New Jersey weighing development at Liberty State Park

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Posted: Nov 24, 2015 6:47 PM
New Jersey weighing development at Liberty State Park

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A low-rise hotel or an amusement park could be coming to Liberty State Park if some of the developments outlined Tuesday in a report from Gov. Chris Christie's administration come to fruition.

The state Department of Environmental Protection published the 18-page document Tuesday outlining the possible changes and recommending hiring a master planner.

The changes at the park, which is just a short ferry ride from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and come as the administration considers ways to generate more money at state parks.

"Liberty State Park has the potential to be much more. The park is underused, and could be drawing millions more visits per year," the report said.

The park sees 4 million visitors annually. It has a yearly budget of $3.5 million, but generates only $1.5 million.

The report comes after the department had earlier given a $120,000 grant to nonprofit New Jersey Future to test the viability of developments at the park.

The proposed changes would affect different sections of the park.

A historic train shed that covers the equivalent of 11 football fields and that requires restoration that could cost up to $100 million is singled out in the report as a possible area for development. The suggestions include a low-rise hotel, a re-creation of famous restaurants from across the state and a museum tied to immigration or transportation.

The old Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal is also mentioned as an area that could be home to a restaurant or bar, a conference center or a catering hall.

The report said a southern zone could be developed to include an amusement park, outdoor amphitheater or field house for indoor sports.

It also said a central area, which includes most of the park's open space, could host daily public programming like art classes, author readings, poetry slams and walking clubs.

The proposals were met with sharp criticism by some park boosters, who said there's a consensus that the park should be a free open space behind Lady Liberty.

"These commercialization privatization plans are exactly what the overwhelming majority have strongly opposed since the park opened 39 years ago," said Sam Pesin, president of the Friends of Liberty State Park.

New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel said the commercialization could jeopardize the park's function by making it too costly.

"We don't want to see Six Flags over the Statue of Liberty," he said.