The Christie administration yesterday shed some long-awaited light on possibly opening Liberty State Park to private development, trumpeting how it could transform it into a “world class destination.’’
An 18-page report posted on the state Department of Environmental Protection’s website outlined various development options, including a low-rise hotel, amphitheater, amusement park, restaurant and stores, indoor sports arena, and marina.
The report, kept under wraps by the administration for months despite several efforts to make it public through open-records requests, is sure to provoke an outcry from advocates who have long opposed efforts to commercialize the Jersey City park visited by 4 million people annually.
“It shows our worst fears,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It’s not a report on the park. It’s a blueprint for commercial development within the park. This report shows the DEP is trying to sell LSP to the highest bidder.’’
The DEP has not made any decisions on what to do with the park, according to Bob Considine, a spokesman for the agency. “We’re just focusing on a relatively small portion of the park — an area that represents just three percent of the total acreage — and looking to see what we can achieve and what’s feasible,” he said.
The backdrop for the report is the ongoing fiscal problems facing the cash-starved state park system: Staff and programs have been cut and big backlogs in capital maintenance projects have long been deferred. About 71 percent of the park system’s funding comes from the annual state budget, which often has had to wrestle with its own deficits.
Liberty State Park, where breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty make it by far the most popular in the park system, is no exception. Its annual budget is $3.5 million, but only $1.5 million in revenue is generated by concessions, leaving a $2 million deficit. It also has a backlog of $35 million in capital maintenance.
Since 2011, the Christie administration has added a number of amenities and events at state parks to generate revenue, such as hosting weddings at Waterloo Village, starting a river-tubing concession on the Delaware River, and expanding food and beverage options at Island Beach State Park.
In identifying potential areas of development, the DEP said it is trying to model Liberty State on many of the great state and national parks around the country, such as Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks and Ellis Island. “We think we can balance that and very much keep with the character and spirit of the park,’’ Considine said.
The DEP recommended hiring a master planner to analyze best possible uses for underutilized sections of the park’s 1,600 acres and provide estimates of what each option could potentially produce in revenue. The planner has not yet been hired, according to the DEP.
The report was done under a grant awarded to New Jersey Future, which retained Biederman Redevelopment Ventures to conduct the analysis. Much of the report and other details have yet to be made public.