After eleven years of relentless but seemingly fruitless effort, Staten Islanders hoping to establish the National Lighthouse Museum at the former St. George Coast Guard Station, currently cling to their last shreds of hope. The historic site underwent an $8 million renovation after Staten Island won the bid to house the museum in 1998. But The Board of the National Lighthouse Museum proved unable raise the $15 million needed to create a functioning museum.
“The board of the National Lighthouse Museum has disbanded,” announced Ron Meisels, founder of the lighthouse activist group LAMP, as he walked into the Waterfront committee meeting in Staten Island’s district 1 community board office on Thursday night.
The Staten Island Advance opined on the NLM board’s imminent demise after the recent sale of the Nantucket Lightship for $1 and mounting frustration among the NLM board. “The lights are all but out on the cash-strapped National Lighthouse Museum project in St. George,” the Advance wrote last week.
Some NLM board members partially blame the New York City Economic Development Corporation for eschewing public interest when it selected Triangle Equities to develop the land in 2005. “The EDC is like the city’s real estate agency,” said Jerry Roberts, former acting executive director of the NLM board, now working at the Connecticut River Museum. “They treated it like a real estate deal instead of creating something special for Staten Island. The real losers are the people of Staten Island.”
Thursday’s meeting concerned a different North Shore waterfront project, Ironstate Development’s plans/presentation to build a community on the chunk of the Stapleton Homeport that it recently acquired for $150 million. But skepticism stalked the meeting as North Shore residents expressed concerns about infrastructural inadequacy and disappointment from decades of developmental neglect and broken promises.
After the meeting I asked EDC how they felt about the news of the NLM board’s disbandment. “It’s a shame,” said Ben Margolis, vice president of development at the NYCEDC. Margolis and CB1′s district manager, Joseph Carroll, both stated desires to use the renovated building at the lighthouse site for “interim cultural uses.”
But on the phone from the Connecticut River Museum on Friday, Roberts said that because of EDC’s frequent flux of project managers, the current staff lacks sufficient familiarity to act in the public interest. “There was no continuity,” he said. “If the borough president or the mayor really cared about this, it would’ve been a museum by now. The project would’ve succeeded. Now it seems more less likely than ever.”
How do you think Staten Island can develop its North Shore waterfront while balancing the interests of the public and investors alike?