I have a vision for Rockaway that many will think of as strange.
I want to make Jamaica Bay into an "Inner Harbor," that would serve New York City just as Baltimore’s Inner Harbor rejuvenated and recast that city.
For those of you who have not been lucky enough to spend some time in Baltimore (Maryland) recently, the Inner Harbor is a joy to behold as well as to experience.
A number of new, upscale hotels surround the harbor, all connected by a "Skywalk that allows people from one hotel to experience the shops and restaurants in all the hotels without exiting a building. The harbor itself is surrounded by shops and restaurants, much like our own South Street Seaport, except larger.
The joy of the harbor, though, at least for me, are the ubiquitous water taxis. Pay four bucks and you can ride the taxis all around the harbor for the entire day. No extra charges, no questions asked.
Want to go to the National Aquarium or to the restored USS Constellation (from the War of 1812) stick around the harbor.
Want to shop? Get on the water taxi and head for Washington Hill. After shopping, get back on the water taxi and head for Fells Point or Little Italy for some of the best food south of Rockaway.
Like some history with your shopping and eating? After visiting the USS Constellation, get on board the water taxi and head for Fort McHenry, the home of the Star Spangled Banner.
Like water sports? Take a sailboat ride or take a boat for a day of deep-sea fishing.
What has this all got to do with Rockaway?
Here’s the deal.
Cut a canal from the Atlantic Ocean to the Jamaica Bay somewhere around Beach 30 Street. Make Jamaica Bay into New York City’s inner harbor.
Build some hotels on the eastern end of the Arverne Urban Renewal Area. Put in some restaurants and shops on the bayfront in Edgemere. Bring in some water taxis to dock at the new Edgemere Inner Harbor piers. What is the attraction? Think about it.
Get on the water taxi in the morning, after a nice evening in your Arverne Urban Renewal Area Hotel and a good seafood meal at a restaurant in Edgemere Pier.
Want to eat some good seafood? If Pier 92 and the Wharf are not your cop of tea (the water taxi stops at each, as well as the Rockaway Pier on Beach 116 Street and the bayfront), take the taxi to Sheepshead Bay. Then, get back on the taxi and head to Coney Island for some hot dogs at Nathan’s and a baseball game at Keyspan Park. Perhaps you can move further up the bay and head for Shea Stadium for a baseball game or a concert.
Want some history? The water taxi stops at Fort Tilden and Fort Wadsworth, located in Staten Island. Head up the Hudson River and see the places where the major local Revolutionary War battles were fought.
Need to get back to the airport? The water taxi will take you to John F. Kennedy Airport.
Want some Broadway shows? The furthest stop from the Rockaway Peninsula on the water taxi is the west side piers in Manhattan, where shuttle buses are ready to wisk you away to the theater district.
Like some water sports? Boat and personal watercraft rentals abound in the Inner Harbor and you can even take guided tours of the harbor, from Bayswater to Manhattan.
Perhaps we could even run Whale Watching Tours from the ocean piers in Arverne, ala Cape Cod.
Believe it or not, the canal from ocean to bay existed in the late 1800’s, and the tidal flow kept the bay clean. When it was closed up to build homes and roads, the bay started on the road to pollution.
This Inner Harbor plan would serve our environmental concerns and might even reverse the marsh grass loss that the bay is currently suffering. It would bring business and tourists to Rockaway. It could, in tandem with Arverne By The Sea at the other end of the urban renewal area, spell a renaissance for Rockaway.
What are the downsides to an inner harbor project? It would move some people off the land that would eventually give way to the canal. St. Gertrude’s church, on Beach 38 Street, has chided me each time that I have mentioned such a project, for example.
It would be expensive. It would take private money, coupled with state and city funds to get the job done. Much of that money, however, would come back in tax revenues to the local venues.
It would also take a vision, something that our local politicians and the city’s leaders seem to lack, especially when it comes to Rockaway.
For our city leaders, Rockaway is a place to isolate people from their own water resources, not provide more access.
Take away the beaches. Take away the boardwalk. Take away the right to surf. Take away the right to fish (witness the recently-built fence nearby Beach Channel High School). Take away the right to party on the beach. Take away the right to see the water from the land. Further isolate the oceanfront with massive and private housing projects. Isolate non-residents from the ocean with restrictive parking regulations.
At the same time, build new, expensive water-related parks and projects on Manhattan’s west side. Build a beach on the river. Open up new piers to residents.
Get the picture. Our elitist city leaders are Manhattanites first and city leaders secondly.
Rockaway might as well be in Yenimsville as in Queens, as much as our leaders care.
Will the Inner Harbor project see the light of day? Of course not.
It’s nice to dream, however, especially in the Dog Days of August, when anything seems possible once it gets cooler.