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Stapleton Studio

Another “Screw Staten Island” Moment

First, a little history:
Back when President Reagan was tossing the gauntlet at the Soviet bear’s feet and beefing up America’s military, part of that included expanding the Navy’s compliment of ships. Instead of basing the bulk of these forces at mega-bases, like those in Norfolk or San Diego, the plan included creating smaller naval stations around the country. We got one here on Staten Island because Team Molinari recognized bacon when it showed its snout. It drove almost every other elected official insane when it was first proposed. But later, when the Navy decided to mothball it, they tried, unsuccessfully, to keep it open.

It’s pretty much lain fallow since then, with the city spending over a decade trying to figure out what to do with the place, which commands spectacular, unobstructed views of lower NY Harbor from the Hudson River to the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and beyond. The infrastructure the Navy left behind slowly eroded from neglect, except for a couple of small buildings used as a court annex and a place to park various city vehicles. Oh, and for a brief, silly period, a bagel factory.

Enter Danny Aiello & friends
Actor, singer, native NY son, Aiello was the public face and member of a group of investors proposing to house an enterprise called Stapleton Studios, a movie studio/entertainment complex, at the Homeport. Their plan was to build a large, state-of-the-art film studio, to bring the movie production business back to NYC, which had pretty much been relegated to a place for grabbing exterior shots, and then producers fled north to Canada for the production work. Included in the deal would be support facilities for the Hollywoodies, a hotel (keep your enemies closer, but keep your film crew at the set!), restaurants and a marina. With no better idea before them, and Aiello’s group in possession of the closest thing anyone had ever presented as a business plan to revive the 36 acre site, the city agreed and signed a deal in January, 2002. Within a short while, in inexplicably calloused fashion, the city decided to kill their asses.

Well, not really inexplicable. This is Staten Island, after all.

So Stapleton Studios, with a deal from the city’s Economic Development Corp. tucked in their pockets, went about building their dream. They initially sunk $2 million into converting the refrigerated building that housed the bagel factory into a working soundstage to prove they meant business. The studio’s first production, “Max and Grace” was filming by the Fall of 2002. They were signing up more small, scale projects. They had Paramount Pictures showing interest in using their facilities to make a big-dollar flick called School of Rock. Everything was looking bright.

Meanwhile, over in Brooklyn, the Steiner family, through their Steiner Equities Group, had decided they would begin building a studio complex of their own at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The City had gone a bit movie studio-happy around this time…there is also a “vertical studio” project called “Studio NYC” planned for an office building in Manhattan that still on the books.

The Steiners (based in New Jersey) are Big Swinging Dicks, especially in the local political (read: Democratic) heirarchy (see here (bottom)). With Stapleton Studios off and running and Steiner squeezing Bobby DeNiro and Miramax out of the Navy Yard action, somebody at the EDC suddenly decided that maybe there was a glut of new sound stages being constructed. Somebody had to go. So of course it had to be the studio that was actually producing movies. When it was time to sign an extension to their development agreement, EDC skyrocketed the lease’s pricing high enough to blow Stapleton Studios straight to Mars.

The EDC insists it based the decision to screw Stapleton Studios on sloppy paperwork and the fact that a son of one of the investors–who had nothing to do with the project’s financing or management–had been indicted for conspiracy in a stock fraud case. He was such a felonious bastard the court system fined him one hundred bucks and told him “go to your room!” for four months. But that was excuse enough to kill the deal.

So Stapleton went to court. Their biggest question: What kind of deal is Steiner getting over at Brooklyn Navy Yard? You jacked our costs up so high and bad-mouthed us so bad you drove away potential clients, investors and partners who see the city pouring dough into helping Steiner get up and running…what kind of deal are those bastards getting? (It must be a pretty sweet one, since all these other tenants of the Navy Yard are getting booted to make way for the Steiners.) The EDC, an appointed outfit that does everything out of the public eye and never explains any of its decisions, said “piss off” and let NYC judges–not the most trusted bunch of jurists around when money and politics is involved–put Stapleton Studios in its place. You see, in NYC, the EDC never loses…once they say “fuck you, die,” you are dead.

Stapleton Studios is running out of courtroom options as judge after judge accedes to the EDC’s decree. The EDC monkeys have been busy for the past year deciding what they want to do with the Homeport once they’ve finally bludgeon Stapleton Studios into dust. They’ve got a spiffy new mish-mash of a plan similar to crap they’ve floated before. It’s centered around building 350 “loft-style” apartments that the Staten Island real estate market will immediate price up at ‘Yuppies Escaping Manhattan’ levels, with retail spaces and waterfront access that said yuppies will never like sharing with the public (like at the grandly planned, then scaled-back Bay Street Landing), but will still drive the neighborhood’s existing realty/retail scene bonkers. The permit fees for the athletic facilities will probably be too rich for your average sandlot leagues to afford. The planned cafes and restaurants will kill local joints. It’s got all the making of a disaster to make the Navy’s original abandonment look like a drill on how to kill a communities economy.

The EDC practically brags that for investing $66 million in helping to create this, the city won’t actually gain much of any revenue from the place, but the developers who lease the property at sweetheart prices (it’s in an “Economic Develpoment Zone’ which roughly translates to “pay jack shit taxes and utilities costs”) most certainly will. And guess what the EDC’s madcap plan could possibly also include, just to prove they’re a pack of twisted pricks?

Yeah, that’s right.


the original post (with one of the moneyboys commenting)

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