While a ride on the Staten Island Ferry is always free, purchasing one of their boats is… decidedly not. In a nail-biting auction that was extended minute-by-minute, the retired SS John F Kennedy was sold by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services on Wednesday evening for $280,100 — which, while steep, is less than the average sale price of a New York City apartment. 

A glamour shot of the Staten Island Ferry. Photo: NYC DOT

Buyer Pitalia211 won the final bid, which closed well past the original 6pm auction deadline, was far over the initial $125,000 offer and jumped by over $135,000 in the final minutes. The ferry, built in 1965 and weighing over 2,000 tons, is listed as a real fixer-upper: “This double-ended, passenger and vehicle ferry up for auction is in poor condition and had to be decommissioned due to mechanical issues, the mechanical issues are on the propulsion end. On this vessel are numerous spare parts which are obsolete and not needed by our agency.” Sounds like it just needs a little elbow grease!

It’s no wonder that the SS John F Kennedy is a bit worn down. Before being retired from the fleet in August of 2021, it was known as the oldest operating ferryboat as well as one of the most reliable in the Staten Island system. In an interview with Gothamist and WNYC, former Senior Port Captain Kenneth Meurer reflected on the legacy of the boat — “It was almost a nostalgic feeling running it, honestly, because of how old it was. It was a nice old, warm boat, it was open and had a lot of space for everyone. It was very easy to load and discharge passengers just because of the way it was designed.”

The SS John F Kennedy at work in 2014. Photo: Chris Sampson via Flickr

One hopes that the new custodian of the SS JFK will also find it easy to steer, given that a key condition of the sale was that the buyer picks up the vessel themselves and is “prepared to load your own items from a dock” — taking the concept of wrangling your friends into helping you move to a whole new level.

Asked by Gothamist what he thinks should become of the ferry, Captain Meurer replied honestly.  “She’s probably very valuable for scrap, and that’s just a personal opinion. I mean, it would be cool to have as a museum somewhere, but I think it’s going to be a struggle to upkeep, to just stay ahead of whatever requirements are required to keep it on the water. Just because she’s getting old. I always said it would be cool to put it on land somewhere where you can take the water aspect out of it and just have her as a museum to look at,” he mused. 

So what will replace the SS JFK once it arrives at its new home (or homes, if it does end up recycled into scrap)? Several brand new Staten Island Ferry boats were recently spotted making their way to the city by scenic way of Florida, adding vessels to the fleet. While no boat can completely replace the charm and nostalgia of the SS JFK, there’s no doubt that the next generation of ferries will inspire the same eager hustle of daily commuters.

YouTube video
The race to make the SI Ferry.

UPDATE 1/21/2022: On Friday morning Vulture confirmed that the Kings of Staten Island, SNL’s Pete Davidson and Colin Jost (along with comedy club owner Paul Italia, aka Pitalia211) purchased the vessel. The trio reportedly plans to turn the boat into a multi-use entertainment venue with comedy shows, concerts, and art. May we suggest the soon-to-be-completed space at Pier97 as a landing port for the SS JFK? Live from Hell’s Kitchen, it’s Saturday Night (Live’s) ferry? Pete, Colin, call us!

The perfect spot for Pete and Colin’s new ferry (it’s short commute from Rock Center!). Photo: Phil O’Brien

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  1. There is much to overcome in trying to convert this into a popular docked entertainment venue. With the current condition of this vessel there are multiple of multiple of obstacles to overcome, none of which can be dealt with quickly. Then it will have to go through required and necessary Coast Guard inspections which are annual. Then by the time they get to the finding and securing of a permanent dockage facility there will be multiple of multiple of other items to address mainly the renovation of the pier and the logistics to safely board guests. The fact that it has no self-propulsion capability requires it to be towed everywhere. Then there is the weather aspect, ice cold winters will make the ferry freezing cold which require generators to be run 24/7 to prevent water from breaking pipes. The summers will make it burning hot as the sun heats the ferry all day and heat gets transferred into the interior thru the evening making the ferry like a floating oven. To get this vessel up to certification for electric, fire safety insurance, licensing details and everything else to make it a proper performing space will require heroic focus. But it can be done.

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