“We look forward to La Marina continuing to serve as a successful concession that is responsive to community concerns…”
– Liz Sanchez, Analyst, Revenue Division, Parks & Recreation
When fall arrives, one of the signs of the season for Inwood residents is the return of calm to Dyckman Street. Another is the receipt of the annual form letter from the Parks Department explaining what a terrific job they did of managing their Dyckman Marina concession and how any and all community concerns about the operations of an illegal nightclub and concert venue are either unfounded or sure to be addressed any day now.
For example, here are excerpts from the 2012 version of “the letter”:
Thank you for your letter regarding NYC Park’s Concession, La Marina. I apologize for the delayed response.
La Marina is permitted to have 500 seated people at their Parks licensed premises, 200 of which can be outside. La Marina is currently applying for a Place of Assembly permit from the Department of Small Business Services so that they can ensure they are safely accommodating their outdoor patrons. NYC Parks, La Marina and the 34th Precinct have also been coordinating to ensure that public safety at the facility’s perimeter is maintained as well.
Designated areas of the event space at La Marina offer a bottle fee, which Parks did not approve. We are working with La Marina for next summer’s season to ensure that the areas available to restaurant patrons remain the priority of the establishment. We have received complaints regarding Sunday traffic congestion in the area. As a result we have met with La Marina and they have urged more use of public transportation to their facility. In addition, we have received complaints about noise. La Marina’s contract requires all amplified sound to terminate by 10 p.m. We have informed them of the complaints we have received and their need to comply. We have also witnessed that many people driving in the area, perhaps on their way to La Marina, have the volume on their car stereos excessively high. Other people set up “car parties” and put chairs on Dyckman Street and turn their car stereos on too loudly. These areas are outside of La Marina’s Licensed Premises, and La Marina is only responsible for the behavior of patrons at the restaurant.
Thank you again for taking the time to write.
And then in 2013, another letter with some familiar themes:
Thank you for writing to us about La Marina.
We understand your ongoing concerns and indeed, we have been working with the operators of La Marina to address them. The first year of any new concession is always a challenge as the agency seeks to navigate a course that is flexible and supportive of a new business, while being sensitive to people who have to accommodate new commercial activity in their neighborhood.
The operators of La Marina have been advised that all outdoor amplified sound must end by 10:00pm, and they have agreed to comply with this restriction in the future. As such, several events that had been planned for the end of the summer were canceled. We hope that this will help curtail the community’s concerns about noise.
I apologize for the delay in responding; your message was misrouted through our correspondence system. Thank you for reporting your concerns and observations. We will continue to address issues as they arise at the licensed premises.
All of these inspections and reviews by the various departments have determined that our business in fully compliant with applicable laws, rules and regulations: The 34th Precinct conducted sound inspections throughout the area on one of our busiest days and found no violations or concerns relating to public safety; we received our second consecutive ‘A’ from the Department of Health; we do not exceed permitted occupancy levels; FDNY concluded that there were no unsafe conditions and that emergency vehicles had sufficient access to our site; the SLA is satisfied with our significant efforts to ensure that minors are not served alcohol.
A Parks Department audit conducted this winter has shown some areas where our internal procedures could be tightened up, but overall found that La Marina has properly fulfilled its obligations to the City. As a result of that audit, through ongoing meetings with Parks officials in the Compliance and Revenue Divisions, we are working together to develop new protocols to improve transparency. We are told that it is typical for new concessions to go through this type of tweaking – the process is never seamless.
La Marina has had an important impact on this neighborhood. Most of those who complain loudest about our business tend to ignore the drag racing, prostitution and drug dealing that plagued the area just a few years ago. The now absent dreary storefronts and dangerous stretches are not part of the discourse. We continue to work with the task force, the BID, DOS and DOT to improve the area further. By working with these groups, we are also eager to effect more positive change.
It’s not necessary to pick apart the above letters since they obviously resolved nothing — just click on the links. But let’s take a look at this year’s form letter (supposedly authored by an analyst at the Parks Dept), which may be the best yet in terms of its truthiness. Note – there are so many lies, the letter has to be addressed almost one sentence at a time. For clarity, the 2015 letter text is underlined.
Thank you for your letter regarding La Marina. I apologize for the delay in response. Since you sent this inquiry, NYC Parks has worked closely with La Marina to clarify requirements and adjust operations in order to enhance compliance with the concession agreement and to address any inadvertent impacts of the concession’s considerable popularity.
