are now running against each other in the mayoral race) announced that the city would pick up the tab to finish the course, with private enterprise later coming on board to finance the clubhouse and other amenities. The resulting cost overruns in all of this have been epic, to put it mildly.

The latest total cost estimate,” Newport writes,  “is $123 million, making Ferry Point the most expensive muni ever, easily eclipsing the $70 million price tag for the Crossings at Carlsbad (California), believed to be the previous most expensive muni.

In the best-case scenario, New York would have a crown jewel muni within the five boroughs. (It already has Bethpage State Park, of course, but this five-course facility is thirty-five miles from midtown Manhattan and difficult to reach without a car.) Based on recent examples such as Erin Hills, near Milwaukee, and especially Tacoma’s Chambers Bay, organizing bodies like the USGA and PGA of America have shown an increased interest in bringing high-profile tournament golf to public facilities. So there is an upside to consider.

And, as Newport helpfully reminds us, there was really no other good use for this urban wasteland: “Landfill courses make sense because few other large tracts are available in the midst of population centers. From the point of view of a municipality, a golf course dresses up an eyesore and provides a valued amenity to residents. Housing is out for former landfills, as are most types of industrial use. And golf courses are often cheaper to build [not in this case! --td] and maintain from an environmental perspective than are open-space parks heavily used by children.

Still, when you’re talking about a shocking figure like $123 million, the product had not only better be damn good, it had better serve the needs of the broadest cross-section of New York City golfers imaginable. It’s way too easy to envision triple-digit green fees and country-club-for-a-day amenities that defined the era in which Ferry Point was originally planned. Running Ferry Point as a true municipal option that competes with Van Cortlandt Park and Split Rock rather than high-end Westchester County publics like Pound Ridge and Hudson Hills may seem to be at cross-purposes with the goal of creating a prestigious new Tour venue, but it’s the right thing to do. The course will doubtless be very difficult, so if it’s going to be a five hour round either way, Ferry Point might as well cater to the people who actually paid for it rather than try to draw in deeper-pocketed lookie-loos from the suburbs. After all, if it comes down to a choice between country club conditions and hosting a major or truly serving golfers in New York City, the Tour is always welcome at Liberty National.

Ferry Point was born under such a bad star that it’s hard to even fathom anything community-minded ever triumphing over venality on this Bronx landfill, but we’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out in the end.


10 comments for “Bronx Cheer: Updating the Ferry Point Park Affair”

  1. There was tons of stuff I didn’t have room to get into the column, as you can imagine, but re: green fees, Parks Commissioner Benepe told me the intention is to keep them in line with other city courses and not charge as premium. As Tom points out, we’ll have to wait and see.

    Posted by John Paul Newport | October 3, 2009, 3:49 pm
  2. John Paul,

    Thanks for writing in, and great column this week. This is encouraging news from Commissioner Benepe–let’s hope that comes to pass.

    Posted by td | October 3, 2009, 4:34 pm
  3. 123 million gof a single 18 hole golf course is a crime. I’m a huge golf supporter and think there should be a golf course at ferry park, but why try to build the next US Open venue, which will take 5 plus hours to play and cost $150 to play. There are lots of great venues for championship golf in the greater met area(and liberty national is not one of them) what wrong with building a course that people will enjoy. Golf courses are closing everywhere in the US and new york is building the most expensive course by four times, this is the type of logic that is running the country into the ground.

    Posted by joe j | October 3, 2009, 5:05 pm
  4. Joe J,

    Well, it’s not like they spent it all at once! Averaged out over a decade, it only breaks down to a mere $10 million a year!


    Seriously, though, Ferry Point is one of those unfortunate projects that was conceived in one era and executed in an entirely different one. I mean, we’ve been through TWO boom and bust cycles since this course was proposed.

    With the brand-name Nicklaus design, the real estate play and a compelling but “challenging” waterfront site, there’s little doubt that Ferry Point was originally intended to be pretty big smoke.

    What’s happened isn’t unusual in the context of big New York projects–they start out huge and then gradually dwindle into something much more pedestrian. Considering the fate of grand plans like Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards (which promised/threatened to transform/eradicate a huge swath of Brooklyn), the 2nd Avenue Subway (“in the works” since the Hoover Administration), the football stadium in the West Side railyards–to say nothing of the Freedom Tower–it’s fairly remarkable to think that this one might actually reach completion.

