Home > Uncategorized > Christie DEP & Assembly Speaker Confirm That Major Tourist Related Development Planned for Liberty State Park

Christie DEP & Assembly Speaker Confirm That Major Tourist Related Development Planned for Liberty State Park

Stealth Amendments Could Have Been End Run Around New Open Space Lease Revenue Dedication

It’s All About Finance

[****Updates Below – #2 provides Christie’s fingerprints on the deal]

The Associated Press carried an important story today on the Liberty State Park (LSP) stealth amendment, see:

The AP story provided a new angle on what the motives of the Legislative sponsor and the Christie DEP may be.

Prior news accounts have confirmed that fact that the amendment was requested by the Christie DEP, but thus far, DEP has refused to explain their motivations or need for the amendment.

While DEP still remains mum about what their motives and plans are, the DEP press hack may have let the cat out of the bag here:

DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said the park would remain under the department’s control. The agency wants to enhance the park’s amenities and make it a destination for tourists, he said.


So DEP has plans in the works for parks improvements to “make LSP a destination for tourists”. What those improvements are – or might be – are unknown at this time.

What is known is that DEP has no capital parks budget to pay for them, as a result of the Open Space Question diversion of $32 million of Parks capital funds to the new Open Space fund.

Also keep in mind – and this might be the real motive for the whole deal – that the Open Space Question also diverted DEP lease and concession revenues into the new Open Space fund: (SCR84 SCS (@p.12 – lines 3 – 6)

There shall be credited annually to a special account in the General Fund an amount equivalent to the revenue annually derived  from leases and conveyances of lands acquired or developed by the State for recreation and conservation purposes.

Second, the AP story quotes the spokesman for Assembly Speaker Prieto, the bill’s sponsor, also suggesting that major capital improvements are being planned for LSP:

Prieto spokesman Philip Swibinski said the DEP would retain control over the park but that the bill now gives the department “an additional tool” when considering development proposals. Unlike the DEP, the new commission would have the ability to issue bonds for development projects.

So, let’s put 2 plus 2 together:

(DEP “tourist destination” plans) +  (MRC bonding authority) = Major Capital Project

But the fly in the ointment could be that the Open Space Ballot Question may have diverted the revenues contemplated to finance this planned major development to the new Open Space Fund.

For example, suppose DEP had planned to construct an amphitheater and lease that to a concert event promoter.

Or a restaurant or other tourist recreational and entertainment destination. Again, the revenues would come from a lease.

That lease revenue may have been anticipated to finance the project and parks improvements.

But as a result of the open space ballot question, that contemplated lease revenue is now legally dedicated to a new Open Space fund.

Keep in mind that the stealth amendments would make any development project in LSP a “project of the new MRC” (see this new power in section 19 on page 26):

 Any approved plans shall constitute a project of the commission, and shall be adopted as part of the master plan;

As a “project of the MRC”, then the DEP open space lease revenue dedication would not apply and revenues would flow to the MRC or some form of debt finance instrument – e.g. a “public private partnership” in the jargon.

So, if DEP planned to develop “tourist” attractions in LSP and finance those improvements via lease revenues, then the stealth amendments may have been driven by the need to do an end run around the new Open Space lease revenue dedication.

That sounds like a very plausible explanation to me.

[End Note: I must mention the fact that the AP story has one major factual mistake.

The article closes by claiming that the story was first reported by the Bergen Record.

But that is false – we first reported the story on December 29, the same day I pitched the story and Sam Pesin’s  release to the Record’s State House bureau – and I sent numerous tweets complaining about the lack of media coverage after that – all days before before the Record Scott Fallon story ran, see:

[Update #1 – Thankfully, we have some wonderfully thoughtful and creative readers and writers. Here’s some thoughts about what kind of “tourist destinations” the Christie DEP Team may have in mind, from a reader:

With good design, if perhaps the NJ Conservation Foundation will supply the landscape architects, with support from ANJEC, and NJAS supply the green stamp of approval, we can combine:  a golf course and miniature golf, a waterpark destination, with skiing in the winter, and a wax museum dedicated to the American Dream, immigrant success stories of those who passed through Ellis Island, or other entry points…all pointing upward, upbeat and optimistic.  To broaden the appeal and help Christie’s ambitions out, could we also fit in a NASCAR class race track, dedicated to the “competitive spirit?” A little shrine to the Dukes of Hazzard could surely be placed nearby, like those little grottos to Catholic saints I remember from my childhood.  After all, he’ll have some tough Southern primaries…  Let the revenue flow and no questions be asked about how we got here.  .  As Henry Roth epigraphed in the Prologue to his great novel of immigrant life on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century,  Call It Sleep:  “I pray thee ask no questions/This is that Golden Land.”  That would make a fitting saying to put over the new archway-entrance, don’t you think?  Let visitors discover the ironic tone of what Roth meant  for themselves.

Yeah, and what about Jet Ski port and brew pub too?

[Update #2: 1/19/15 – If there is any doubt whatsoever that this is a result of Gov. Christie’s policy to commercialize state parks and develop them to provide revenues, see the following press videos and statements by Gov. Christie – he announced the policy at Liberty State Park:

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