This is a nice foreshadowing that the rest of this letter will be pure bull. I wonder if “worked closely with La Marina to clarify requirements” has something to do with gross violations of their licensing agreement. Since virtually nothing has changed in terms of their operations since 2012, does “enhance compliance with the concession agreement” mean “allow everything we initially said was not approved, like bottle service and concerts”? Gee, I wonder if creating gridlock for half of Inwood was an “inadvertent impact”? It’s a little hard to claim that the negative results of hosting 3,000 people and hundreds of cars at a site that is not capable of supporting such crowds is some kind of shocking surprise.
Finally, the crutch of “but they’re soooo popular” is wheeled out right in the first paragraph. This is the excuse that Parks leans on time and again to paint the concession as a victim of their its success. No. The issue is not that the 500 seat restaurant is popular. A facility of that size was forecast from the beginning and, on its own is manageable. We know this because there are no quality of life problems on nights when the concert venue and nightclub are not operating. The “popularity” is in reality the large crowds of thousands that attend the concerts and late-night club portions of the site, a use that was never approved by any agency. This is made worse by the massive valet that operates without any legal agreement whatsoever. The problem is not that these uses are popular, it is that they exist where they should not.
This season, La Marina has made important strides to better serve the needs of its community and implemented reasonable adjustments to its summer 2015 programming in accordance with community concerns.
Really? Pray tell, what were those programming adjustments? Other than fewer headline performers (2Chainz, Fabolous, etc.) there was virtually no change to the summer programming. See for yourself — Can you tell the difference between the sample poster collection on the right, from 2015, and this image of posters from the previous summer? I didn’t think so.
As for “community concerns”, I guess the community must have been concerned with not enough events where beer companies took over parkland for promotional events, because there were two of those this year.
Per Parks’ direction, La Marina agreed to limit the number of large events to 15.
What a nice bit of misdirection. In reality, Parks raised the limit of concerts from zero to 15 (since the contract says “Concerts are strictly prohibited”). So how did Parks weasel out of this ban? It was hinted at in May, and then confirmed in a separate letter to residents in August, where Parks Chief Accountant David Cerron wrote the words “We do not consider events that include music as part of the overall experience, and are not promoted as only a musical performance, to be prohibited.” That has to be one of the most farcical statements ever penned by a public official.
Events that met or exceeded 1,000 attendees were counted as part of the 15 large events.
Well that was nice of Parks to arbitrarily pick a nice round number like 1,000. Where did that come from? How did they decide that 999 people (again, at a site that was supposed to be 500 seats) would not have an impact but 1,000 would and therefore need some limit? As it turns out, there is a process for evaluating when a proposed use will have a negative impact. It’s called an Environmental Impact Statement or EIS. And did La Marina have an EIS when it was first proposed? Let’s go back to the transcript of the September, 2008 Franchise and Concession Review Committee hearing, and recall what the Parks concession director told the committee when they asked about doing an EIS:
“This is an existing use, previously a [marina] cafe, for at least, I believe, 15 years. I don’t know the exact number; at least the last 10 years. So this is not a new use of this space. Therefore, we didn’t do any [environmental assessment], because typically it is existing use and we know what the conditions that were there before. We don’t think there is going to be any — the concessionaire has offered to work with local garages to make sure that there is valet parking; to encourage people to come by public transportation. And we don’t think there’s going to be a particular traffic impact based on the concession.”
So after deflecting any need for an EIS, Parks can just turn around and say under 1,000 is ok all the time, and more than that is even ok fifteen times a year? Inequitable treatment of Inwood, to say the least.
For the summer 2015 season, eight events met or exceeded the 1,000 person threshold.
Liar, liar, pants on fire. There were over fifty heavily promoted musical events during the summer of 2015. Many of those attracted huge crowds that clearly filled the beach area to capacity. How did Parks get its count? Does the bouncer write up a report for Parks? Are they getting ticket sales reports from their concession? In other words, prove it, Parks, because the pictures don’t lie. All we do know is that Parks no longer requires special events permits for any kind of event, even the “large” ones, so there is no official record of any kind.
Additionally, Parks worked with La Marina to ensure that Community Board 12 and the NYPD 34th Precinct were made aware of potentially large upcoming events.
Hmmmn. How exactly did you tell the Community Board (which by the way is based in Washington Heights 35 blocks from La Marina) about these summer events when the Community Board is shut down for July and August? The police though surely were aware of the events given the traffic and crowd control they were providing each and every summer weekend, at taxpayer cost.
