STATEN ISLAND, N.Y.—The Staten Island Yankees' quest for their seventh New York-Penn League title came with off-field distractions in 2015, not the least of which was the construction of the world's tallest Ferris wheel.
The Yankees lost to the West Virginia Black Bears in the league finals, but most of the focus during the season centered outside the Richmond County Bank Ballpark in the congested St. George section of Staten Island.
In an ambitious attempt to draw more tourists to the borough, Staten Island officials are building the New York Wheel, a 630-foot tall Ferris wheel that will carry as many as 1,440 people per ride. It's one of a new generation of Ferris wheels that are designed to be destinations unto themselves, rather than part of another attraction.
Workers began laying the foundation for the attraction in what used to be a parking lot for the ballpark. The New York Wheel is scheduled to open in 2017, but so far it has been a giant headache for the team, with construction severely limiting parking and causing numerous traffic delays. In addition, construction knocked out the Yankees' phone lines for several days toward the end of the season.
“The construction is a deterrent for us," said Mike Holley, Staten Island's senior director of marketing and fan experience. “However, we think the benefit of the wheel will far outweigh the pain we're feeling now."
Holley said plans to alleviate the congestion caused by the lack of parking include the construction of a new 1,250-space parking garage. Under the parking plan, only valet parking will be available in the 820-space left-field lot. Another 1,046 spaces are available to fans at lots around the ballpark, which is surrounded by row houses and small commercial properties.
Staten Island finished seventh in the New York-Penn League with an average attendance of 3,221 this season—a 5 percent dip from 2014.
Holley said the team will change its approach to drawing fans to the ballpark, which offers a panoramic view of lower Manhattan, to draw more tourists once the wheel is in motion.
“We're working on how we can make that end of the ballpark look attractive," he said. “We want to create a whole weekend experience."
An economic report says that two million people annually ride the Staten Island Ferry, a short throw from the ballpark, but most of them are commuters who head straight home.
In previous seasons, advertising and promotions were not a priority for Staten Island. This season Holley and his staff were aggressive in marketing, advertising and promotions.
With the promotion-minded Brooklyn Cyclones attracting an NYP-best 6,234 fans per game less than 15 miles away, the Yankees employed a targeted advertising campaign with The New York Daily News—something the team shied away from in the past.
They got off to a good start in 2015. A record crowd of 7,483 packed the ballpark on Opening Night against Brooklyn. That was topped by the 7,529 who attended Game of Thrones Night in early August, featuring an appearance by author George R.R. Martin.
“We see what Brooklyn has done," Holley said. “It gives us a model. Whatever works for them should work for us.
“Every weekend we wanted to have a walk-up promotion. Advertising is one thing; making sure people come back is another."
The Yankees have also had a change in the front office. With less than a month left in the season, CEO Steve Violetta resigned, opting not to exercise a two-year contract extension. The Yankees replaced him with Will Smith, who spent the past seven seasons as chief operating officer and general manager of the Trenton Thunder (Eastern).