Ironstate co-president David Barry
Ironstate co-president David Barry

Ironstate co-president David Barry looks over plans with Staten Island deputy borough president Edward Burke

Ironstate co-president David Barry

A rendering for the planned outside of Staten Island URL, which includes rooftop art inspired by Henry David Thoreau, who spent time in the borough.

Ironstate co-president David Barry

A rendering of the outdoor space at URL Staten Island.

Turtle Raffaele

The founder and CEO of COFFEED,
which will open a new location in the lobby of URL Staten Island.

Turtle Raffaele

Renderings of the URL Staten Island café, which will be operated by COFFEED. The café will serve as the lobby of the building.

Turtle Raffaele

Renderings of the URL Staten Island café, which will be operated by COFFEED. The café will serve as the lobby of the building.

Turtle Raffaele

Renderings of the URL Staten Island café, which will be operated by COFFEED. The café will serve as the lobby of the building.

Turtle Raffaele

Renderings of the URL Staten Island café, which will be operated by COFFEED. The café will serve as the lobby of the building.

Turtle Raffaele

Renderings of the URL Staten Island café, which will be operated by COFFEED. The café will serve as the lobby of the building.

Turtle Raffaele

A rendering of Staten Island's planned New York Wheel, which will stand 630 feet tall when it's completed.

Turtle Raffaele

A model of a URL Staten Island studio.

One Man's Bold Quest To Lure Cool New Yorkers To The City's Least-Hip Borough

Can a new $150 million development turn Staten Island into a genuine residential destination? Hmm.

Staten Island is one of New York’s five boroughs, but it seems like another world. Nobody goes there except for tourists who want to ride the free ferry and residents commuting home. The cool kids across the river have long laughed at the perennially unhip borough, treating it--if they ever think about it at all--like some loud, embarrassing cousin who you pray doesn’t show up at your birthday party and hit on your Warby Parker-wearing friends. The stereotypes can be ruthless: Mob Wives, tanning, SHOTS! SHOTS! SHOTS!, hair gel. Three members of the Jersey Shore cast were actually Staten Islanders. But here’s the thing: how many smug New Yorkers who mock that land on the other side of the ferry have actually spent any time there? What if Staten Island secretly has the potential to be…kind of cool?

That’s what David Barry is banking on, anyway. The 48-year-old co-president of real estate development company Ironstate is investing $150 million in a new residential project being built along the North Shore of Staten Island, and he’s specifically targeting the sort of cosmopolitan millennials who typically head directly to the sexier parts of Brooklyn. The project, set to open in fall 2015, is the first of Ironstate’s Urban Ready Living (URL) developments, which have been created with the help of Dutch design firm Concrete. The 571 initial units, with another 300-plus scheduled for phase two of construction, will be affordable--at least by New York standards, where the median price for an apartment tops $3,100 a month, according to data from the real estate research firm REIS. Pricing for the project isn’t finalized yet, but Barry says that 400-square-foot studios will start around $1,600, 550-square-foot one-bedrooms around $2,000, and 700-square-foot two-bedrooms around $2,400. That’s roughly $45 per square foot. Compare that to Williamsburg, Brooklyn--still the epicenter of NYC hipness--where studio apartments now cost an average of $2,632 a month, per the latest Brooklyn Rental Market Report.

Still, Staten Island? But once you stop laughing, consider the situation. Recent census data shows that the population of the city is growing at its highest rate in decades, and more people need more space in which to live. At some point, dwindling choices in the other boroughs might force young New Yorkers to look toward that forgotten fifth option. “Nobody can afford to live in New York City anymore except for the 1%, or the tippity top percents,” says Barry. “That’s a problem we’re trying to solve. I don’t want to pretend [URL Staten Island] is some artist commune, but at the same time, we’re trying to figure out what makes the most sense allowing young artists and entrepreneurs to flourish--and what’s going to resonate with that market.”

David Barry

Barry, an ardent art collector, already knows a lot about creating hotspots. The developer is majority owner of chic businesses like The Standard in New York’s East Village and the new Chiltern Firehouse in London, for which he partnered with famed hotelier André Balazs (Google’s Eric Schmidt is also an investor). The Daily Mail has already called Chiltern’s restaurant “impossibly sexy.” Now the question is whether or not Barry can bring some of that buzz to sex-appeal-free Staten Island.

