LSP activists see private development in new Liberty State Park bill

Park supporters have fought for years to keep the park public

The new bill would put in millions for a park Design Task Force, but critics warn about the potential privatization it could open up. Photo by Mark Koosau.

A bill introduced in the New Jersey Legislature would put forth millions to permanently create a task force to oversee park designs in Liberty State Park, but park activists have warned that it could leave the public park open to privatization.

The bill, titled the Liberty State Park Conservation, Recreation, and Community Inclusion Act, was introduced by state Senator Brian Stack. On Thursday June 16 the state Senate’s Energy and Environment Committee unanimously agreed to send the legislation to the full Senate for a vote.

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The committee accepted amendments that removed a requirement for the park’s new master plan to include unspecified initiatives to generate new revenue.

It would appropriate $250 million to permanently establish a 17-member Design Task Force that was created last year by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The task force was intended to develop short-term actions “to improve public use and enjoyment of conservation and recreation areas,” as well as a long-term master plan that “improves park facilities, programs and amenities, creates new transportation and mobility services to the park to ensure equal access for all community residents to the park and within the park.”

“It’s finally time for Hudson County to get the park it deserves and establish Liberty State Park as the crown jewel of New Jersey’s park system,” said Stack in a statement. “We need to clean up the contamination, add hundreds of acres of passive space and natural trails, and restore habitat and the ecology of the estuary to protect native species, fish, and migratory birds.”

“We also desperately need new active recreation facilities so the kids and adults of New Jersey’s most densely populated county don’t have to compete over a handful of ball fields in our cities,” he continued.

The bill is also sponsored by fellow Hudson County state Senators Nicholas Sacco and Sandra Cunningham. The Jersey Journal also reported that Assembly members Angela McKnight, Annette Chaparro and Will Sampson will sponsor the Assembly version of the bill.

Sam Pesin, who’s fought to protect Liberty State Park from privatization, called the bill a “[Paul] Fireman orchestrated law”. Photo by Mark Koosau.
Sam Pesin, the president of the Friends of Liberty State Park, said that the bill doesn’t provide protection from privatization and could leave it “on the chopping block for large-scale privatization and commercialization plans.”

“In the bill, it says that there should be revenue generated by the park,” said Pesin. “That’s always been a code word for privatization. Liberty Park should not have to generate any revenue. It is a public park that will be supported by taxpayer money.”

He called for the current bill to be merged with the Liberty State Park Protection Act, which would protect the park from privatization, and also said in a press release that his organization would only support Stack’s bill if it funds “free public improvements and isn’t tied to any large-scale privatization/commercialization plans.”

Pesin also called Stack’s bill “a [Paul] Fireman orchestrated law”, referencing the billionaire who owns the nearby Liberty National Golf Course and has sought to privatize Caven Point for said golf course, but has been met with opposition by Pesin and other activists.

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji said in a statement that while he respects his colleague’s “good intentions”, he said he will not support “any other bill” unless it’s advanced or merged with the Protection Act.

“…I suffer from paranoia informed by decades of struggles by the community against attempts to privatize and commercialize this space treasure otherwise wrest control of park planning from the public,” he said.

The Jersey Journal and NorthJersey.com reported that mail fliers were sent to local residents that proposed the “Liberty State Park Improvement Plan” and called for the support of Stack’s bill.

The fliers, which were uploaded onto FoLSP’s website, said that the plan will create a multi-use market for craft fairs and markets, a 7,000 seat concert and event venue and a 5,000 seat stadium in the park.

They lead to a website called the People’s Park Foundation, which says that they “envision a Liberty State Park filled with touchdowns, not toxicity. A place crackling with life that not only reinvigorates its residents but lets Jersey City shine as a welcoming home to recreation and culture.”

A group called the People’s Park Foundation proposed plans to add a concert stage and stadium to Liberty State Park. Image via People’s Park Foundation’s website.

The website lists basketball coach Bob Hurley as their President and CEO. It also lists supporters such as former Jersey City Superintendent Franklin Walker, former Councilman Jermaine Robinson, and Team Walker, which includes Hudson County Commissioner Jerry Walker.

The flier reads that they were paid for by Liberty State Park for All, a group (who is also listed on the PPF website) that has been accused of being a front for Fireman’s efforts. Their executive director, Arnold Stovell, had admitted to the Jersey Journal that they were being funded by Fireman’s charity, the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation.

Pesin also accused the mailers of being orchestrated by Fireman, and said that any kinds of facilities proposed in it would cause traffic jams and block access of the park.

“The reason we’ve fought many major plans over the years is to ensure a free and accessible park,” he said. “No matter what they do with shuttle buses and parking spaces, there’s no way that the there will be a destructive, negative impact on regular people coming in and using the park.”

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who’s been supportive of keeping the park public, told the Jersey Journal last week that while the bill doesn’t ban privatization, he said that it’ll put forth money “to get the construction of ball fields started.”

“This (bill) doesn’t move us closer to privatization,” Fulop said. “It doesn’t move us close to eliminating privatization (either). But it keeps us at the status quo where we are today. We shouldn’t totally discard the bill because … it does move us forward on money.”

For updates on this and other stories, check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.