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Vision lacking for boardwalk  -- AP Editorial
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 01/2/06
It's been three years since Asbury Park signed a redevelopers' agreement with Asbury Partners to breathe new life into the city's beachfront. Progress has been made. The boardwalk has been rebuilt, new benches and lighting have been added, and the walkway through the Casino has been opened.
But more needs to be done. The city is growing increasingly and understandably concerned about Asbury Partners' failure to proceed more quickly on the rehabilitation of the Convention Hall/Paramount Theatre complex and the Casino, and the reconstruction of the boardwalk pavilions. Even more troubling is the redevelopers' failure to come up with a well-defined game plan for enticing suitors to the retail-entertainment portion of the redevelopment zone.

The city's patience is wearing thin. Asbury Partners has come up with a variety of excuses for why further progress hasn't been made, and why it has yet to attract any substantial interest in the boardwalk or to develop a coherent strategy for attracting businesses to the boardwalk.

In response to what the City Council perceives as foot-dragging, it has given Asbury Partners a Jan. 18 deadline for presenting a concept plan, a budget and a time line for the redevelopment of boardwalk buildings. The request is more than reasonable. It's essential that Asbury Partners comply. Failure to do so could raise a warning flag to potential investors, residential and commercial, in the redevelopment zone. Asbury Partners can't allow that to happen.

Nearly three years ago, SOSH Architects of Atlantic City, which specializes in entertainment-oriented design, developed a retail and entertainment concept for the redevelopment area that generated enormous enthusiasm. The concepts looked great on paper. SOSH's vision of a boardwalk that capitalized on Asbury Park's beachfront location, its entertainment heritage, its musical bloodlines and its artistic character made perfect sense. It still does. But the failure of Asbury Partners to advance the concept and recent indications it is turning to traditional full-time retailers to help turn the boardwalk into a year-round venue are disturbing.

The revitalization of the boardwalk will not succeed by trying to fill the pavilions with retailers commonly found in malls and strip malls. Even after the oceanfront condominiums are built out, the people living in them many, no doubt, part time will not generate the "critical mass" Asbury Partners suggests is needed before retailers are willing to commit to the boardwalk.

The formula for success is a boardwalk that is sustained by two things: the beach and year-round entertainment. Anchored by the Convention Hall/Paramount Theatre to the north and the Casino to the south, the boardwalk should be top-heavy with restaurants, clubs offering various types of music, performance spaces for theater and dance, indoor active entertainment for young people and high-tech gaming pavilions. An Imax theater and a New Jersey Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and Museum also would be wonderful draws.

In the off months, the only thing that will draw substantial numbers of people to the boardwalk in Asbury Park is entertainment. The traditional retail should be a complement to the entertainment, not the other way around.

Asbury Partners needs to think out of the box. If it is incapable of doing so, it should hire entertainment-oriented consultants who can. The boardwalk at this point remains largely a blank canvas. It's long past time for someone to pick up the brush. At the same time, Asbury Partners needs to develop realistic leasing and construction terms that will encourage investors and businesses to dip their toes into the water, rather than discouraging them from even walking on the beach.

This is a critical juncture for the redevelopment zone and the future of the city. Asbury Partners must demonstrate more creativity, more flexibility and a marketable long-term vision for the oceanfront. And it must send a clear signal to the city and potential investors that it's prepared to do so soon.

Asbury residents deserve answers on height of C-8 structure
By Dan Sciannameo, Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 12/21/05
The Press has managed once again to gloss over the serious issues at stake in the redevelopment of Asbury Park's waterfront. ("Councilman seeks prosecutor's help," Dec. 10.) Councilman Jim Keady should be encouraged in his quest for transparent government and answers to serious issues raised, a task he alone on the City Council has taken up.

The story fails to inform the readers that the city disavowed a version of its redevelopment plan only after it was determined that no part of the C-8 structure could be reused in the new Esperanza building and would have to be destroyed. It was pointed out to the city that the plan only permitted the developer to finish the project and that, if demolished, the site could not be rebuilt to its prior height.

Citizens suggested to the city that the plan would require an amendment to permit rebuilding and that the city should receive something of value for amending the plan since there would be a substantial difference in the value to the developer if the site couldn't be rebuilt to a higher height.

The plan that was disavowed was on the city's Web site for a couple of years, sold to the public out of the city clerk's office, and considered to be the official plan by not only the public, in general, but the city clerk and the city's redevelopment director. I would suspect that even the elected officials considered it to be the official plan, but they are silent when faced with this question.

This plan was also submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection for the city's Coastal Area Facility Review Act permit and to the Office of Smart Growth for its "urban center" designation.

Concerned citizens have been unable to receive reasonable answers from the city on this issue. These questions are being asked since no one in the city was under the impression that the C-8 site could be rebuilt to its prior height if demolished. The Planning Board recommended on April 26, 2002, that the structure be demolished and the developer not be allowed to finish the project.

This contradicts remarks made at a recent City Council meeting by Councilman John Loffredo, who served on the Planning Board at that time. There is also an audiotape of Loffredo giving an interview after the board released its recommendations in 2002 in which he states that C-8 would be demolished were it in his power. He also states that it would be foolhardy, both from an economic and aesthetic standpoint, to restore the structure.

The planner, John Clarke, in his recent appearance at a City Council meeting, took the blame for "changing" the plan and submitting the wrong one to the DEP. But he couldn't remember why he added the language that C-8 could not be rebuilt to its prior height if demolished. There is also an audiotape of an interview with Clarke in April 2002 in which he indicates that he could find no support for 14- and 16 stories and clearly stated that the C-8 would exceed eight stories (the maximum height under the plan) only if it were restored. These tapes are available on www.asburyradio.com.
  {Listen to Planner John Clarke April 2002  - Councilmember John Loffredo May 2002}
It is in the face of these circumstances, and the continual stonewalling by the city and its redevelopment attorney, James Aaron, that Keady is forced to seek outside help. We could use more politicians like him.
Daniel F. Sciannameo

PRESIDENT

ALBERT VALUATION GROUP NEW YORK INC.

NEW YORK


DEP commissioner failed Asbury Park
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 12/20/05
Three cheers for Carl J. Mayer of Princeton, whose integrity meter is apparently working just fine. ("State needs fresh leadership for environmental protection," commentary, Dec. 15.) He was able to see through the forest of accolades surrounding state Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell to the pandering that's been going on for at least the past four years.

Mayer rightly cites Campbell's track record with backing the "fast-track" bill, which takes even more environmental control away from taxpayers and the obvious political influences affecting his other decisions, including Petty's Island.

But Mayer should see the waterfront plan for Asbury Park that Campbell's DEP approved. He might be concerned to see that Green Acres property along the oceanfront has been approved for rental to the redevelopment rights holders, Asbury Partners, because the city couldn't sell it outright as it did the rest of the oceanfront strip that was deeded in the last century to remain in the public domain by the city's founder, James Bradley.

Or Mayer may be interested to know that the DEP also approved the construction of townhouses east of the Asbury Tower, basically on the beach, along with a 111-car park -- a paved parking lot -- where a dune exists. Ocean Avenue and Deal Lake Drive will be vacated to allow for maximum development at this juncture of Deal Lake Drive and Ocean, an area that flood maps show would be inundated in a Category 1 storm.

Campbell must go, but getting rid of him won't solve the problem. We need a leader in that office who can follow the law without fear of political intervention. Are you listening, Gov.-elect Jon S. Corzine?

Maureen Nevin

ASBURY PARK