Not only will the development offer residents Manhattan views from prime waterfront property--currently an industrial graveyard--but it will go beyond what most luxury rentals in Manhattan provide. There are plans for an outdoor pool, a community garden (which will be run by urban-farming company Brooklyn Grange), a rooftop bee farm, shared work space ideal for start-ups, a waterfront esplanade, more than a dozen retail and restaurant spaces, a 4,000-square-foot gym with a yoga studio, and a café that will serve as the building’s lobby. There are also discussions about a performance space or a gallery, or maybe an open kitchen where chefs will help residents cook gourmet meals.

And then there are the tech-friendly components: Keyless entry so residents can unlock doors with their iPhones, an Amazon-esque procedure for picking up packages in lockers, and an Airbnb-friendly system where staff will not only check guests in for you, but also haul a lockable wardrobe to your apartment for storing valuable items while you’re away. “The idea is to support platforms that people like, instead of having them feel like they need to be hush-hush about it,” says Barry. He’s also excited about the filtered water “wells” in the lobby--a place where people can fill up on clean H20 and also get to know their neighbors in a more natural way than some forced wine-and-cheese party. The danger is that all of this aggressive trendiness and newness could result in a place more Disneyland than Williamsburg. But luckily for Barry, there’s already an arts scene forming on Staten Island, spurred by organizations like the Snug Harbor Artist Residency Program and Staten Island Arts. And by filling URL’s retail spaces with businesses already functioning in more established quarters of New York, the development will seem organic rather than contrived. Assuming, that is, everything works out the way Barry hopes.


Turtle Raffaele, 41, is the CEO and co-founder of Coffeed, a socially conscious coffee shop in the trendy Queens neighborhood Long Island City. (Yes, he goes by Turtle, a nod to his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-ish last name.) A New York native with a thick, friendly accent to prove it, Raffaele talks about the city like it’s running through his veins, although that might just be all the caffeine. Coffeed has signed on to operate the café in URL Staten Island’s lobby, and Raffaele hopes that all kinds of Staten Islanders--not just residents--will grab their lattes there, integrating the new development into the old-school community. “It’s important to get the whole local vibe going,” he says. Coffeed will also serve beer from Staten Island breweries and food made from the on-site garden. “People used to say that downtown Manhattan was dead, and the opposite has happened,” says Raffaele. “I think soon Staten Island won’t have the stigma it has now.”

Turtle RaffaelePhoto by Kris Arnold

Actually, lower Manhattan’s resurgence is part of what could make this work. Already on an upswing, the area will get a major boost this fall when One World Trade opens its doors. Magazine giant Condé Nast will move in this year, making downtown not just the financial capital of the city, but also one of its key media hubs. The commute from Staten Island to the WTC area is about 30 minutes door-to-door--and it’s free.

Barry and Ironstate will have some help: The city is putting $32 million into restoring the streets and parks in the neighborhood around the URL property, and if all goes as planned, an estimated $1 billion of private investment will be made in the area, says Staten Island Borough President James Oddo. There’s already the Staten Island Yankees’ minor league ballpark, and in 2016, a massive Ferris Wheel (similar to the London Eye, but 200 feet taller) and a 350,000-square-foot outlet mall are set to open. In anticipation of more tourists and new residents, the ferry that serves as a lifeline to Manhattan will start running at more than double the frequency it does now. Says Oddo: “We are on the verge of having the hippest, most diverse waterfront neighborhood in the city.”

The borough president is passionate about attracting not just residents and tourists to the North Shore, but also New York’s growing startup community, which seems just as challenging as wooing hipsters. But maybe not. “I actually don’t think it will take too much to get people out there,” says Sage Wohns, the 31-year-old CEO and co-founder of tech startup Agolo, which is currently based in Manhattan’s pricey Chelsea neighborhood. “Super nerds aren’t even aware of the negative stereotypes. They just need creative space that’s not crazy expensive.” Another tech entrepreneur, SportSetter co-founder Trevor Ferguson, 28, also thinks it could work. “If these guys could make it feel like Manhattan and get rid of the huge financial burden that hangs over every entrepreneur’s head, I would consider going,” he says. Okay, fine. But would he live there? “Sure, why not? If it’s done right.” A somewhat surprising answer, considering Ferguson had to look up Staten Island on Google Maps before our meeting. “I had no idea where it was,” he says.


