It may be hard to believe that Liberty State Park was once a barren landscape of railyards and abandoned properties, but that was the case for many decades before the park’s opening in 1976. Now, a plan to transform a southern section of the park into a private marina has been released, and residents could have a chance to weigh in on the proposal soon.
Last month, it was revealed that the park’s manager, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), was looking to enter into an agreement with a developer to build a new marina, which sparked a fresh round of protests against the park’s privatization. The news led Sam Pesin, President of Friends of Liberty State Park, to file a Freedom of Information Act request seeking more details about the plan.
That filing led to the release of documents last week about the proposal’s specifics. Texas-based Suntex Marinas, who run Liberty Landing Marina in the park’s northern end, are looking to enter into a lease agreement with the DEP for 45 total acres near Flag Plaza and the park’s picnic areas. The land Suntex is seeking to lease is made up of 32 acres of water, spans about a mile, would be home to over 300 boats, and includes two public parking lots and three jetties.
Under the proposed lease, the DEP would permit Suntex to operate a public restaurant, offices, a 24-hour fueling station, a boat maintenance facility, a store, and a restroom on the land. The lease would run for 25 years, and Suntex would have the option to extend it for another 25 after that time. The company would pay $900,000 in annual rent for the first three years, an amount that increases by between $150,000 and $250,000 every year.
The released documents state that Suntex would pay for bulkhead repairs along the southern waterfront, which the DEP says could cost the state up to $43 million (although Pesin disputes that figure). Additionally, the existing Liberty Landing Marina at the park’s north end would be expanded by about 10 acres, and repairs to a waterfront walkway section that’s been partially collapsed for years are included in that part of the deal.
Reaction from the Friends of Liberty State Park has been swift and negative. “This massive yacht marina plan for the entire Southside would ruin LSP’s ‘Central Park’ true purpose of people’s enjoyment of the peaceful openness of our urban waterfront haven for picnics, jogging, walking, bicycling, fishing, relaxing and taking in the expansive open harbor views looking southward toward the Verrazano Bridge,” reads the group’s website.
However, Suntex’s Senior Vice President Ron TenEyck defended the south marina plan in a statement last week, hyping up the new amenities the proposal would create. “As part of the proposed marina, Suntex has extensive plans to rehabilitate what has become a neglected section of the park,” TenEyck said. “Those plans include a children’s sailing school, replacement of the public boat launch, a fishing pier, a boat club and other amenities that will be available to the public.”
The lease documents released by Pesin’s efforts are dated November 30th and give Suntex 20 days to agree to the terms, meaning they could approve the agreement as early as next week. If that happens, they and the DEP would have another 30 days to come to an agreement and would be required to host a public information session at the park within that timeframe.
The elephant in the room regarding this plan might be Chris Christie, who will leave office January 16th and will be succeeded in the Governor’s mansion by Phil Murphy. Christie has advocated for privatizing portions of Liberty State Park as part of an effort to generate revenue, but it’s unclear if Murphy shares that view, and the Governor-elect has not commented on the marina plan as of yet. Nonetheless, the plan could be passed before Murphy takes office based on the timeline shown in the documents.
The city is prepared to fight the proposal and hired a law firm yesterday that will pursue legal options against the marina. An update on the project could come as soon as next week, when Suntex could agree to terms of the lease.