City Planning $90 Million Project to Expand Boat Docks Near 79th So More People Can Live There


Image via NYC Parks Department.

The city is planning to fix and expand the 79th Street Boat Basin, where dozens of Upper West Siders live on boats docked in the river.

The project will allow for the population living on boats to grow considerably, and will upgrade the docks so they’ll be more resilient as climate change continues to impact the city and its waterways.

Many people have expressed a desire to live at the basin. There’s currently a waitlist of more than 780 people, and it would take an estimated 14 years to get all of those people a dock. But storm damage and maintenance issues have made it difficult to set down roots (or anchors). The population of year-round residents has dwindled in recent years — to 33 boats, last we checked from a high of more than 100 — with residents complaining that the city and prior private landlords had allowed the place to deteriorate, causing many people to move away. The marina has running water and electricity.

Construction on the expansion is expected to start in October 2021 or May 2022.


Current Boat Basin configuration.


New proposed configuration.

The Parks Department presented the plan for the docks at a Community Board 7 committee meeting earlier this month. The board wrote a letter of support, and residents of the boat basin were supportive of the project, according to Barbara Adler, a member of the committee. “The entire committee and the community (mostly the boat people who live on those boats) were very supportive,” she wrote to West Side Rag. “It’s a $90 million project that will greatly improve the boat basin for those who live there and are transients.” Most of the money will come from the city, with $28.3 million from FEMA.

The docks remain damaged from prior storms, so some of the upgrade will involve repairing prior damage. But the vision the city has outlined is also quite ambitious.


Damage from a storm.

The dockhouse, for instance, is expected to have an elevated section with a green roof that will be accessible to the public.


A rendering of the dockhouse.

The city is considering various upgrades for the pier and docks, including concrete floating docks and a timber wave screen, according to the proposal they released at the meeting. You can read the full proposal here.

The whole area around the basin, including the cafe and rotunda in the park, is about to get a major renovation. That’s why the Boat Basin Cafe closed for good this year.

We previously interviewed two of the year-round residents about why they live there, their monthly costs (less than a co-op!), and more. Definitely a must-read!

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 40 comments | permalink
    1. Wijmlet says:

      and the homeless?

    2. Cato says:

      But … where will the bike lanes go?

    3. Christine E says:

      I counted 71 alots (blue dots). At $90 million, that is $1.27 million per docked boat.

      How does that compare to other forms of housing? What is the anticipated return on investment for this project? Many other housing programs have wait lists far exceeding 780.

    4. Adrian Benepe says:

      I would be interested in seeing the overall, long-term economics of this project. Will the City be able to amortize $100 million in capital costs through collecting rents from at best 30 new slip rentals? Can we see an expense and revenue report and models for future expenses and revenues? Is this project meant to earn revenue, or to subsidize boat parking and people living on boats? None of this is covered in the city’s “proposal.”

      • tailfins says:

        Is this actually Adrian Benepe, former Commissioner of NYC Parks and Rec? If so, great to see you on here!

        I’m interested in why you are focused on the ROI of this project. It seems like this a) this is in part repair of existing facility with 30% of funding from FEMA; b) has public benefit (publicly accessible green roof); and c) is part of a broader refurbishment of the area (so perhaps needs to be considered in that context). Also, there’s the non monetary value of expanding diversity in the neighborhood (in this case, diversity of living situation / lifestyle). That said,

        I’m all for fiscal prudence, and would appreciate a rigorous evaluation of spending – particularly to enable ranked choices / prioritization of projects. Despite what I listed above, it’s unclear to me if those benefits are enough to move this project to the top of the list of ones needing funding in this city.

        I’m just interested in how you’d think that evaluation should be done. It feels like strict ROI is an oversimplification.

        • Adrian Benepe says:

          Guilty as charged. The ROI is the least of it. The City has failed for the last 6 years to find any mayoral funds to restore the collapsing infrastructure of Riverside Park, especially north of 96th Street. The drainage has failed, there is constant flooding, restrooms unrestored since they opened in 1937 dump raw sewage into the river, paths are like dirt roads, the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial is fenced off because it’s falling apart. It’s astounding to me that they found $60 million to create parking spots for 30 additional yachts when the park is collapsing. That $60 million could address much of the failed infrastructure–though still not enough–There is probably $150 million in needed basic restoration (the city just announced it would allocate a paltry $12 million to begin to address the badly neglected park infrastructure).

          • Ken Coughlin says:

            Adrian, You make good points about city budget priorities. The presenters made it clear that this isn’t being done for any ROI. Concerns were expressed by at least one attendee that one goal may be to accommodate, shall we say, pricier vessels.

    5. Tag Gross says:

      The City certainly has a short memory. Was it really that long ago that the City wanted people living on houseboats at the Basin out and forced them out?

      • Land Lubber says:

        That’s exactly what I remembered. Many of the marina boat slips were removed and the city seemed hellbent on getting rid of houseboat residents. I’m skeptical that this will ever get done.

