The battle over the future of Liberty State Park will enter a new phase next Thursday when the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection unveils its eagerly awaited plan for the 600 acre expanse on the edge of Upper New York Bay.
In an virtual press conference yesterday, DEP Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette hinted at what the public can expect to see but cautioned, “While each of these three phases will have something for everyone, no one of those elements will be as large or vast as any one of the competing constituencies may want.”
The revitalization program, he said, would have three components: a cleanup and restoration of the off-limits interior; the design of active outdoor public recreation amenities and arts and cultural spaces for the park’s northern end; and the launch of a “wholistic master plan” for the phased improvement of the park’s waterfront and southern end.
Phase 1A, will involve detailed renderings and an immersive virtual demonstration of what the restoration of the 165-acre interior will look and feel like from the perspective of someone walking through it. A previous rendering showed the creation of diverse nature habitats and miles of paths for walking and cycling.
The interior contains a total of 215 acres. The current plan envisions dedicating 50 acres to active recreation.
Phase 1B will involve the revitalization of the northern corridor along Audrey Zapp Drive, including renovation of the historic train sheds into an arts and culture space and the evaluation of outdoor multi-use fields.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were an outdoor nature-based amphitheater where folks might see a community play or host a community event?” said LaTourette.
Phase 2 will be the master plan for the entire waterfront and for the southern end of park.
LaTourette said the DEP would be soliciting input on the plan, which will include an as-yet-to be designed community center.
In response to one reporter’s questions, LaTourette seemed to emphatically rule out components of a plan put forth by the group Liberty Park for All. According to LaTourette, the plan will not include a 150,000 square foot community center, a 5,000 seat amphitheater, or a 2,500 seat track and field stadium.
Liberty State Park for All has been funded by Reebok founder Paul Fireman who has battled to turn Caven Point, which lies within the park, into three holes for the adjacent Liberty National Golf Club, which he owns.
The group Friends of Liberty State Park and environmentalists have argued that the 21-acre piece of land is an important nesting area for wildlife and used extensively for children’s educational programming.
LaTourette also seemed to rule out Fireman’s plan for the area. “The law protects Caven point, period, full stop. That anyone with some vision would look at Liberty State Park as an open canvas where it might be nice to do things, that doesn’t matter.”
Asked about the using the park to generate revenue for the state, LaTourette responded, “Privatization of a public asset that is owned by no one because it belongs to everyone, is not a thing, period, full stop. It plays no role at all.”
To the question of whether there would be any large-scale development, LaTourette answered “absolutely not.”
Sam Pesin, President of FOLSP, is urging park supporters to come out to Thursday’s event. “It will continue to be crucial for the public to stay engaged and vigilant as these plans go forward.”
The DEP plan will be presented to the public at the CRRNJ Terminal in Liberty State Park next Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
Photo by Jayne Freeman