Arthur Imperatore, Founder of a Critical Ferry Service, Dies at 95

Arthur E. Imperatore Sr., a bluff entrepreneur who parlayed a trucking fortune into a dubious ferryboat operation that grew to be a critical link in New York City’s transit network, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 95.

His death, at Mount Sinai Hospital, was confirmed by his stepson, Armand Pohan, who said Mr. Imperatore had suffered from progressive kidney failure.

Mr. Imperatore steered the ferry service, New York Waterway, through legal and financial straits and disputes with government officials. But he also reveled in moments of glory, when his boats rode to the rescue on Sept. 11, 2001, and eight years later, when a commercial jet splashed down in the Hudson River.

Mr. Imperatore, whose formal education ended at high school, did not set out to be a ferry tycoon. He started the service as a “loss leader” to promote the two miles of industrial waterfront property he had acquired on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, Mr. Pohan said.

Mr. Imperatore had gotten rich in the freight-hauling business. A company he started in 1947 with four of his seven brothers, the APA Transport Corporation, had become one of the most profitable trucking companies in the country.

Restless and impatient, he considered all sorts of ventures and embarked on several of them. His notion of an amusement park along the riverfront did not fly. But his idea of relocating a professional hockey team to New Jersey did — only without him.

Mr. Imperatore bought the Colorado Rockies of the National Hockey League in the late 1970s, with the intention of moving the team to an arena being constructed in the New Jersey Meadowlands. In 1982, the Rockies were renamed the New Jersey Devils and began playing at the new Brendan Byrne Arena in the Meadowlands. But Mr. Imperatore had sold the team by then.

“My dad never met a business he didn’t like,” Mr. Pohan said. “Like a prospector, he drilled many dry wells, and once in a while he hit a gusher.”

Few people thought Mr. Imperatore would be a winner in the ferry business. Some derided the venture as “Arthur’s folly.”

But he plowed ahead, docking a hulking old ferry at the river’s edge as a makeshift terminal. There, passengers would board smaller boats for the quick crossing to a pier he had bought in Midtown Manhattan.

He delegated much of the development to real estate companies, said Richard Turner, the longtime mayor of Weehawken. Mr. Turner estimated that the value of the property Mr. Imperatore once owned, along with all of the condominiums, townhouses and shops packed onto it, easily exceeded $1 billion.

New York Waterway gradually added routes to Lower Manhattan from various docks along the New Jersey coast. Before the coronavirus pandemic sharply curtailed commuting, its fleet was carrying more than 30,000 passengers a day.

Two years ago, New York Waterway stirred up public opposition in neighboring Hoboken to its plan to move its boat-maintenance facility about a mile downriver. Hoboken blocked that proposal, despite the company’s heavy lobbying of Gov. Philip D. Murphy and threats that the service could not survive without making the move.

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