Paul Fireman, who heads Fireman Capital Partners in Boston, has raised some eyebrows with a proposed $4.6 billion project that would bring a gambling casino to Jersey City. The project would include a 107,000-seat motor sports stadium, the world’s largest Ferris wheel, and a 95-story hotel, convention center and casino and be located near Liberty State Park. The proposal would locate a casino within easy reach of New York City and many of the northern New Jersey communities from which many gamblers would come.
State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D–Elizabeth) said he and State Assemblyman Paul Sarlo (D–36th) introduced legislation on July 10 to put a referendum question on the ballot to allow expansion of casino gambling for two areas outside Atlantic City, which is currently prohibited.
Potentially the largest construction project in the United States, the development is estimated to create 25,000 jobs.
Fireman, who had an estimated personal wealth of $1.1 billion in 2006, has apparently met with a number of local legislators including Lesniak, who says the project will make Jersey City a significant tourist destination.
“This would become a worldwide attraction,” Lesniak said. “High-rollers from around the globe will come to Jersey City. Millions of people who go to Manhattan and ignore New Jersey will be drawn to Jersey City and the motor car race track. This will be New Jersey on the global map.”
“People in Jersey City should welcome this with open arms,” Lesniak said.
“When I first saw this proposal, my first reaction was ‘Wow!’” Lesniak said. “People in Jersey City should welcome this with open arms. This will bring a huge amount of [tax] ratables.”
‘This is very real’
Mayor Steven Fulop said 90 percent of the necessary property has been purchased or optioned.
“The footprint is not near residential neighborhoods,” Fulop said. “What it would do is provide a convention center, a hotel, residences, and a casino and would bring 25,000 jobs to Jersey City. This would be one of the largest projects in the county done with private dollars.”
He said the project makes sense from a tourist and a taxpayer point of view and would bring an estimated $10 million to $15 million in additional taxes to the city. “It will further made Jersey City a destination,” he said.
Asked whether tax abatements for the project were likely, similar to those recently granted to major residential projects in Jersey City, Fulop replied, “We’re not there yet.”
The proposal has several components, including residential units and the hotel, and would include the world’s largest Ferris wheel, Eye in the Sky, similar to one in London, which would provide spectacular views of Manhattan and Liberty State Park.
“The Ferris wheel was originally slated for State Island, but they couldn’t get the funding in place,” Fulop said. “We have the funding in place.”
He said, however, he has concerns over the Formula One race track.
“It is important not to have a negative impact on Liberty State Park, which is a jewel,” he said. “This is very real. It has been in conversation for more than nine months, and they have already purchased the property. When someone enters New York Harbor or flies over it, they will see two iconic towers: one will be the World Trade Center tower, the other will be the 95-story tower in Jersey City.”
Getting the casino
The casino element, which is key to the project, would require the consent of New Jersey voters and a change to the state constitution because casino gambling is limited only to Atlantic City.
Although Fireman is front man for the project, it appears to have several different conglomerates supporting it, possibly including a company that had proposed the world’s largest Ferris wheel several years ago in Liberty State Park. At the time the idea was rejected by the Friends of Liberty State Park.
Fireman is currently the principal owner of Liberty Golf Course, which borders Liberty State Park.
In a statement, the Friends of Liberty State Park said they are opposed to the 107,000 seat stadium because the traffic it would generate could adversely affect access to the state park and the tourist ferries that access the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Jersey City Freeholder Bill O’Dea, who has already examined the possibility of casino gambling in Hudson County, said the project could be a big boon for Hudson County residents.
“Any project that proposes to bring in 25,000 jobs we should look at seriously,” he said. But he noted that it “comes at a time when Atlantic City casinos are suffering like they’ve never suffered before.” He also said that other parts of Jersey City may be more accessible for a casino.
State Sen. Steve Sweeney (D–West Deptford Twp) has been quoted as saying that he might not oppose this proposal if a portion of the revenue was sent to help Atlantic City.
Casinos in upstate New York, Long Island, and Pennsylvania are already drawing customers away from Atlantic City, and more casinos are being proposed.
Compared to getting a change to the state constitution, amending local redevelopment plans to cover casino gambling would be the easy part, local officials said.
Friends of Liberty Start Park oppose the race track
The Friends of Liberty State Park said the city needs to get an environmental impact study for the proposed project and hold public hearings.
“We feel the city and others in the region may be opposed or in favor of various elements,” said Sam Pesin, president of The Friends of Liberty State Park. “The stadium is an obscene, insane and destructive proposal, and we’re here to protect the park against the negative impacts we see as a result of the traffic. We are glad that the mayor has expressed some reservations about the stadium and hopes the mayor will continue to focus on this.”
Pesin said the Friends of Liberty Park are not opposed to innovative ideas and in fact gave approval to an idea proposed by Gov. Christopher Christie that would have allowed use of the historic train station after hours for a variety of activities such as wedding receptions and fundraisers, run by private management. While the idea did not materialize, Pesin said the board did not have objections to it because the park and first floor of the building remained open to the public during the day.
“People have said they want a free park with green space behind the Statue of Liberty,” Pesin said.
Pesin said there have been other events like the recent Fourth of July celebrations that brought thousands of people into the park.
“Many people walked in, some came on bicycles, but it was wonderful in showing the tremendous diversity of the area,” Pesin said. “This is what the park is for.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.