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Hoboken Parks

We all know the scene. Pick any weekend afternoon, head down to Pier A to enjoy some summer sunshine, and what you'll find isn't free grass space to lay a blanket and have a picnic. You'll inevitably encounter a sea of people stretching from River Street all the way to the Hudson: sunbathers, fishermen, rollerbladers and runners, the occaisional baseball or frisbee thrown into the air, children playing among a confusing maze of bodies and lawn chairs. The same is true of nearly every other Hoboken park. The availability of open space is extremely tight, and forms an uncanny parallel to Hoboken's housing market.

Fortunately, this summer, Mayor David Roberts and the City of Hoboken have been announcing plans for new parks and open spaces nearly every week. This is all welcome news, considering Hoboken's relative lack of green areas, and Mayor Roberts' campaign promises of this past spring. He rode to victory on such promises, and it is comforting and exciting to hear that many will be realized in the next few months and years.

Nearly two years ago, we reported the Hoboken Master Plan's ambitious goal of tripling the amount of parks and open space within the Mile Square City. In 1993, there were 19.1 acres of park space in Hoboken. By 2003, this number had jumped to 30 acres. It is now the summer of 2005, and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight. In a city as small and popular as the Mile Square, this is truly amazing. As reported on the city's official website, the first planned addition to the parks system will be Pier C, a recreational island connected to the Waterfront Walkway at 4th Street that will include fishing, boating, beach volleyball, children's areas, a promenade, and a rookery, which, although great to look at, will just be "for the birds." Word passed down from City Hall is that Pier C is still on track to arrive in the Summer of 2005, although there is only a month left, so it remains to be seen whether or not this schedule will be kept.

But Pier C is just the beginning. A couple of weeks ago, the City announced, along with the Tarragon/URSA Development Group, that a new community center and swimming pool are in store for the city's Northwest Corridor, a formerly blighted area of industrial remains that will see rapid development over the next decade. Construction of the center and pool, on 11th Street between Madison and Monroe, will begin in 2006, and current plans call for the center to open to the public in 2007. According to Mayor Roberts, the building will be Hoboken's first new community building in more than 30 years, and the Mile Square's first public swimming pool. Many long-time residents have hailed these plans, remembering the days when, as children, they had longed for a place to cool off during the hot summer days. Their age-old dream is about to become reality. Destined to be 26,000 sq. ft. in size, Mayor Roberts has announced plans for community brainstorming meetings to figure out how this space can best be filled. He hopes to see some or all of the following included: exercise rooms, lockers, showers, a dance studio, and community activity rooms. As for the pool area, there will be a children's pool separate from the larger, main one, as well as an outdoor deck with a decorative brick wall protecting those on the inside from the traffic of 11th, Madison, and Monroe Streets.

In addition to the new community center and pool, Tarragon/URSA Development Group, which has shown great interest in the Northwest Redevelopment Zone and has close ties to the Roberts administration, has announced plans to add 5.5 acres of open public space in the area surrounding the residential buildings it plans to build in the city's Northwest. This will include a pedestrian/bike path, a green linear park with children's play areas (which is another way of saying a long, thin slice of green space that probably isn't large enough for a good game of soccer or frisbee, but will be nice to stroll through nonetheless), seated and landscaped areas, and a dog run. Where space is a problem, the State School Construction Program has stepped in, announcing plans to build a multi-purpose baseball/soccer field at 12th and Madison Streets. Although details are few, it is quite obvious that the Mile Square's Northwest is about to be a lot more attractive than it was a few years ago.

