The Asbury Park City Council approved an agreement last week that establishes timetables and financial commitments by the oceanfront redevelopers for repairs and renovations to the boardwalk's historic buildings and pavilions.
The agreement, whose complete terms have yet to be made public, is certain to provide ammunition for those displeased with the manner in which the agreement was reached and the snail's pace with which renovations have proceeded. But if there are no surprises to be found in the fine print, the agreement should get the oceanfront portion of the project moving again.
With little fanfare and minimal public notice, the agreement was approved by a resolution of the council at Wednesday's regular meeting. Had the agreement been done by ordinance, as was the case with the original redevelopers' agreement in 2002, a public hearing would have been required. That would have given residents and other interested parties an opportunity to study and comment on the terms of the agreement — a process that could have yielded a better result for the city.
The key provisions of the agreement were outlined in a PowerPoint presentation at Wednesday's meeting. Asbury Partners, the redeveloper, agreed to begin work immediately on stabilizing and renovating portions of Convention Hall and Paramount Theater, the Casino, the Fifth Avenue pavilion and the power plant.
New roofs on the Casino arcade and carousel and the power plant must be completed by June 2007. Window replacements and repairs to the Convention Hall arcade entrances and storefront interiors and exteriors must be completed by May 2007. Renovation designs for the interior and exterior of Convention Hall, Casino arcade and carousel, and the power plant must be completed by September 2007. Asbury Partners also will renovate the first floor of the Fifth Avenue pavilion, which houses Howard Johnson's restaurant, by June 2007, and has agreed to restore the Arthur Pryor Band Shell.
The agreement commits Asbury Partners to investing $6 million in the various projects over the next two years. And it establishes a binding process for holding Asbury Partners accountable should it fail to meet the agreed-upon deadlines.
It could be argued that Asbury Partners should have been required to make a more substantial financial commitment over the next two years. But if it fully complies with the terms of the agreement, it will put the oceanfront redevelopment back on course and help instill renewed confidence in Asbury Park on the part of potential investors.
In the meantime, Asbury Partners should dust off the architectural renderings of the retail-entertainment zone done by SOSH Architects in 2003, and use them as the basis for a coherent master plan for the boardwalk's anchors, five pavilions and adjacent properties. At the same time, it should engage the public, commercial developers and planners in a discussion of what constitutes the most sensible mix of retail and entertainment businesses for the oceanfront area.
The Casino, which is the focal point for the southern portion of the project, holds the key to the success of the commercial portion of the project. Asbury Partners must find an experienced, credible developer who can help transform that portion of the redevelopment area into something magical — something that will serve as a magnet for other investors and set the tone for the entire oceanfront — one in harmony with SOSH's vision.
The oceanfront project must be viewed as a whole. It should not be allowed to proceed piecemeal. Architecturally, it should all work together. We have seen no recent evidence that Asbury Partners is thinking along those lines.
We will reserve final judgment on whether the agreement was flawed until we are privy to its fine print and have followed the progress of the renovations. But the PowerPoint presentation strongly suggests the agreement will finally get the oceanfront project out of neutral and into gear.