“Nestled on the southern portion of the upland, 315 will allow guests to experience casual dining in an extraordinary setting. The open and airy satellite dining area nestled along the riverbank will offer breathtaking views of the Hudson River, bar service and an abridged menu from Costera.”
– From the winning Manhattan River Group bid to operate the Dyckman Marina concession, describing the cafe area that later became the ticketed concert venue instead.
As has been described elsewhere on this site, in 2007 the Parks Department sent out two Requests For Proposals to find a new concessionaire willing to invest in and operate a Marina and a Cafe. The documents were issued separately as it was envisioned that the two entities might be operated independently, although combining the bids was encouraged. Because of the troubled history of the site, the RFP was only for those two uses, the ones identified by Parks and the community as being suitable.
The RFP for the restaurant included some very clear language about what was expected. To break down some components of the vision (along with what actually happened):
- Use as a cafe was clearly defined:
Parks is seeking proposers with a solid background in the food service business to operate a high caliber café. The café should make a significant improvement to the ambience of the park and surrounding area while providing a convenient service to the public.
As operated: No cafe was ever built.
- The cafe menu was also noted as follows:
The food and service provided must be of high quality yet affordable. Proposers should include some low-cost items on their menus.
As operated: No cafe was ever built. Restaurant menu has a $16 hamburger and $11 garden salad.
- The proposers could also propose an enclosed restaurant in addition to the cafe:
If proposers choose to submit a proposal which includes the construction of a new year-round restaurant, they should also include a detailed operational plan for the restaurant. This plan should clearly outline the dimensions and design of the proposed restaurant, the proposed menu, price list and hours of operation. As with the café, the design, menu, price list and hours of operation are all subject to Parks’ approval.
As operated: Enclosed year-round restaurant was built as described.
Alcohol on the premises was defined very clearly:
Alcoholic beverages may only be served during sit-down service and must be consumed within the licensed premises.
As operated: Three standing bars were built, two of them outdoors. Most drinking takes place standing up.
- Access was described explicitly:
The concessionaire must ensure free and open public access to the seating areas.
As operated: Part of the seating area is a VIP section that requires bottle service (typically $1,500 for bottles of champagne or liquor). The seating in the concert area requires concert tickets.
- Music was given special attention, due to the past problems with noise at the site:
Proposers should note that the café will not be permitted to have any outdoor, amplified music without prior written approval from Parks. All amplified music must be at sound level reasonably acceptable to the Commissioner…. Concerts will be strictly prohibited at the site.
If the proposer plans to build an enclosed, year-round restaurant, then amplified music may be played within the structure. All amplified music at the café or restaurant (if proposed) must cease at 10:00 p.m. and must be at a sound level reasonably acceptable to the Commissioner. Music and all other noise emanating from the café and restaurant (if proposed) shall comply with the rules for noise control in Title 24, Chapter 2 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York.
As operated: Amplified music is played outdoors every night, using speakers rated at up to 130 dB. Amplified music is played until 1 am, which does not comply with the noise code.
- Hours were clearly defined:
The café and restaurant (if proposed) will not be permitted to operate past 11:00 p.m. on Sunday through Wednesday and 12:30 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
As operated: Hours were changed to 1 am every night, including Sunday.
- The RFP did not include any mention of parking.
As operated: The adjacent parking area was turned into a private valet lot that overflows far down Dyckman Street, illegally and without any agreement from DOT.
The separate Marina RFP had its own vision and list of requirements, mostly related to professional marina operations. But there were a few points worth noting:
Parks is seeking proposers with a solid background in the marina services industry to operate a high quality marina. Parks would like to see this site developed into a first class destination that draws visitors from all over the area while providing a convenient service to the public.
Additionally, Parks will look favorably upon proposals that include a storage area for kayaks and canoes. This storage could be offered for a fee. Parks will also look favorably upon proposals that include theinstallation of a floating launch.
As operated: The marina docks did not open until 2014, two years after the restaurant opened. They are little used, but well known through verses of explicit songs. No canoe or kayak storage or floating launch was built.
