Arthur E. Imperatore Sr., the late founder and president of NY Waterway, is pictured in 2015 at the company’s terminal in Weehawken — Courtesy: Aaron Houston
By Joshua Burd
Arthur E. Imperatore Sr., the pioneer of Hudson River commuter ferry service and a central figure in the transformation of northern New Jersey’s Gold Coast, has died at age 95.
NY Waterway, the private transportation company he founded in 1986, on Thursday announced Imperatore’s passing after a career that spanned more than seven decades. The Weehawken-based operator has transported nearly 300 million people to date, serving as a key piece of the region’s mass transit network and a driver of economic development in northern Hudson County.
To that end, it was Imperatore who in the early 1980s acquired some 340 acres of blighted former railroad property along the Hudson River in Weehawken and West New York. The site would become the birthplace of the iconic ferry service, but his debt on the property and the downturn of the early 1990s threatened his vision of creating sprawling luxury residential communities along the water.
That changed in the mid-1990s when Roseland Property Co. began to acquire large sections of the property and spearhead what would become a master-planned, multibillion-dollar redevelopment. Today, the two-mile stretch of waterfront is home to thousands of rental and for-sale units and a host of businesses as part of what’s now known as Port Imperial.
NY Waterway noted Thursday that Imperatore’s career included other ventures, including mining, real estate and sports teams. Below are additional excerpts from an obituary released by the company:
NY Waterway ferries have become a vital component in the metropolitan area’s mass transit network and a life-saving backup system when other transit modes are disrupted. Ferry crews evacuated 150,000 people from Manhattan on 9/11 and have rescued hundreds of people from area waters, including 143 people from Flight 1547, the Miracle on the Hudson, the most successful marine rescue in aviation history.
Despite skeptics who derided his vision as “Arthur’s Folly,” Imperatore drew from his nearly 40 years of experience in the industry to pioneer a ferry-bus network, leading to the company’s resounding success. With his stepson, Armand Pohan, Imperatore ran the company until his death.
It was Imperatore’s dream to revitalize his native New Jersey community and NY Waterway did just that. Starting with the company’s Port Imperial terminus in Weehawken, Imperatore led the development of a thriving residential and commercial community. As his vessels transported passengers to and from New York City, his fleet of buses made the ferry service accessible to the surrounding towns. In this way, the ferry-bus network became the infrastructure that supported waterfront development from Edgewater to Jersey City … boosting both local and state economies. To this day, the ferry-bus network is the international model for effective, coordinated mass transportation systems.
Born on July 8, 1925 to Italian fruit grocer Eugene Imperatore and his wife Teresa (née Sorrentino) in West New York, New Jersey, Imperatore was the ninth of ten children living in a two-bedroom apartment above his father’s grocery. He began earning a wage at age five, and by age eight had set a goal of earning 10 cents per week to help support his family. Starting as a deliver boy for his father’s grocery, Imperatore also worked as a Western Union messenger and shoeshine boy. His strong work ethic and entrepreneurial drive continued to propel him forward.
Imperatore carried that work ethic and sense of duty into the U.S. Army Air Corps where he served as a navigator on B-24 Liberators and B-29 Superfortresses during WWII. After the war in 1947, he and his brothers started A-P-A Transport Corp. with two surplus army trucks and grew to become the fourth largest and most profitable interstate freight trucking company in the United States. At A-P-A he instituted stringent productivity and efficiency systems which are emulated today across numerous industries.
The notion that a company’s greatest asset is a motivated and involved workforce is a common thread that runs throughout Imperatore’s successful enterprises. He was committed to connecting, communicating and giving back to all of his employees, whom he looked upon as extended family. As an employer, he set the performance bar high to inspire employees to reach the potential he believed they all had — demanding excellence while also leading by example.
Imperatore was widely regarded for his responsible corporate citizenship, family values, and love for country. His support and engagement in charitable causes included medical research, social services and education.
Throughout his life, Imperatore was honored by business and civic organizations for his corporate and humanitarian contributions. Among his awards were three honorary doctoral degrees, the prestigious Horatio Alger Award, and the first U.S. Senate Productivity Award, presented to him by former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley. Never one to rest on his laurels, Imperatore contemplated the possibilities of what he might yet achieve during his 2017 induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, saying “I talk to God every once in a while. I tell him ‘listen, God, I know you might have your eye on me – however, I still have a lot of work to do.’ ”
Imperatore was an avid American history buff and a patron of the arts who loved music, especially opera and Cole Porter. At age 70, he took up the game of golf and was, from then on, a devoted fan of the sport. He will be remembered for his warm demeanor, dry sense of humor, iron will, deep intelligence and boundless ability to dream.
He is survived by his wife, Dr. Mei-Ling Yee-Imperatore; his son, Arthur E. Imperatore, Jr.; his daughter, India Imperatore; his stepson and daughter-in-law Armand Pohan and Nancy O. Rieger; his stepchildren George (Elizabeth) Carr, Alexander (Renée) Carr and Arielle Moylen; eight grandchildren; and two step-grandchildren. He was predeceased by parents and his nine brothers and sisters.