    6. GrumpyOldMan says:

      Wondering how far 90 million might go to address chronic NYCHA issues or creation of new housing for the homeless or city support of transit etc ad nauseum? Is New York City really a bastion of liberal and progressive politics? Or is it all meaningless poetry?

    7. Bruce says:

      Assuming the number of year-round residents rises again to 100, that means the average cost per boat is an astounding $900,000 (before cost overruns)! I think that money would be better used to build apartments for the homeless than subsidize boat owners.

    8. UWSDrew says:

      Clearly the people that choose to live on a houseboat are doing so because of the unlimited rum hams’ and use of the “Implication”. 🙂

    9. Sean says:

      Is this affordable housing?

    10. Carlos says:

      I agree with others that the ROI on this project does not sound great. The FEMA money helps but I don’t think it makes it work. And the fairly big dockhouse is not really in the spirit of the waterfront area.

      If you live in one of these boats and go out at night, how close to the boats can you get in a car before you are walking through the park in the dark? Do you get dropped off at the traffic circle and have to walk down through the cafe? Not something that I would be excited about doing…

    11. Billy Amato says:

      780 people are waiting to live in a sewer zone!
      Only to have a disrupted life on the next category 4 hurricane that will definitely wipe out the boat basin again and again and again these people totally insane?

    12. Pedestrian says:

      I’ll be frank. $90 million could be used to better purpose.

    13. UpperWestSideGrumpster says:

      Seems outrageous for the city to subsidize housing for people well enough off to have a boat and to choose to live on it. Taxpayer money could be much better spent elsewhere. If there’s a profit to be made, you can bet one of those “greedy developers” everyone loves to dump on would swoop in to offer these services.

    14. Ron says:

      Oh they will pass this Dum move as its Tax payers paying for it, and City father’s votING it in will put a lot of funds in there pocket as its a garrenty it will happen. Just get what each that votes it in on what they are worth today and years latter money rolls in to them under the table

    15. Christine E says:

      Based on the pushback, the city needs to refocus their proposal. Maybe the boathouse becomes a community center so it (not just the roof) serves the public: marine education center, affordable sailing camps/lessons, fishing programs, docking of historic or science lab boats (currently at 42nd and 125th). Something for many, not just the boat owners.

    16. Aux barricades mes ami ! says:

      Totally AGREE with all those commenting that there are MANY better uses for $61.7 MILLION of city funds ($90M projected minus $28.3M from FEMA (maybe).

      Question is: besides commenting here, WHAT CAN BE DONE TO STOP THIS RIDICULOUS WASTE OF MONEY just to benefit a privileged subset of the population!!

      How about contacting elected representatives:

      City Council-Member Helen Rosenthal: Helen@HelenRosenthal.com 212-873-0282

      State Assembly-member Linda Rosenthal 212-873-6368

      State senator Brad Hoylman (212) 633-8052 hoylman@nysenate.gov

      NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer (212) 669-3916
      action@comptroller.nyc.gov.

      • Sherman says:

        I agree somewhat with you.

        Spending $90M (and the price will very likely be higher) to support the quirky lifestyle of a few dozen inhabitants of the Boat Basin is a wasteful and inefficient use of resources.

        However, the politicians you list are all in favor of handing out and protecting housing entitlements for “privileged” people – include some wealthy folks who obsessively post here on WSR about how greedy everyone is but them.

        If the politicians you list figure they can get a few dozen votes by spending $90M then they will go ahead with this plan. Money is no object to them when it comes to political pandering.

    17. Dave O says:

      The city should not have to pay for this. If it is such a great idea, private investors should come in and get it done, sell each slip and recoup their investment. They should submit a plan to the city – just like any private real estate developer who wants to develop a building in the city. Have it go thru the process. Why have everyone pay for this when only 80 rich boat owners benefit from it. Tax payers should not pay for it, the city can put out a request for bids but developers ought to pay for it.

    18. Dave O says:

      Isn’t the 79th boat basin restaurant closed because the city wants to renovate it? So they want to do both the docks at water level and the restaurant at tax payer expense?

    19. Ira Gershenhorn says:

      I was at the meeting. Interesting take. Do you know what the new slips will cost? Do you know what any slips will cost that aren’t grandfathered?

    20. Ira Gershenhorn says:

      Regarding the money aspects. The city does somersaults when getting outside money. Its like if I go to the store for a sale. You have to pay something. Maybe I don’t need what’s on sale.

    21. T says:

      What a rip-off, nice use of taxes

    22. Anne Livingston says:

      And they just dump their raw sewage in the river??????

    23. JD says:

      $90 million renovation
      33 year round residents
      They were supportive!!

      Duh!!

    24. Bill T says:

      $60 million of city money would certainly be better spent fixing up the parts of Riverside Park that desperately need it, especially north of 96th street.