Moving from the Hoboken's Northwest to its northern waterfront, plans have been in the works for a few years to revitalize the land that used to house the old Maxwell House plant and the 12th Street Pier. Once upon a time, the Maxwell House plant was the largest coffee-making building in the world. In the next few years, the land will become a mixture of residential buildings and new set of parks and open spaces. In December of 2003, local developers Daniel Gans and George Vallone committed themselves to donating a new waterfront park to the City. Their plans included 6 acres of land and 10 acres of water: "the largest public / private open space initiative ever in Hoboken," according to Mayor Roberts. The park will go a long way towards fulfilling the state-mandated goal of creating a waterfront walkway that stretches all the way from the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee to the southern tip of Bayonne. After the park is complete, 2,500 feet of walkway will have been added, and Hoboken will be "within just a small fraction" of the toal completion of its portion of this ambitious walkway.

The Gans-Vallone plans include 5 major components. The first is Elysian Field, a recreation of an old-fashioned baseball field to mark the area where history seems to record the first official game of baseball played on July 19, 1846 (historians disagree about the exact location - other Hoboken monuments seem to place the event in near-by areas, such as the home plate and it's accompanying infield embedded in the sidewalk at the intersection of 11th and Washington Streets). The inclusion of the field has been a particularly contentious issue, but residents can rest assured that baseball is coming to the northern waterfront. The second component is the 12th Street Pier, which will extend 500 feet into the water at 12th Street, and will be used for fishing and as a port for historic ships, visiting science boats, and museum barges. A nice touch will be the re-use of the original large-vessel tie-down equipment dating back a hundred years or more. Next on the list will be a platform for public gatherings, civic, and community events just south of the 12th Street Pier. The fourth and largest component in terms of area will be the conversion of the natural peninsula at the eastern end of 11th Street into an open grass field, tree grove, and picnic area. Finally, the plans include the restoration of the natural sand beach at the 10th Street cove.

Most recently, the City has introduced an 11.9 million dollar bond ordinance, 7 million of which will be used to pay for 2.1 acres of open space at 1600 Park Avenue. 1600 Park Ave. is the block of land between the Willow Street and Park Street bridges on the Northern border of the City. It has long been the target of developers who have wished to turn the property into high-rise residences. However, for years these developers have met with fierce community resistance. It looks like this particular battle has been won by the open space advocates. Mayor Roberts has announced that the land will be used for a mix of recreational activities, including tennis courts, basketball courts, and handball courts. The City hopes to pay for the space using state Green Acres and Hudson County grants, as well as federal money, if available.

While plans are in store for new parks and open spaces in many parts of the city, other plans are in motion to improve Hoboken's existing parks and figure out ways to provide more recreation outlets for its residents. Recently, the City announced Hoboken's first free WiFi Broadband Hotspot in Stevens Park at Fourth and Hudson Streets. This was a joint venture between the City of Hoboken, Symposia Bookstore, and Stevens Institute. The City paid for the hardware, Symposia will pay for the monthly internet service, and Stevens students provided the labor to install the equipment. In the announcement, Mayor Roberts also spoke of investigating the possibility of creating hot spots in other city parks. This is exciting news for the internet generation, and particularly good news for, since we owe our existence to the availability of the internet. In terms of recreation, talks are underway to bring a boathouse to the new Hoboken Cove Park on the water near 1600 Park Street. Over this past summer, has provided free kayaking and small non-motorized boat access to the Hudson River at Frank Sinatra Park. Starting in the Summer of 2006, these activities will move north to Hoboken Cove Park. Finally, residents have been meeting with Mayor Robets in regards to Ward 4, Hoboken's southwest area and by far its most diverse, yet park-depleted, area. The City is working with residents to bring more park-related benefits to this area of the city, even if new open space may be hard to come by. Improvements may include more playground equipment for the small parks that exist on Monroe and Jackson Streets, as well as more trees and park benches throughout the Ward.

Improvements to Hoboken's parks have been a long time in coming, and it is great to know that these developments are just around the corner. One day in the not-so-distant future, Hobokenites and their elected leaders will be able to pride themselves on accomplishing the amazing feat of creating such a large amount of open space in a city of just one square mile.

More information about Hoboken parks and open spaces can be found at the following websites:

Fund For A Better Waterfront, Inc.

City of Hoboken, Department of Parks

Hoboken Cove Boathouse