JERSEY CITY, NJ - Pressure is mounting to give greater say in the future of Liberty State Park to those that call the area closest to it home.
Activists in Jersey City are looking to make a deal with the owner of the Liberty Golf Course to sell 22 acres of land and reinvest the money into improvements that would provide services to the local community.
Although environmentalists and supporters of the park have fended off threats in the past, pressure appears to be mounting to allow for development in some measure in order to create services, especially to residents in the poorer Greenville section of Jersey City. A loophole in the recently signed state budget could provide an avenue to allow portions of the space to be developed, even though Gov. Phil Murphy said he does not intend to exploit it.
A provision inserted into the spending plan requires the state to solicit bids from for-profit and non-profit entities for maintenance, environmental remediation, and capital investments, including through leaseholds.
Since its creation in the 1970s, development interests have eyed the property as a potential addition to the Gold Coast – since its views of New York City and New York Harbor are spectacular. In each case, Friends of Liberty State Park, led by its president, Sam Pesin, has successfully put together a coalition of powerful political allies to stop them.
During his tenure, Governor Chris Christie pushed to use development as a way to help pay the cost of upgrading state parks – and a plan presented by NJ Future – a not for profit think tank – presented a plan that could have brought a hotel and other amenities to the historic Central Railroad terminal, and created an amusement park on property currently used for the park’s maintenance.
Pesin, with the support of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and others, thwarted the plan, and also later defeated another one that would have upgraded decaying piers on the south end of the park in exchange for developing a marina there.
At the same time, a proposal called the Liberty State Park Protection Act that would protect the park from development has not been able to get enough traction in the state legislature. Pesin, referring to recent efforts as a “land grab,” said he felt betrayed by Murphy, believing that unlike Christie the State’s current leader wanted to prevent development.
While Murphy said he did not intend to solicit bids for the park, some local elected officials previously loyal to Pesin appear to be rethinking their options, especially in light of a looming state budget crisis.
One of the key figures in this debate is Jersey City state Senator Sandra Cunningham, who has been reluctant in the past to oppose development and is one of the sponsors of the stopgap budget that includes the loophole.
Pesin, however, may be able to count on support from State Senator Brian Stack, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji and Annette Chaparro, who have spoken out against developing the park.
At the local level, Jersey City’s Ward E Councilman James Solomon has tried to introduce a resolution of support for Pesin, but the measure has been yanked from the city council agenda several times over the last few months.
But not all area officials are as avid, especially as some community activists, like Bruce Alston – begin to question whether the park can do more to support the city’s minority community.
Alston, who held an online community forum that included Jersey City Councilman Jermaine Robinson, said that “there is no plan to privatize Liberty Park, that narrative is being spread, but let me remind you the park already has a millionaire boat marina and two restaurants that are privately owned.”
“Wouldn't it be nice to reopen the Liberty State Park Pool which has been sitting covered for 30 years? We deserve the right to have conversations as a community on the future of Liberty Park,” Alston added.
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