Ballfield wanted; Councilman pushes for park on top of parking facility

Local kids are so desperate for a place to play baseball that even the most unlikely venues can turn into mini-stadiums. Take a small 20-by-30 foot covered passageway in the Shipyard project. While developers intended for it simply to be used as a way to get from Hudson Street to Shipyard Lane, from the hours of 3 p.m. to about 9 p.m. most passersby choose alternative routes due to the nearly non-stop game of stick ball that is played there. And it is not just there. All over town, more and more kids are playing softball and soccer too, putting an increased strain on the city’s limited field space. Something needs to be done to provide kids like these with more places to play, says the City Council. And Fifth Ward Councilman Michael Cricco says that he has just the solution. The councilman wants Frank “Pupie” Raia, a local developer, to build a roof over a parking lot that he has proposed for 10th to 11th Street on Madison. And on the roof, Cricco wants Raia to build a 200-by-400 foot grass field that could be used for girls’ softball, Little League baseball, the Babe Ruth league and soccer. “Recreation is booming in Hoboken,” said the councilman last week. “In the last four years, we have seen the girls’ softball league grow from 80 kids to more than 400. We just need more space to play.” Cricco can depend on more than just good will to get the field built. Last year, Raia was tapped by the council to serve as the primary developer of a four-by-two block area that includes the proposed parking lot. As the developer chosen to execute the city’s northwest redevelopment plan, Raia was given the right to develop the land, which is filled with vacant lots and abandoned warehouses, even though he did not own several of the parcels slated for redevelopment. Landowners who had sat on their property there for years without developing it were given the option to negotiate a sale to Raia, or face condemnation proceedings from the city. In exchange, Raia promised to build a $120 million development that would feature more than 200 units of affordable housing, a supermarket and a building that could be rented by one of the city’s charter schools. In addition, Raia’s plans also call for almost 700 additional residential units that could be rented at market rates. But Raia’s bulldozers have idled for the last year while a pair of landowners who objected to the city’s plans sued. Finally, last month, it appeared that the project might get off the ground when the council approved a legal settlement that permitted the two landowners to develop their own projects alongside Raia’s. Raia signed off on the plan and said that he could still make good on his promises to the city if the city helped him identify some additional parcels in the surrounding area where he might build. But when the developer showed up at the council meeting on July 10 to ask for the council’s blessing in developing an additional three lots, Cricco said that Raia should commit to building the ball field before the council allows him to build on the properties. The meeting ended with Raia vowing to try his best. “We can dictate what we want there, and our needs have changed since we initially put this together,” said Cricco Wednesday. “We can make amendments to the plan to state that a field has to go there.” At the council meeting, Raia said that he did not have a problem with the idea. “When I first heard about it I thought it was crazy,” he said then. “We have a lease with Shop-Rite and they want to have parking there, but if it is alright with Shop-Rite, it is alright with me.” But the developer warned the council that he had broached the idea of building a garage at the site previously, and supermarket officials balked at the prospect, citing concerns over security in covered parking lots. Later in the meeting, Raia warmed to the idea and even suggested that the field might be named after his mother, Lorraine. Must make his ‘best effort’ After a closed-door discussion with the developer, the council voted unanimously to support releasing the parcels with the understanding that Raia would undertake his “best effort” to get the field constructed. Ideally, the council would like to see a regulation-size field built there. The only Little League field in town, which sits just behind Sinatra Park off Hudson Street, does not meet Little League regulations, so all-star games and playoffs can not be played there. As a result, local baseball and softball teams often have to travel far out of town for the games that matter most. As of press time, city officials, Raia and representatives from Shop Rite were trying to find a time to discuss the proposal after a preliminary meeting for Wednesday fell though. Even if Shop Rite officials nix the idea, Raia said that he would like to work to find another site in the development area where it might be possible to construct it. “I’m committed to working with the city to get a field,” he said. City officials want to move fast to get something locked in place. “We have an opportunity that we don’t get often,” said Cricco, who has coached in the girls’ softball league for the last seven years. “We can dictate what we want there now, but once it is built, it is built.”


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