A master plan presented by urban designer Alan Mountjoy shows how Liberty State Park might look with sports arenas, athletic fields, ice rinks, and more. (Photo by Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)
A master plan presented by urban designer Alan Mountjoy shows how Liberty State Park might look with sports arenas, athletic fields, ice rinks, and more. (Photo by Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

Sam Pesin is taking little solace in changes made to a controversial bill that threatens to open Liberty State Park to commercial development.

In an interview this morning Pesin, president of Friends of Liberty State Park, said “It’s shameful that Paul Fireman’s money and his surrogates’ lies have killed the Liberty State Park Protection Act. Now park supporters have a major battle against Paul Fireman’s plans for a 7,000-seat commercial concert venue and two additional stadiums.”

Paul Fireman, the billionaire founder of Reebok and owner of Liberty National Golf Club, has mounted a campaign to take over Caven Point, a nature preserve within the park, in order to create three additional holes for the golf course, which sits nearby.

In furtherance of his plan, Fireman organized and funded two local groups that have fought the Protection Act, which would protect Caven Point and limit the nature and scope of any commercial development within the park. Instead, with Fireman’s resources and direction, the groups have proposed large commercial venues and sought to vastly increase, beyond what has been recommended by the Department of Environmental Protection, the amount of park land devoted to “active” recreation. One of the groups put forth the plan for three stadiums earlier this month.

Yesterday, in a boost to park supporters, State Senator Brian Stack announced that he has introduced an additional piece of legislation called the “Caven Point Protection Act.” The purpose, he wrote, is “to make clear that Caven Point shall remain as it does today: a nature habitat and public space.”

“Brian Stack’s bill is tremendous news, and I’m hoping that he will work with Assemblyman Raj Mukherji to enact the Caven Point Protection Act,” said Pesin.

The Fireman-backed “Liberty State Park Conservation, Recreation, and Community Inclusion Act,” which will be voted on today, will incorporate several amendments that were hashed out over the last few days. Chief among them is a slashing from $250 million to $50 million in the amount appropriated by the state to spend on the park, an increase in the size of the task force authorized to make recommendations for the park, and elimination of language mandating that the park generate revenue. The bill permits large scale commercial development and contains no protection for Caven Point. Pesin calls Fireman’s plans a “clear and present danger” to the park.

Ultimately, Pesin hopes to see a park along the lines of the DEP’s “New Vision” plan, which is already funded from $70 million in Natural Resource Damage funds. The result of a multi-year process with hearings and 3,600 survey responses, the plan would remediate the interior and create habitats, trails, and 61 acres of active recreation along with small-scale commercial activities.

Department of Environmental Protection "New Visions" plan rendering
Department of Environmental Protection “New Visions” plan rendering
Department of Environmental Protection “New Visions” plan rendering

Of particular concern to Pesin is the make-up of the task force created by the bill to be voted on today. Pesin fears that six additional members, to be appointed by the governor, senate president, and speaker of the general assembly could end up being surrogates for Fireman.

Nonethless, noting that meetings will be open to the public with an opportunity for the public to participate and comment, Pesin believes that the park may yet be protected.  “I have great faith in the power of the people to stand up once again to oppose Paul Fireman’s plan.”

Featured photo at top is a rendering of Liberty State Park as envisioned by Paul Fireman backed group People’s Park Foundation.

Aaron Morrill

Aaron is a writer, musician and lawyer. Aaron attended Berklee College of Music and the State University of New York at Purchase. Aaron served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. He received a J.D....