How did such a stunning reversal of what was promised occur? Was the accepted bid from Manhattan River Group for what was then called “Dyckman Marina and Cafe” (and later “Dyckman Landing“) inconsistent with the original requirements? No; in fact it complied very much with the RFP (see below). But nowhere in the exhaustive 179-page bid response document was there any mention of a 3,000 person events venue, of a massive concert facility with stage and huge sound system hosting dozens of club concerts each summer, of nightclub bouncers and bottle service areas. Nothing about opening at 4 pm and closing at 1 am. What happened?
Children’s Menu from RFP compared to the Bottle Service Menu as-built.
Yes, there were delays, changes in the design team, costly infrastructure-related design changes, value engineering and all of the other difficulties involved with constructing a multi-million dollar facility in New York. No finished building ever matches its RFP documents exactly. The Manhattan River Group design did evolve, but as late as early 2012 was still being presented like this:
Only Parks can explain how and why they inequitably and inappropriately (if not illegally) allowed the vision to become so distorted from the original, approved documents. One clue may lie in one of the bids that was not accepted. There was a bid submitted that included the following components:
- a huge 400-seat restaurant, with a strong emphasis on employment
- a desire to control street parking spaces along Dyckman Street all the way to Staff Street
- a willingness to operate the cafe without the marina (which was viewed as requiring subsidy from the cafe operations)
This bid was supported by a local restaurant owner/investor/spokesman who later bought into the Manhattan River Group and now owns a controlling stake. The name of the proposed restaurant in the rejected bid? “La Marina“
Suffice to say that this long, sorry tale of broken promises and twisted visions is a disgrace to the Parks Department, the area residents, the City of New York and respect for due process. A perfectly acceptable RFP was issued, a wonderful bid was received and accepted, a contract in accordance with both was executed. And yet a few years later, instead of a smart, green marina and cafe with a sailing school, kayak storage, picnic tables, open grounds and lunch service as promised, it was a terrific high-end restaurant and very problematic nightclub/concert venue that opened, more resembling the bid that was not accepted rather than the one that was. Complete with overflowing valet parking and traffic and numerous noise and capacity violations, with an emphasis on alcohol and smoking, the waterfront reclaimed with such grandeur from industrial boat storage in the name of public access was now being used for filming explicit videos instead of being open-air dining with a children’s menu. Unacceptable.
Restore Dyckman Marina and make good on the original promise for this facility. The Parks Department owes Inwood nothing less.
To take a closer look at what might have been, here are some excerpts from the Manhattan River Group winning bid:
Of course, the marina and restaurant will also draw bicyclists, boaters and diners from across New York City with the lure of an aesthetically appealing waterfront, a well-run marina, great food and a pro-active approach to improving the river ecology.
MRG plans to excavate a portion of the upland to establish a thriving salt water marsh, the spawning ground for many of the Hudson’s native species.
Dyckman will be divided into four distinct zones, each of which is fully accessible to the public. Zone 1 is an integrated parking and staging area; Zone 2 includes a Spanish-themed restaurant and snack/picnic window open to the public; Zone 3 includes marina operations, including launching services, a 22-slip dock, limited short-haul space, a ship store, a new-boat showroom, facilities for mooring customers, offices and sailing school; and Zone 4, to the south of the quonset hut contains a casual waterfront lounge running between the Hudson’s shore on the west and the Manhattan Greenway on the East.
The marina operations were to be overseen by a marine sales and marketing executive and also an instructor from the New York Sailing Center on City Island.
The bid included a heavy emphasis on environmental factors and “green strategies”, going so far as to promise “a facility whose carbon footprint will not crush future generations of users and that will, more importantly, set an example for other waterfront developments.” (Reality ended up being rather different.)
Access was very open, consistent with architectural renderings that were later developed:
Bicycle, pedestrian traffic, kayakers, and other park users will have access directly from the greenway, encouraging the kind of flow that sustains successful gathering places and sending a message to the community and visitors that NYC respects and nourishes the Hudson River.
