Light rail, brownfields at top of SIEDC chairman’s list

If Bob Moore had his way, a light rail on the North and West shores would help ease the pain of the nightmare that has become Staten Island’s daily traffic.

With an estimated 2.2 cars per household already on the road, and the possibility of another 40,000 cars adding to that pool based on upcoming developments, Moore says finding a solution to the transit problem is essential.

“If we don’t start now, we’re going to turn around in four or five years and we won’t be able to move,” said Moore, the chairman of the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation.

“We need mass transportation before the entire Island grinds to a halt.”

After pitching separate ideas for a light rail, the SIEDC and the Chamber of Commerce have since joined forces to lobby for what they’re calling the Staten Island Regional Light Rail solution — a mass transit system with legs on the North and West shores that would meet up and travel over the Bayonne Bridge. If such a project were approved, Moore said it would instantly rank fifth or sixth in the country in terms of ridership.

There are more than 20 tunnels that go under the East River, and Staten Island is asking for one mass transit project that would connect it to New Jersey.

“We’re asking for one little light rail system to go over the Bayonne Bridge,” Moore said. “The more we keep the idea bubbling, and the more we keep the pressure on the officials, we won’t be asking ‘what happened?’”

But mass transit isn’t the only major development that is on Moore’s mind.

One of his biggest concerns is rehabilitating the Island’s brownfields.

The West Shore desperately needs this redevelopment, he said, and the SIEDC is working hard to make it beneficial for property owners to help. It put in a $400,000 grant application with the state’s Brownfield Opportunity Areas Program to incentivize property owners that have brownfields to redevelop.

The issue for these property owners, as it stands now, is that the amount of property taxes the land owners are paying are “out of whack” with what it would cost to redevelop, Moore said, so it’s essential that an incentive — in some financial form — is given. The SIEDC has tried hard, in the last five or six years, to find a potential buyer for a chunk of this land in need of remediation, with no success.

“When the taxes are at a point where it’s cheaper to pay the taxes than it is to remediate the property, we need to be innovative,” Moore said.

Successful brownfields remediation on the South Shore gives Moore and the SIEDC confidence that the same can happen on the West Shore.

These remediated properties, and the businesses it spurs, could help support the future development of the recently-sold former NASCAR site. Early last month, the International Speedway Corporation announced that it sold its 676-acre parcel of land in Bloomfield to Staten Island Marine Development, LLC, for $80 million.

“It just took far too long,” Moore said of the property, on which the ISC had intended to build a NASCAR stadium that would seat 80,000 fans. “The development of this property is long overdue.”

As Moore understands it, the site would be used for commercial or industrial developments, based on the current zoning, utilizing the waterfront, rail and highways.

“It’s good that they’re coming. It’s certainly going to increase the property value,” Moore said.

Developing at least part of the land would be a good thing for Staten Island, and its effects could be far-reaching.

Moore said the SIEDC is also trying to form two Business Improvement Districts — an Industrial Business Improvement District on the West Shore and one that’s further along in the process on the South Shore.

There are 16 industrial zones in New York City, 15 of which get tax credits, leaving Staten Island’s as the only one without this incentive.

The SIEDC and the South Shore LDC recently signed a contract to hire an executive director of the new BID, and they have what they believe are enough merchants that would agree to vote to convert their current merchants association to a formal taxing BID.

A merchants association doesn’t have the ability to tax merchants, which makes it difficult to improve the area from a visual standpoint or market it to potential visitors.

“You can’t do much without taxes,” Moore said.

“It becomes a demonstration project. You really want to show the businesses what the benefits of being a business improvement district are.”

Moore believes the SIEDC is able to be as influential as it is because of its employees, and the proof is in the pudding with where former employees are now. Employees such as Vin Lenza, the former deputy director of the SIEDC and current executive director of the Staten Island NFP Association; Steve Grillo, the SIEDC’s director of projects who left to work for Con Edison, then returned; and Laura Liberto, who has moved up the ladder to her position now as senior vice president at the SIEDC, make the organization what it is.

“I think the employees are given fairly considerable amount of responsibility. They tend to come to us at a young entrepreneurial age, and there’s no time to sit there as someone’s assistant for many years,” Moore said. “You get all that experience right away here.

“It’s not surprising, then, that many of our (employees) move onto (influential positions at) other organizations.

“The best compliment for the organization, and the management of the organization, is to be known as a place that develops employees and that its employees become coveted employees for its members.”