“[Concessionaire] Manhattan River Group stated in their SLA application that the maximum seating capacity is 1,000. But Parks had not approved that amount. When we did review the seating plans, which are subject to Parks’ approval, we approved 500, which is what we felt was appropriate for this type of operation.”
– Parks spokesman Phil Abramson in an email to DNA Info, May 2012.
Since the planning phases, the question of capacity at the concession has been very difficult to establish. The restaurant was described early on as having 300 seats. Later, Parks began vaguely describing the concession as a 500-seat complex, and went as far as to publicly state that they had held the capacity to 500 after the concession operator applied for over 1,000 person capacity on their liquor license.
Meanwhile, a Public Assembly certificate was issued for the restaurant in 2012 but the outdoor capacity remained unknown even to the concession operators in September, three months after opening:
La Marina’s inside seating is limited to 279, but Tenebaum explained the group’s architect and the City’s Department of Small Business Services are still figuring out the accurate capacity for the outdoor space at the location.
“It’s an open question right now,” he said.
SBS essentially rubber stamps anything for a waterfront, so it was not a huge surprise that they did not require a PA for an outdoor area that was not a concert venue on the site plan in any case. Yet somehow the lack of any sort of Public Assembly certificate did not stop vast crowds of unknown size (claimed by some DJ’s to be as many as 6,000 people) from attending the dozens of concerts that summer.
According to the concession operators, Parks was not too happy with the risk of fire or other emergencies and requested a PA certificate for the concert area, which was duly obtained. By 2013, the facility was claiming on their website that they could host up to 3,000 people. Later that year, it was finally revealed that the actual Public Assembly Certificates that had been issued for the beach and terrace areas totaled 1,800 people, bringing the total on site to 2,094, a number that Parks now acknowledges (though still tends to misstate in the media).
As of 2014, the the concession operators are claiming a capacity of 2,400 and to be able to host up to 3,000 people under a ‘special permit’. It is not clear what the FDNY thinks of a permit that supersedes their own for maximum capacity (although perhaps their mind was preoccupied by fish tacos instead), but concert events like this one in 2014 did claim in promotional material “We’re expecting over 3,000 people to be in attendance”.
And so the public capacity figures appear over time to have been:
RFP period – 300
Pre-opening – 500
Liquor License – 1,174
2012 PA certificate – 294
2013 PA certificates – 2,094
Operator claims – 2,400 to 3,000
Social media claims – 2,500 to 6,000
At a May 2015 meeting with a community board committee, the operators once more made the claim that they could host 3,000 people if they wanted to, it was just a matter of adding a few more temporary restrooms. They had limited the Public Assembly certificate in the beach to 1,500 voluntarily, in other words. That’s kind of like saying we could host the SuperBowl in Inwood Hill Park if we just added 70,000 more seats and some extra toilets. Nonetheless, in 2015 the advertised maximum event size on the concession website has at least finally been reduced to what is actually, legal, i.e. 1,500 people in the “beach”.
Of course, what is legal is still not what was planned for or approved by other agencies. (An admitted increase in capacity from the prior concession in 2008 would have triggered an Environmental Impact Statement, which would have stopped any such increase in its tracks.) The traffic, noise and other problems from hosting thousands of nightlife patrons continue to plague a site originally intended and approved to be a 300 seat restaurant. Restoring the uses to their original intent, even at 500 seats, would be consistent with the approval documents and mitigate the issues associated with the current massive size.