The project approach was based on four “significant concepts”. Excerpts from the document include:
1) Increasing community access to the waterfront – principally through the eateries — restaurant, cafe/lounge and snack window, along with cleverly outsourcing the land-based marina services and improving the surrounding walkways and pier:
MRG will transform the Dyckman riverfront into a comfortable gathering place for all of its visitors. The site plan will offer two distinct dining facilities: A full service restaurant to the north (in the current location of the existing restaurant facility) (“Costera”), and a lounge at the south end of the property (“315”)
Costera will offer elegant, yet casual dining in an area modified to comfortably hold 300 guests under our towering semi-permanent canopy and amongst the native vegetation and flowering plants in the sand-dusted garden area just south of the DEP structure. Costera will offer a menu of dishes inspired from the culinary traditions of Spain and South America. For 315, MRG will convert he southern portion of the upland (the narrow strip south of the Quonset hut) to a full-service dining area; complete with stand-alone food prperation facilities, a wine and beer bar and bocce bal courtts. MRG will create a unique dining experience literally inches from the Hudson River and increase available seating by almost 20%. Set off from the rest of the facility, 315 will be available for private events. This area will provide stunning waterfront views of the Palisades and George Washington Bridge.
In addition to the sit-down service available at Costera and 315, MRG will provide seating and picnic tables in the portion of Inwood Park immediately adjacent to Dyckman, outside of the formal restaurant area. Visitors can bring their own lunches or take advantage of the walk-up snack window (“Bocados”) at the eastern end of the public fishing pier, which will offer sandwiches, ice cream, and other easy-to-serve finger food. While remaining simple, the Bocados menu and ingredients will reflect the high quality that has continued to fill tables at Solera and other Villano family restaurants over many years.
This notable expansion of seating along the waterfront recognizes the value premium placed on open space at the expense of low-margin, environmentally stressful industrial uses. Not only will the public have greater access to the river under the MRG plan, but the additional seating will generate additional revenue through rental for private and corporate events, as well as increased food and beverage sales when not under private contract.
To make up for the loss of upland waterfront maintenance and repair facilities, MRG has made arrangements with Monte’s Marine Service at the Englewood Boat Basin, which lies directly across the river from the Dyckman property, to handle all of MRG’s watercraft servicing needs. By outsourcing repairs and maintenance, in exchange for a royalty payment, to an existing facility, MRG is able to provide human access to a stretch of reclaimed waterfront; in its current use the upland is neither safe nor accessible.
Access to the facility is integral to the success of the Manhattan River Club. Thus, MRG will provide limited internal parking, a valet service during peak times, an unloading area for buses and bicycle racks within the grounds. We will also evaluate the feasibility of creating a landing for the New York Water Taxi, which has recently begun to ferry passengers from more northern reaches of the Hudson River.
While outside the immediate scope of this proposal, MRG has initiated discussions with the New York Restoration Project, which has an excellent track record in Northern Manhattan, and will work with other community and political leaders to (a) connect the portion of the greenway running along the eastern border of Dyckman with those sections that have already been budgeted for restoration; and (b) develop and spearhead funding of a long term maintenance plan for the public fishing pier running along Dyckman’s northern border. Both of these areas have endured many years of neglect, yet are essential elements connecting the upper Manhattan waterfront.
2) Creating a high-quality dining establishment at a riverfront oasis – again through the multiple eateries.
Costera and 315 will serve as (g) a stopping off points for cyclists taking advantage of the Manhattan Greenway, (ii) an easy getaway for city swellers, (iii) the local restaurant and gathering place for Inwood residents, and (iv) the only high quality restaurant in the local area offering dock-and-dine service.
3) Offering unsurpassed marina services — of every type and description.
Boating in and around Manhattan, as gorgeous and inviting as it would seem to be, is scarce. With an average 95% occupancy rate at area marinas, and a meager 12% of facilities available to transients, there are not nearly enough facilities to support the NYC boathing community…. The marina will offer standard services in its basic package…. Additional services currently offered by no other New York City marina will also be available. These include pick-up and drop-off with our licensed, coast guard approved launch, boat wash and interior cleaning, catering/restocking, garbage pick-up, battery charging, and onboard mechanical/repair services through our service partner. MRG will be the only marina in Manhattan to offer on-site dry storage in the winter.