After a drive through the more suburban parts of Staten Island (which is a whole lot of it), Barry tells the driver of his black SUV to take a left toward the URL property. Behind him are Bay Street and Richmond Terrace, currently home to more than a few worn-down mom-and-pop shops and the occasional Dunkin Donuts. There’s also the Island’s self-contained subway, which chugs along every four to five minutes, shaking on its above-ground rails as it heads toward the ferry terminal. In front of him is the URL Staten Island site--now a massive, fenced-in field of dirt with a few trailers scattered around for workers. Construction is in its early stages, but if all goes as planned, URL Staten Island will be welcoming its first residents in about 18 months. It’s hard to pinpoint which is Barry’s bigger challenge: Building the sleek, stylish development from what are now piles of dirt and steel, or finding cool, young residents willing to give up Brooklyn for a swankier, iPhone-operated apartment in a borough that’s totally alien to most of them.

But maybe that’s just it. Barry isn’t nervous about luring the hipsters, the artists, the entrepreneurs, because that crowd doesn’t want to be lured. They come on their own. And some won’t come at all. “I don’t need to convince every person in Manhattan that Staten Island is the place for them,” Barry says, holding a stack of renderings of the property. “I just need to look at the fundamentals of this place, realize there are a lot of reasons it makes sense, and know that we are going to create something great.” He takes a few steps onto the construction site, wind whipping in his face, and stares up as if the buildings are already there. “Look at this view,” he says, pointing toward the water and the rows of glistening lower-Manhattan skyscrapers. “Do you see it?” Now that I’m actually standing here, I kind of do.

[Photos by Caitlin Moscatello for Fast Company]

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22 Comments

  • Lorraine Woodward

    I was raised in Staten Island, although born in Manhattan, and I would say that I have a love/hate relationship with the borough. The biggest reason (to me) not to live there is the impossibility of the commute...spent my early twenties missing the 11:30 ferry after getting out of my second job. The second biggest reason is that I am far to the left of what a friend of mine calls "the red borough of the blue city". Ironically, I now live in a small Midwestern city in which I am even more of a pariah. I also experienced far less diversity than I would have anywhere else in the city, although I think that's changed at least a little bit now.

    I dream of moving back to NYC someday, but the cost of living is prohibitive.

    I'm not trying to dis Staten Island...it's just that a part of me always felt smothered there. My birthmother lived and worked in Manhattan while she was pregnant with me, and sometimes I feel like the city got into my bones even before I was born.

  • Sania Sen

    Realistically, it's more like this:

    How many smug New Yorkers who mock that land on t/other side of t/ferry are actually from New York?

    SI is one of t/last surviving refuges for Native New Yorkers in t/Big Apple. Along with parts of Queens which is already beginning to gentrify,pricing out locals. Islanders lived through a golden era of NYC these transplants will never know or understand. You don't become a New Yorker from living in Williamsburg amongst other transplants, on your Daddy's dime for a few years.

    SI is already too crowded. Traffic is wall to wall, unbearable. Developers are ripping up whatever green spaces they can. Heck, they'd privatize & plow down t/Green Belt if they could. Mt. Manresa is already slated for plows & depressing concrete eyesores.

    Do these businessmen really need to be courting even more residents to t/Borough? Especially transplant types with their entitled "my way or the highway" attitudes, coming in, trying to reshape the landscape & dynamic.

  • Kanokwan Champani

    "Barry says that 400-square-foot studios will start around $1,600"

    Funny, I pay this for a huge two bedroom with walk-in closets, backyard and basement on a tree-lined block in Brooklyn.

    Hmm, no thanks Barry. Maybe you can lure some of these Mid-Westerners back out of Brooklyn. They're the only ones gullible enough to bite for these kind of prices.

  • I question how old these users commenting below and previously are? What about asking the demographic you're trying to aim for? What about getting real insight on who you're trying to target? It may be true that some of the demographic you are targeting will not read this (or will, but will not comment) but it seems like an idea needed for the young artists and entrepreneurs. As for the pricing, nothing is cheap in NY but this is a great look for what young startups etc. are trying to seek out.

  • Tom DeStefano

    "I question how old these users commenting below and previously are? " - What? Michelle, can you please put to words what you are trying to express. I'm in my 40's, what does that matter? Hipsters & young urban artists, entrepreneurs, whatever you want to call them can live wherever they want. The article's title, "The city's least hip borough" and the mocking of the people who live there is insulting and that is what I didn't like. S.I is a great place and "hip & cool" to many people. The author (who is from "cool & hip" Fair Haven NJ) could have written about this project without taking jabs at the community & it's people.

  • HB West

    “That’s a problem we’re trying to solve. I don’t want to pretend [URL Staten Island] is some artist commune, but at the same time, we’re trying to figure out what makes the most sense allowing young artists and entrepreneurs to flourish--and what’s going to resonate with that market.”

