Controversial Development Proposals for Liberty State Park Released

By Brenda Flanagan

Imagine in your mind’s eye Liberty State Park — with its historic waterfront vistas —  totally transformed into a modern venue including a convention center, hotel, extra restaurants and more. That’s how it’s envisioned by a new state report. Visitors of the park had mixed reviews of the new vision.

“Yeah, I do think it would be good,” said Paula Roca from St. Louis, Mo. “There’s plenty of space, still, it seems like.”

“Less is better. There’s too much crazy going on already. Just keep it simple,” said Chloe Snyder from Anchorage, Alaska.

New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection released long-sought details of a controversial proposal to make the park self-sustaining by developing about 38 of its roughly 1,200 acres into revenue-generating ventures that would plug a $2 million annual operating deficit. The north zone’s train shed could become a “low-rise” hotel with restaurants and a museum, while its Terminal Building could feature another restaurant, conference center and catering hall.  The central zone’s lawn would host daily public events — ranging from art classes, to dance bands to vendor carts. And the south zone’s waterfront would be transformed into a boathouse and marina complex, with an indoor sports field house, amusement park and even an amphitheater.

The Sierra Club’s Toni Granato found little to praise.

“This plan is really only to benefit the corporations and developers that are choosing to build hotels and restaurants and other private commercial development here,” Granato said.

“And this is an attack on the spirit, purpose and meaning of this great park behind Lady Liberty,” said Sam Pesin.

Pesin — an ardent park advocate — says the DEP’s proposal would intensely commercialize Liberty State Park. Where the DEP sees wasted space, he sees sacred space.

“The park should be a free, open space,” he said. “Hotels should go outside of Liberty State Park in Jersey City and be ratables for Jersey City and surrounding towns. The park already brings in a million and a half each year from the two restaurants, marina and ferry concessions.”

“We’ve been one of the most vocal opponents. Liberty State Park is a jewel for the entire state of New Jersey. No development in Liberty State Park is acceptable and we think that it needs to stay exactly how it is,” said Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

New Jersey lawmakers and environmental advocates had pushed for release of a $120,000 consultant’s study of ways to develop the park, but the DEP has consistently refused, and instead, offered this proposal, noting: “…we are recommending the hiring of a master planner to conceive new enhancements for underused or unused areas of Liberty State Park, as well as some areas in need of repair, to increase visitation, while maintaining the character and spirit of the park.”

The DEP says it will discuss the development proposals with so-called “stakeholders” and community and local leaders. It should count on getting an earful.