    25. Alice says:

      Time to vote for a Republican.

    26. Leon says:

      It seems like the city was offered the FEMA money and feels obligated to use it, even if the overall project doesn’t make sense.

      It is like someone who doesn’t own a car being offered tires for 50% off and buying them because they can’t turn down the deal, even though they have absolutely no need for tires.

    27. EagleEye says:

      This dock house will negatively change the nature of the river views for the thousands that walk on the riverside path, dine at the cafe, and play ball on the ball fields. This is a very worrying proposal. The current residents leave their garbage uncovered on the pedestrian path and host countless rats. PASS.

    28. Kevin Schultz says:

      What an egregious project, and I say this as a lifelong boat owner and someone that has spent weeks and months at a time living on a boat.

      A million dollars per dock is outrageous, and all the more so because it’s public money. Of course there’s a waitlist of 780 people, these docks are not being charged at market rate. I almost added myself to the list, if I ever actually got a spot I would buy a boat because the undercharging for the dock was that extreme. For the record, when I’ve looked at other places to store a boat that is large enough to live on, and was well outside of the city, it was over $10,000 a season. The 79th street marina caps the seasonal rate at $3,000, and then another $2,500 for the winter (most places don’t offer winter rates at all).

      Considering all the other priorities for public funds in the city I can not see the need for this. If nothing else let’s start auctioning some spots and find the real market rate.

    29. ShaRosen says:

      there are few things that is not covered in the proposal:
      – general water infrastructure of that area, which by itself will cost a millions of dollars
      – are they planning to request money from city agencies that oversee the housing
      – by definition this area is considered a well-served area (in terms of access to open space) , how are they justifying allocating this fund to creating more green space while the infrastructure is failing
      – and finally, the time line is not feasible, they have been struggling to finish the riverside south park and that one is not even nearly as complicated as boat basin

    30. Ira Gershenhorn says:

      A reef ball memorial would be a nice addition to the $90 million 79th street boat basin project. Something to do with all the excess concrete. https://www.treehugger.com/ocean-conservation/65-reef-balls-honor-65-sunken-us-submarines.html?utm_content=buffer54832&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

    31. Crawdad says:

      I think there are some erroneous assumptions in the previous comments. My understanding is this isn’t being built to house people, it’s being built to expand boat berths, most of which will not be used for permanent housing. Manhattan has very few boat berths, and has added basically nothing in many decades. Those boat berths are very expensive for boaters, so the city will have a revenue stream. The “permanent” community at the boat basin has been declining for years, while there’s a growing need for boating berths. Yes, the permanent residents will benefit from the improvements, but they aren’t the primary focus.

      It’s kind of crazy that Manhattan has so few boat berths considering the wealth, population density and desirability. Tons of boat owners have to dock on LI or NJ. And obviously the new pavilion and upgraded park space will be public amenities.

      This project makes sense. The site needs to be repaired anyway, there’s federal money, and there’s a desperate need for more berths. In a city where it costs $15 million to build a public restroom I don’t think the price is out of line.

      • Waiting for 2021 says:

        Your defense doesn’t add up. Yes there is a revenue stream but the city spots are subsidized, so that revenue stream doesn’t cover the upfront costs in any way can be justifiable. Or at least that’s the reasoned assumption and no one has provided any evidence otherwise.

        If the tremendous wealth of Manhattan demands more boat berths why doesn’t some smart developer go out and build some? They build anything that rich folks are willing to pay for. The answer is even for the very wealthy a $1 million dollar boat parking space doesn’t make sense. Better to drive out to NJ or Long Island. It only makes sense for the very (publicly) subsidized.

        Just because the city can’t do anything at a reasonable cost, that’s not an excuse for them to go out and build what are essentially private use boondoggles.

    32. Gus says:

      I agree with the comments, it’s outrageous any elected official believes this will improve the UWS or the city for anyone who isn’t part of the 33 yacht owners (if you can leave on it it’s a yacht…). Meanwhile our real estate taxes are increasing at ever faster rates. Do these people even pay real estate tax? It would be one thing if this was a commercial venture which charged market rates and earned profits, but if that was the case the city should lease the site to a developer. And the $900,000 to $1 million everyone keeps saying is the cost is not the total cost. You need to include the potentially hundreds of thousands that a boat cost plus the insane maintenance they require. Granted, that is private money but if we are looking at it in total what it cost for these 33 people it is truly insane. I’ll be writing our local officials, not that Helen has ever responded to me.

    33. Gus says:

      Also, I feel like this is the same wasteful spending that led to “renovations” of, what was it, four subway stations on the UWS costing hundreds of millions. But no elevators or serious upgrades were made except paintings of clouds…at least those clouds are viewed by more than 33 people. A few months later and the stations are back to being dingy subway stations with drainage issues, lipstick on a pig that cost us hundreds of millions. The city has much bigger fish to fry