Oct. 10, 2023 By Michael Dorgan
A fire tore through a well-known shuttered waterfront restaurant in Long Island City early Tuesday, Oct. 10.
The blaze broke out at 4-01 44th Dr. — the site of a dilapidated former restaurant called Waters Edge that sits atop a barge — and the FDNY responded to the scene after receiving a 911 call at around 6:45 a.m. an FDNY spokesperson said.
Video footage posted online shows smoke billowing up from the two-story building while flames can be seen through the large windows facing 44th Drive on the second floor, above the lobby area.
Around 60 firefighters from 12 units responded to the scene and brought the blaze under control just after 7:30 a.m., the FDNY said. At least two tower ladder trucks were put into operation, the footage shows.
The Queens/LIC Post arrived on the scene minutes after the fire had been extinguished. Several of the lobby windows facing 44th Drive were smashed as well as windows facing the East River. The lobby area had extensive fire damage.
It is unclear what sparked the blaze, with the FDNY spokesperson saying the cause of the fire is under investigation. However, one firefighter at the location told the Queens/LIC Post that the abandoned restaurant was being used by homeless people, and they may have started the fire by accident.
There were no reported injuries.
Smashed windows (Photo by Michael Dorgan)
A storied history
The abandoned restaurant, which first opened in 1980, has been closed for years and has a storied life having once stood as one of Long Island City’s most preeminent dining destinations with a spectacular view of midtown Manhattan.
It hosted countless weddings, birthday bashes and political fundraisers — including scandal-hit dinners for former mayor Bill de Blasio – and in April, the Queens/LIC Post reported that the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) planned to demolish the structure once it received the necessary funds. DCAS said it would take eight months to destroy the structure after the funds are received.
In 2008, restaurateur and philanthropist Harendra Singh and his Singh Hospitality Group acquired the premises.
But by the early 2010s, Singh began getting into financial difficulty and was reported to have owed the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in back rent on the Water’s Edge barge lease.
DCAS was threatening to terminate the lease and Singh had also failed to pay for renovations to the pier where the barge was docked, which the agency said were required by his lease, according to THE CITY.
Singh held two fundraising events for Bill de Blasio at Waters Edge in the hope of currying favor with city hall: one in 2011 when de Blasio was still public advocate; and the second in October 2013 shortly after he beat former city Comptroller Bill Thompson in a runoff before taking the general election.
De Blasio’s campaign did not pay for the events until it forked out a check for $2,613.01 after the city’s Campaign Finance Board began auditing the campaign. Until that moment, the events were essentially an illegal free gift from Singh to de Blasio that the mayor’s campaign had failed to disclose to the public as required, according to THE CITY.
When he got into office, De Blasio instructed one of his top aides to step in with regard to resolving Singh’s lease. But before the matter could be sorted out Singh was arrested in September 2015 on federal corruption charges in Nassau County unrelated to the Water’s Edge restaurant.
The restaurant then abruptly closed leaving brides and grooms out of pocket for the large deposits they had put down and Long Island City without one of its most esteemed eateries.
Singh cooperated with the federal government and informed them of his interactions with de Blasio. He also testified that he explicitly told de Blasio about an illegal scheme to raise money for the mayor’s political allies whereby Singh would personally reimburse donors to get around campaign contribution limits.
Singh told prosecutors that this financial support of the de Blasio, and the fundraising events at Waters Edge, were bribes to the mayor in exchange for help getting the lease extended and getting the pier issue resolved.
In 2016, Singh pleaded guilty to several bribery counts, including to a scheme to provide campaign contributions “in exchange for official actions from an official in the City of New York for the benefit of Mr. Singh’s restaurant.”
De Blasio, meanwhile, denied any personal error and was never charged with criminal wrongdoing regarding his interactions with Singh.
DCAS formally evicted Water’s Edge and retained possession of the barge in 2020, according to THE CITY. The agency then put the beat-up craft on the auction block in November but then decided to ditch those plans in order to dismantle the entire structure instead.
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4-01 44th Dr 6:42:59 AM EDT