Governor Christie: Don’t Privatize Liberty State Park

Call Gov. Christie at 609-292-6000. Tell him to preserve Liberty State Park (LSP) for the public by conditionally vetoing A3969/S2647, the Meadowlands Consolidation Act, until the language pertaining to LSP is removed. The Governor can also be contacted via email or in writing at Office of the Governor, PO Box 001, Trenton, NJ 08625 Please contact your state legislators as well, asking them to contact Gov. Christie about this urgent matter.

By Ron Hine | FBW | January 13, 2015

Beginning in 1957 and in the decades that followed, Morris Pesin, Ted Conrad, J. Owen Grundy and Audrey Zapp became iconic figures in Jersey City’s history. The creation of Liberty State Park (LSP) stands as a monument to their passionate advocacy. By 1965, the City of Jersey City deeded the first parcel for this park — 156 acres — to the State of New Jersey. The park opened on June 14, 1976, about 600 acres of land with stunning panoramic views of the Hudson River, the New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and lower Manhattan, all remarkably close viewed from the two-mile long walkway — dubbed Liberty Walk — at the water’s edge.

No where is the need for public open space greater than in our urban areas. People from all walks of life living in this densely populated region flock to this park for respite and recreation. It has become New Jersey’s premier urban state park. Yet, what should be considered sacred public ground has come under attack repeatedly by state officials and commercial interests seeking to privatize large portions of this valuable civic asset.

The latest, a bill passed by the New Jersey State Legislature just before Christmas, will subject LSP to the authority of a newly formed Meadowlands Regional Commission. The legislation, Assembly Bill 3969 and Senate Bill 2647, if signed by Governor Chris Christie, would fold the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission into the New Jersey Sport and Exposition Authority. This autonomous commission would have bonding power and planning authority over LSP as well, diminishing the current jurisdiction of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and its Division of Parks and Forestry. It would also seriously diminish the ability of the public to influence decision-making concerning the park.

The Friends of Liberty State Park, headed by Sam Pesin, the son of Morris Pesin, has engaged in an intensive battle urging people to call the Governor’s office seeking a conditional veto striking the language in the bill regarding LSP. In the past several weeks, articles and editorials have appeared in the Record, the Star Ledger, the Jersey Journal and the New York Times.

During the first 20 years, Morris Pesin, J. Owen Grundy and Audrey Zapp led vigorous, successful campaigns to fend off other attempts to commercialize and privatize much of the park. In 1977, Warner LeRoy, the creator of Great Adventure in Ocean County, New Jersey, proposed a theme park for LSP that he claimed would rival Disney World in Florida. In addition to the amusement park, the project included residential housing, a shopping center and an industrial park. With Governor Brendan Byrne’s support, a similar Warner LeRoy proposal emerged in 1981 for a $650-million proposal to build a museum, amphitheater, marina, shops and 8,200 luxury apartments. In the 1980s, state officials made plans to authorize a developer to establish a Museum of Fun and Fantasy at the historic Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal at LSP. In the 1990s, the Liberty State Park Development Corporation recommended a $13 million, 18-hole golf course on 150 acres in the park.

During these campaigns to save LSP, hundreds of park supporters showed up at public hearings to urge public officials to keep the park public and green. Thousands of signatures were collected on petitions. The public pressure forced state officials to back down on all of these schemes. In 1995, Governor Christie Whitman announced that LSP would be developed largely as a passive park and in its natural state.

The walkway at Liberty State Park forms an long arc facing the Statue of Liberty affording stunning views of the New York Harbor and lower Manhattan skyline.

The walkway at Liberty State Park forms an long arc facing the Statue of Liberty affording stunning views of the New York Harbor and lower Manhattan skyline.

Morris Pesin first conceived of the park in 1957 when he took his family to visit the Statue of Liberty. The trip from Jersey City through the Holland Tunnel and waiting in line for the Battery Park Ferry took two and a half hours. At the Statue of Liberty, Pesin observed how much closer Lady Liberty was to Jersey City than New York City and what a deplorable backdrop was provided by Jersey City’s derelict, junk strewn waterfront. Thus, began the campaign to establish the park.

In 1979, Ada Louise Huxtable, the architectural critic for the New York Times wrote in her column, “Liberty Park involves the environmental design of one of the prime geographic sites of the region — or for that matter, anywhere — and the local, regional and national impact of a carefully and quite beautifully planned open space development.”

LSP comprises more acres than Central Park in New York City. It contains Communipaw Cove, one of the few remaining tidal salt marshes along the Hudson River estuary. Its Interpretive Center was designed by the noted architect Michael Graves. The Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal, a Flemish Renaissance structure of brick and iron, has been restored to its original beauty. If this most recent attempt to plunder this green oasis is defeated, LSP will remain one of New Jersey’s most remarkable parks and a testament to the vision of several dedicated public advocates.

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