2008-03-12 / Features

Water Taxi Beach Draws Fire At Special Board 2 Meeting

BY THOMAS COGAN

Despite the official and popular support it has gained, at the request of the owner of Water Taxi Beach, a special meeting was held in early March to air and answer charges that the ferry terminal and summer resort on the shore of the East River in Long Island City is a public nuisance. The charges, dealing mainly with drunken and disorderly behavior, are so strong they threaten the continued life of Water Taxi Beach during the summer months. The meeting, held at P.S. 78, not far from the terminal and beach, generated anger, yet carried a suggestion that such a cancellation would leave everybody sad and dissatisfied.

Tom Fox, the owner of WTB, brought a packet of endorsements to the meeting he had asked for and distributed them. It contained many encomiums from politicians and businessmen, most of them written last year to Community Board 2 and the Port Authority, evidently in support of WTB's application for a liquor license renewal. Among them was one from Michael Strasser of Shelter Express on Vernon Boulevard. He recalled that the predecessor of what is now a "lovely urban beach" was a cement loading plant, saying that in contrast to "what once was dust laden, with super heavy trucks careering around the corner of Second Street and Borden Avenue is now a mass transit ferry terminal, enhanced in the summer months by one of New York's most imaginative waterfront uses". Several people who attended the meeting expressed strong and even emotional support for the beach resort, which Fox said he created by laying 400 tons of sand on a vacant lot to make a recreational area with a splendid view of the United Nations Building and the rest of the Manhattan skyline. Programs for families and children were described, and one man talked about getting married on the beach to his Brazilian bride, actually preferring it to a similar ceremony he and she performed in Rio de Janeiro.

But, detractors said, when the sun goes down on summer weekends, trouble begins, particularly toward and into the early morning. An alleged source of disruption is P.S. 1, the Museum for Contemporary Art, which holds weekend events in its yard on Jackson Avenue. When they are concluded, according to this version of events, many of the celebrants go looking for further alcoholic consumption down at Water Taxi Beach and other places in Hunters Point. WTB gets the main share of attention because it can handle hundreds of persons at a time.

The complaints came mainly from workers at the Waterfront Crabhouse, at 51st Avenue and 2nd Street. They said that many persons, several of them barely qualified to drink legally, come up from the beach and into the restaurant to use the restrooms or to continue drinking. If refused service or told the restrooms are for patrons only, they often become obstreperous and present a problem for Crabhouse security personnel, the restaurant's workers, mainly women, told the meeting. One of them said she has endured incidents where young drinkers have come toward the restaurant "in droves" and yelled insults she described as "extremely vile" at her. She related being on a smoke break one night when one inebriated man tried to relieve himself in her ashtray. The manager of the Crabhouse, Bob Haubert, said that Fox and his associate, Harry Hawk, have to provide "more astute security". Haubert said that after retiring from 27 years' service in the police force, he had no wish to resume being a policeman in trying to maintain crowd control at his restaurant. Sergeant David Porter of the 108th Police Precinct made a demand of Fox similar to Haubert's, asking him or his bartenders to "pay more attention to the condition of your customers". But his main complaint was directed to Fox in regard to an occasion last summer when some fireworks were set off in a celebratory manner. Though the Coast Guard was informed in advance of the plan to detonate the fireworks, Porter said, the police were not, and he found that irresponsible. Fox replied that the Coast Guard told him the police were notified, but Porter told him firmly that no such notice was received.

Fox had a few things to say, both in his defense and about changing the situation. He admitted it was bad, though not as dire as his critics believed it was. He said he would move up last call on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. and have the place closed and dark by 3 a.m. Harry Hawk added that on Sunday evenings he would close at 10 p.m. (Hawk is the man in charge of WTB through most of the critical weekend hours; Fox, who admitted he's no night owl, is usually at home after 9 p.m.) He said the rules he already has in place have helped to establish the order that does obtain; for instance, he allows no bottles or cans on premises, serving beverages only in plastic cups. He said that this summer he will have to add to the number of portable toilets he has placed on the beach. When asked why he doesn't have restrooms, as Waterfront Crabhouse has, he said that he is not allowed to have plumbing and normal toilets, though he must maintain such relief outlets as the portable ones- of which, to repeat, he promises more this summer.

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