Pallone, Lautenberg and Menendez should put up. The Asbury Park Press should shut up
By Art Gallagher
In their editorial today, Sad chapter ends at fort, the Asbury Park Press editorial board demonstrates that their grasp of reality is insufficient for a newspaper of record for the Monmouth-Ocean region.
The press rehashes the sorry history of Sandy Hook Partners’ failed plans to redevelop Fort Hancock. They fault the National Park Service for granting the developer nine years of extensions to obtain financing for the redevelopment plans. They fail to mention that SHP’s ability to finance the project was thwarted by litigation and grassroots opposition to the commercialization of the park. The litigation and opposition was supported by the APP and by Congressman Frank Pallone.
Now the APP says,
Fort Hancock must be preserved for future generations. In order for that to happen, a developer or developers with both the money and sound plans need to be found. The park service would do well to heed the suggestion by Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt, both D-N.J., that the historic buildings be leased to entities one by one, rather than as a package.
Clearly, neither the Neptune Nudniks nor the Congressmen have even an elementary understanding of how development works.
Where does Pallone, Holt and the APP think the Park Service will find a developer, or developers, with an extra $60-$100 million sitting in the bank who would be willing to commit it to Fort Hancock after what Sandy Hook Partners went through? James Wassel, the head of SHP is no slouch. His experience and personal committment to our community made him the right developer, if a public-private partnership was the best method to redevelop the fort.
Private partners were, and apparently still are, sought because federal dollars are not available to rehabilitate the park. Said another way, Frank Pallone, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez (and Jon Corzine, as U.S. Senator before Menedez) either did not have the clout or commiment to secure federal funding to rehabilitate Fort Hancock.
The Pallone/Holt/APP idea of leasing the 36 buildings of the fort one by one, to non-profits, rather than as a package, is crazy. Even if 36 organizations “with both money and sound plans” on hand could be found, managing 36 separate projects with 36 separate project managers is not feasible.
Wassel’s plan to “commercialise” Sandy Hook would not have turned the park into Times Square or the Monmouth Mall. He would have developed the fort into an educational and cultural campus.
As a neighbor of and frequent visitor to Sandy Hook, I never understood how Wassel’s plans would have been commercially viable or returned the investment required for the rehabilitation, given the location and climate of the site. Yet, I supported the plan because the proposed usage would have been an enhancement of the park. If private investors or lenders were willing to risk their capital on a project that enhanced the park while giving the National Park Service control of what could be done with the site in the event of failure, there was no downside for the public. Yes, I read the master lease. The public was protected from turning Fort Hancock into an amusement park or shopping mall.
Now that Wassel’s is out of the picture, it is incumbent upon our federal representitives to secure funding to preserve the fort. Failing that, the Park Service should fence it off and install Keep Out-Hazardous signs like there has been for most of the fort’s ruins for decades.
Alternatively, the Park Service should either level the buildings and convert the land to a recreational use like a marina and camp ground.