4) Providing a safe and clean environment – mostly through prior restaurant experience and high standards.
The rebuilt Dyckman facilities will be reshaped into an accessible and safe location for boating and dining…. These repairs will create the foundation for a clean, safe and well-maintained propoerty in which the boatyard activities are substantially curtailed in favor of landscaped pathways and dining areas well suited to its unique location.
The eateries were further described in the response document in great detail. Excerpts include:
Costera will be MRG’s casual, waterfront cafe experience… Costera’s aim is to provide quality food and service, in a comfortable atmosphere, coupled with a distinct and unique dining experience.
Program elements to include: Outdoor dining tables and chairs to accomodate 275 guests, Bar accommodating approximately 15 guests
Nestled on the southern portion of the upland, 315 will allow guests to experience casual dining in an extraordinary setting. The open and airy satellite dining area nestled along the riverbank will offer breathtaking views of the Hudson River, bar service and an abridged menu from Costera.
Program elements to include: Outdoor dining tables and chairs to accommodate 50 guests, Outdoor quasi-covered kitchen/bar area.
Bocados is the Spanish word for ‘snacks”. Located and services in the Costera unit, Bocados will provide take-out service for those patrons who would rather “get and go”… The menu will consist of “simple snack food”…. Picnic baskets will also be available so people can enjoy a romantic getaway, a stopover in one of upper Manhattan’s array of well-maintained parks and playgrounds, or a freshly prepared meal while cruising around Manhattan’s waterways.
Program elements to include: Picnic tables around the North Beach (north of the fishing pier)
Private events were envisioned from the beginning, but not as concerts:
Individuals, corporations, and organizations will have the option of renting the Costera pier area, the Costera garden area, or 315…. In addition to hosting weddings, communions, bar/bat mitzvahs, bridal showers, corporate functions, tour groups, birthdays, anniversaries, rehearsal dinners and other private events, MRG proposes to use the property for community events such as Memorial/Labor Day picnics, clambakes, 4th of July fireworks displays, and a regular farmer’s market. Furthermore, MRG would propose to host an annual festival at the start of the season, in which all profits would be donated to community charities. The festival would offer rides, various concessions, live music, arts and other activities…
The 22-slip marina programming was described in the response to include:
- Storage and launch facilities for kayakers, canoers and rowboaters;
- A sailing school complete with training boats and classroom
- Mooring and docking facilities for power-boaters
- Boat service facilities; and
- Concierege services
The sailing school was to be operated by the New York Sailing Center & Yacht Club from City Island, offering “a variety of programs including one-day workshops to brush up on skills, private instruction at any level, personal vessel instruction, navigation courses, bareboating and facing. Furthermore, experience sailors can even rent our larger vessels for day trips and overnights.”
The kayak, canoe and rowboat storage would have gone into the existing quonset hut. Furthermore. “MRG will apply to become a designated Hudson River Valley Greenway Water Trail site”.
Great attention was paid to public access. Under “Intended Uses for the Facility”, it was stated that:
Manhattan River Group recognizes the importance of public access to the waterfront. Our objective is to increase public use by providing a venue and facilities. By expanding the area dedicated to hospitality uses, withing and outside the concession, we accomplish this goal. In addition to the various boating and restaurant facilities explained in detail above, MRG may also offer:
- Community events
- Free kayaking through a not-for-profit partner
- Power boat rentals
- Bicycle rental
- Neighborhood tours; and
- River ecology tours
Finally, the hours more than met the intent of the RFP. The restaurants would open at 11 am on weekdays for lunch and 9 am on weekends for brunch, and close by 11 pm every night.
All of the above sounds appealing and perfectly consistent with the goals of the RFP. Parks would have been wrong not to have selected the bid. It outlines, in great detail, the exact kind of facility that the area craved and that would revitalize the site. So why was almost none of it built as described?
Instead, this is what opened in 2012, five years after the RFP was first issued:
This is what was built and opened in 2012. Contrast with the earlier renderings and site plan
A Broken Promise indeed. Parks must restore Dyckman Marina, and restore the uses as originally promised.