Staten Island’s borough president is hoping tourists don’t fuhgeddaboud the forgotten borough.
James Oddo launched a dedicated Tourism and Cultural Affairs office Monday that aims to get more tourists to explore Staten Island with high-end hotels and mega-projects on the way such as the Empire Outlets and the New York Wheel set to take over the waterfront.
“The time is now for Staten Island and the borough president recognizes that and embraces it,” said Jennifer Sammartino, who was appointed to head the new office. “It really is an amazing place and I’m excited to have people visit it.”
The office plans to develop a marketing plan for the borough, conduct tourism research, organize outreach events and more. It also will try to get different cultural groups and developers together to serve as a central point to promote Staten Island.
“With exciting new development happening throughout our borough, we have seen a new interest in Staten Island by investors as well as tourists,” Oddo wrote in the announcement of the office.
“While there are many groups who are working on tourism and helping to ‘sell’ Staten Island to the millions of tourists who visit our city each year, there has been no central voice to coordinate all our efforts.”
The tourism office currently doesn’t have a budget, but is working with the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce to get an Empire State Grant to fund projects, Sammartino said.
Sammartino — who previously served as the head of Oddo’s communication department — said the first steps for the office will be to revamp the Visit Staten Islandwebsite, increase use of their social media pages and create a tourism council to figure out ways to make the borough more accessible to tourists.
“The Staten Island Ferry is the second most popular tourist attraction in New York City,” she said. “The key is to take a chunk of these tourists.”
Sammartino said one problem is tour guides tell people to immediately head back to Manhattan after the ferry, so the office also plans to educate them on different things to see in the borough to tell visitors about.
Last year, the ferry — which costs the city $5.87 for each person — had a record number of 23.1 million riders taking the free trip, according to the Mayor’s Management Report, which tracks the numbers.
The report doesn’t track the number of tourists who ride the boat each year but Community Board 1’s Ferry Riders Committee found that on a typical Saturday, about 13,000 tourists take the ferry, or 44 percent of all passengers.
The board conducted its report by counting which passengers immediately made the return trip to Manhattan one Saturday in August.
An Independent Budget Office study, requested by Oddo, found that adding a round-trip fare for tourists on the boat would net the city $3.2 million in the first year and $35.3 million over 15 years.
The large number of tourists who ride the boat take too long to get off and have been causing delays on the line, the Department of Transportation recently said.
The agency started a pilot last month to completely close off the upper deck — which is mostly filled with tourists — on some ferries to help the problem.
While the majority of visitors immediately head back on the next boat to Manhattan, officials expect the numbers to increase when the Empire Outlets and massive New York Wheel opens right next to the terminal.
The developers of the outlet mall expect to open next year but the 630-foot-tall observation wheel was indefinitely delayed earlier this month after the developers fired their contractor.
Developers said they were searching for a new contractor to complete the attraction but a spokeswoman said they haven’t found one yet or updated when it would be done.
A spokesman for Mammoet-Starneth, the contractor that was fired after a legal battle over project delays, did not want to comment for the story.
Aside from working with developers of the mega-projects heading to the borough, Sammartino said the new office also plans to help support cultural institutions around the borough, like the Staten Island Museum which just recently appointed a new CEO to lead the organization.
“We can really dig several bites at this apple and get it right,” Sammartino said. “I think it’s really important that were sharing ideas and not doing redundant work.”
By Nicholas Rizzi [DNA Info]