In regards to noise/sound, in accordance with the NYC Noise Code, La Marina transitions to an in-house system at 10:00pm that was specifically designed in consultation with a sound engineer.
This sound system is much quieter and part of their internal audio system which contains limiters, compressors and/or other equipment for systematically containing the volume of audio at the Licensed Premises and ensuring that neighbors are not impacted by amplified sound.
And here we find some technobabble that conveniently obscures the fact that the written contract forbids any amplified music of any kind after 10 pm. It does not allow for limited, compressed or otherwise contained audio after 10 pm. It bans it, for the express reason that besides the fact that the New York City Noise Code effectively prohibits outdoor music after 10 pm, any music past that hour enables a nightclub use that was never approved and keeps large crowds on a site until a late hour when their exit becomes extremely disruptive. (This also relates to how Parks unilaterally extended the hours past those approved in the contract)
Oh, the jokes are really flying now. Parking concerns? As in, the valet parking lot is totally, completely, absolutely illegal but let’s let them have it, never mind whatever the law says? Ha ha ha. As to addressing pedestrians, Parks must be referring to the fact that the recently built bike path next to La Marina is now used as a ticket queue, VIP access and backstage door during summer afternoons and evenings due to the construction this year of three gates along the path. Gates that were never on the approved site plan and act to seize yet more public space for La Marina’s benefit? Did the bag checks and ID scans to enter a public park also help with “pedestrian flow”?
La Marina has continually encouraged visitors to take mass transit to the venue, ride bikes to the site, and has partnered with area garages to minimize parking impact on the community. Furthermore, Parks met on-site with the 34th Precinct and the La Marina operators to discuss safety procedures for the valet parking operation.
Yes, I’m sure the instagrams of entertainers arriving by car and yacht scream “mass transit”. Or is that referring to the tiny fine print that was added to the bottom of the La Marina website about taking the A train? Bottom line, if you are running Manhattan’s largest valet parking operation (cash-based, it might be pointed out) you are attracting car traffic, not deterring it. The fact that the entire thing is grossly illegal rather overrides any “discussions” about safety procedures.
In order to expand waterfront access to the community, La Marina has established a public sailing program, which provides both free sailing instruction for children and fee based sailing programs for adults.
Ah yes, the ballyhooed sailing program. The same program that was long promised but never appeared in 2012, 2013, 2014, or even 2015 until the last weekend of August. The one that charges $95 per person for a sailing outing. The one that held a single Community Day in mid-October that filled its free sessions within hours, so great was the demand. That sailing program. While an excellent use and entirely consistent with a proper Parks concession use, its belated arrival does not make up for the many sins committed and promises broken over the past four years.
Giggle. “Most”. And why was that “most” and not “all”? Could it be that anytime there was money to be made by holding a concert the free beach access was cancelled? And about those hours, it’s curious that Parks does not point out that the hours were originally 2 pm until sunset, but those times were found to conflict too much with the business of closing public land for private parties and so were moved forward. During the few hours a week that this large portion of the site (originally approved as an open-air and ungated café area) was open to the public, La Marina prohibited users from bringing food or drink (which had to be purchased) but generously pointed out that virgin cocktails would be available for the “little ones”. How thoughtful of Parks to make sure the kids developed drinking habits early in life.
In addition, La Marina provided a reoccurring free beach outdoor fitness program and hosted kayak events.
Yes they did. A fitness program that used extremely high volume music, because why not? If it’s ok to blast music at 1 am, why not 9 am on a Sunday too? As for the “kayak events”, other than letting the community-friendly Inwood Canoe Club use their ramp to build their new kayak dock it’s not clear what kayak events occurred. Unless they are confusing kayaks with floatplanes, which did hold a demonstration event for an entire week at La Marina — although being a floatplane showroom was not exactly part of the federal boating grant that paid for the docks.
I hope this information is helpful.
Not unless “helpful” means “insulting”.
We look forward to La Marina continuing to serve as a successful concession that is responsive to community concerns.
Look Parks, it’s been four years already. You can spare us next year’s letter. La Marina would be a successful concession responsive to community concerns if it operated solely as a restaurant and marina, as it was supposed to. Allowing continued operation of the Jones Beach-like concert venue and late-night nightclub is wrong and should stop.
We will thank you when you Restore Dyckman Marina.