    Posted by td | October 3, 2009, 9:02 pm
  5. FYI, of the $123 million, some significant portion went/is going to environmental remediation and another significant part to the two parks (a seven acre community park with playgrounds, etc, and a 20 acre waterfront promenade expected to start construction maybe end of next year). I wasn’t able to get a good estimate of what percentage to both, but the city was obligated to do the remediation even if the former landfill wasn’t used for anything. City had spent about $20 million already by 2007, for remdiation and to terminate the contract with Ferry Point Partners ($7 million). So not ALL of that $123 is golf course-related. Sorry I couldn’t get a better breakdown this week.

    Posted by John Paul Newport | October 4, 2009, 6:59 am
  6. Thanks for the additional information, John Paul. The waterfront promenade sounds interesting. I haven’t been out on the site, but I remember at one point residents of the adjacent Throgs Neck neighborhood were worried that the course would cut them off from accessing certain nearby areas. Perhaps the promenade is a through-way to correct this? I’d be curious if you’ve had a look at the master plan to see how all the pieces fit together.

    One of my pet issues in golf is using master planning to “bring the outside in.” This is a topic for another post, but I have always loved how organically this happens in the UK, with common land and public walking trails peacefully co-existing with golf. The game takes place in too much of a bubble in this country, which is one of the reasons why non-golfers have misconceptions about it. Chambers Bay did a good thing by incorporating a perimeter trail. Here’s a link that shows what touring it is like.

    Posted by td | October 4, 2009, 8:38 am
  7. Thank you John Paul for attempting to bring everyone up to date…..

    This is one of those projects that take not only a cup of coffee but then it runs into lunch by the time you can get the jist of it….

    check out the “East” button on our website for a taste of what we have been through.

    Considering all the non existant water monitoring and proper EIS etc. let’s just cross our fingers that all the tributaries of Baxter Creek inlet which is now covered with tons of debris is not carrying the known toxins, and the future insecticides/fertilizers etc. into our yards, playgrounds, parks, and east river…. we would be happy about any healthy venue..

    Posted by Dorothea Poggi | February 8, 2010, 1:29 pm
  8. The design of this course does not invite any visual or physical contact with the Bronx at all.

    The golfer stands at all times in a crater formed by adding 30 to 40 foot mountains of added dirtto the 210 acres. Much of this construction debris (pulverized concrete and stone)came from the dismantle buildings where the Trump Towers now stand…the dismantled TWA terminal at la Guardia, (witnesses say the hole in Van Cordtlant park for the croton water filtration plant is dumped here, and possibly much of the demolished Yankee Stadium area).

    The craters replaced the original plan of expensive 200 mature trees.

    The idea is to block out the surrounding housing projects such as Castle Hill/Throggs Neck and the Co-op city buildings…as well as the three towers from the sanitaion incinerating building on Zerega.

    The huge hills will be left “wild” and the greens will be maintained by the city or concessionaire.

    Right now there is a bad problem with the runoff from this elevated area. Although some drains have been placed and some plastic barriers and gravell and stone….water finds it’s way into the nearby Public Park on the West Side and has created a dangerous swampland for the existing and hundreds of saplings donated by the Prince of Monaco for a 9/11 Living Memorial Forest. Our student volunteers and many others helped plant these trees and have nutured them each year as the grow. They may die from the flooding.

    Posted by Dorothea Poggi | March 22, 2010, 5:12 am
  9. The interaction between the East side of the Park is not wanted by the neighbors nor the elected officials of Throggs Neck area.

    It is wanted by the green way cyclists, shore walkers, dog walkers, fishermen, park visitors in general.

    The fence is supposed to be closed to visitors on the Balcom Ave/Emerson Ave. Side. No one is supposed to be able to use the Waterfront promenade unless they enter from the East side which is approx. an hour walk from the East side. 24 hour access has been discussed and lighting or no lighting in up in the air?

    We are requesting exercise stations along the way…and maybe a small comfort station?

    Posted by Dorothea Poggi | March 22, 2010, 5:19 am
  10. The Golf Course is moving along. There is an unsatisfied number of people that do still believe the whole area should have been designated a “Brown Field” and cleaned out. The Toxins that mingle with the methane that has a migratory nature and that will probably always exude from this land, is one of the concerns.The pollution of the East river by the underlying streams that find there way through the former landfill and enter the East River un abated is another concern.
    With all this still questioned there will be 6 holes open for play this Spring?…The Entrance road is supposed to be reconstructed soon?

    Posted by Dorothea POggi | April 2, 2013, 9:31 pm

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