    Mr. Barry (as well as the author of this article) seem largely misinformed. If he stepped outside of his SUV for a few minutes, he'd know that there is a large artistic community (and an actual intentional/communal project, Ganas) that has been here for decades. There are plenty of native New Yorkers (native Staten Islanders) who live in this area, making art and engaging in a community that has organically forming roots. What a shame that a project like this could potentially displace the already established artistic community (though we are determined to not let that happen) due to rent inflation. I think before building, the developer should know the community he is building in.

  • Sean Simpson

    your proposed rents are the highest end of what is actually affordable rents here. Thanks but no thanks.

  • Alexandra Lubrano

    Brooklyn Natives have already moved to Staten Island. We...are...here... and have been for awhile. Please keep out the "Cool New Yorkers" aka the RICH TOURISTS out of the only authentic New York Borough.

    -Thanks

  • Jill Fenwick

    You expect us unhip, uncool Staten Islanders to bow in gratitude to developers. The SI rental mkt is already nil due to 30,000 displaced families who lost their homes to Sandy. Rather than address existing problems, you're creating ridiculously expensive apartments that cater to whom? You forgot to mention that hip, expensive Bklyn & Manhattan neighborhoods were created by artists who moved into industrial lofts precisely because they were CHEAP. Their environments evolved over many years - then became trendy and got gentrified - pushing the very people who created them to seek other, cheaper places to live. SI has ALWAYS been cool...just not for the reasons you think. We LIKE having tight-knit family-oriented neighborhoods w/plenty of open natural areas. Stay in the other boros. We're the city's best-kept secret bc we want it that way! We already have enough traffic & congestion. If we want what the city offers, we go there - by boat, then come home to our special peace.

  • Vincent Fiore

    "Nobody can afford to live in New York City anymore except for the 1%, or the tippity top percents,” says Barry. “That’s a problem we’re trying to solve."

    "Barry says that 400-square-foot studios will start around $1,600"

    Seriously?

  • Lorraine Woodward

    I keep trying to hit the "thumbs up" button over and over again. I'm mad that I can't "like" this times infinity!!!!!!!

  • This is awesome. I think this will be a pretty good idea for Brooklyn natives, and/or young entrepreneurs to look into. I, myself, live in Eltingville yet would do absolutely anything to get off this Island. I travel to Downtown Brooklyn for classes and I intern at WeWork Charging Bull and very much into the scene of "hipster and artists." It takes me at least an hour and a half (if I'm lucky) to travel, which I don't mind because I'm at least on my way off this island, but if this idea pulls its' strings and shows how great this can really become, that area of Staten Island will be a hit.

  • Ivan Cardona

    No matter what they say about Staten Island, NY, it will always be New York City's best kept secret. Where else in NYC can you take a romantic FREE ferry ride into work, surf the web, drink coffee and relax. As a New York State Licensed Real Estate Salesperson 646-338-6676, I specialize in introducing Manhattan and Brooklyn renters to Staten Island as a live/work alternative. Staten Island's waterfront neighborhoods (St. George & Tompkinsville) are picturesque, affordable, and they both have their own NYC Landmark Designation Historic Districts. Your S.I. rental dollars will offer you so much more square footage. Living well is the best revenge, and Staten Islanders have always lived well. Attention landlords and homeowners when the cool kids across the river who have long laughed at the perennially unhip Staten Island come looking to rent, raise your rent and hold them to the same standard that Manhattan and Brooklyn landlords do. Better yet hire me to negotiate your next lease!

  • Trevor Ferguson

    Tom, i think you need to relax. The author is pointing out the blatant stereo types that S.I is currently dealing with and what it's going to take for a project like this to be a great success for both the developers and community. Did you really bring out the 9/11 card? Come on man people from all over the world died during that horrific event. Excited to see the outcome of this new facility!

  • Tom DeStefano

    Trevor - Thanks for your advice, I am relaxed now. I do applaud Mr. Barry's project. His vision is one that many have had over the years for the North Shore of S.I. It has some of the "coolest" views of the NY skyline, long before any developer decided to take on a project of this magnitude. If the North Shore flourishes it is very good for Staten Island and NYC. On the other hand Ms. Moscatello did a little more than "point out" sterotypes she added her own zings to sterotypes she has had, and continues to have toward Staten Island and its residents (..stop laughing, Mob Wives, etc.). Staten Islanders are NY'ers, too bad if anyone doesn't like it! And yes, how soon we forget about so many first responders lost on 9/11 that were from Staten Island. Be prepared to get some kickback when you put down a community & it's people.