When Jersey City Recreation Director and St. Anthony High School boys basketball coach Bob Hurley was growing up in the Greenville section, he would get a quarter to take the Bergen Avenue bus to the Jersey City Armory on Montgomery Street and watch the St. Peter’s College basketball games.
“I was proud of this building,” Hurley said. “This place has a tremendous amount of history.”
When Acting Gov. Richard Codey was a kid, he did the same thing.
“As a kid, I came to watch St. Peter’s play and all the great players who came to the Armory,” Codey said. “It was the mecca of big-time basketball in New Jersey back then.
If there was a big game, it was at the Armory.”
Four years ago, when Hurley became the recreation director in his hometown, he believed there could be a better use for the Armory, which had been closed for more than 25 years as a recreational facility and used as a home for the United States National Guard.
“I found out that there was a chance that we could get the Armory back as a recreation facility,” Hurley said. “It was unfortunate that the building closed in the first place.”The fight
After four years of persevering and with the help of about every state and local legislator, the Jersey City Armory was restored to glory, thanks to a $4 million restoration project for the structure.
The grand re-opening ceremonies took place last Tuesday morning, with Codey and a host of other elected state and local officials on hand for the celebration.
Joining Codey for the grand re-opening were State Assembly Speaker Albio Sires, state senators Bernard Kenny, Joseph Doria and Nicholas Sacco, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, Hudson County Executive Thomas DeGise, and Hoboken Mayor David Roberts.
Hurley and assistant recreation directors Ed Ford and Joe Macchi were the driving forces behind approaching the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, particularly Major General Glenn Rieth, to secure a deal for the Armory to have a practical purpose for the youth of Jersey City and Hudson County.
Then, it took the work of state legislators Kenny and Sires to secure the funding for the renovation, which includes a state-of-the-art running track for high school and other competitive meets and a new basketball floor. The renovations also included restoring the building’s existing seating, and eventually new lighting, scoreboards and other amenities will be added.
“Senator Kenny and Speaker Sires were our biggest advocates in this project,” Hurley said. “They’ve been here from the beginning and their help for us in Trenton was enormous.”
Both legislators had personal reasons for helping the project to become a reality. Kenny recalled running in CYO track meets at the Armory when he was in grammar school at St. Aloysius in Jersey City. Sires was a standout basketball player in his heyday, first at Memorial High School and then later at St. Peter’s College, playing in the Armory on several occasions.
Kenny told the audience of approximately 300, including a host of athletes from the neighboring high schools, that he remembered running in a relay at St. Aloysius when he dropped the baton and kicked it into the stands, causing his relay team to lose the race.
But now, he had a chance to make a winning move.
“The political community established the Armory as a priority together,” Kenny said. “We worked hard to make this become a reality. I’m glad that Ed Ford and Bob Hurley brought this to my attention, because I didn’t know what was happening here. As an elected official, you want to make sure that you create something that was lasting and memorable, long after your term is over. I can count this building as that.”
As part of the opening ceremonies, a relay was recreated, with Healy, Codey, Sires and then Kenny breaking the tape. This time, the senator from Hoboken didn’t drop the baton. Sires called the project “a total team effort.” ‘Labor of love’
“This was a personal labor of love for me,” Sires said. “I could not fathom the idea that this Armory was not being used and that it was basically closed. When we were approached by Bob Hurley and Ed Ford, it was an eye-opener to all of us. We realized all the things that could be done there. General Rieth was so cooperative. Bernie Kenny was a key in the Senate. The governor never questioned the effort. He said ‘yes’ from the start. This is what teamwork is all about.”
Sires and Codey, both of whom have basketball backgrounds, were then asked to christen the new basketball court by taking half-court shots. Neither came close to making it. Codey then had a little impromptu one-on-one with Rieth.
“Everyone fought and fought like hell to get this building restored,” Codey said. “I salute them all.”
Codey was presented with a plaque for his efforts and Hurley told him that the plaque would eventually hang on the wall of the Armory.
“Well, there are a lot of people who want to hang me before I leave,” said Codey, who will give way to Governor-Elect Jon Corzine later this month.
Hurley said that the Armory will also be used for general recreation programs from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily, servicing upwards of 1,000 children per day. Events planned
There are also some major events planned for the Armory in the coming months. Several different track meets will be held there, including the HCIAA and HCTCA championships, which used to be held at the 168th Street Armory in Manhattan. Snyder and Lincoln will play a basketball game there next week, followed by the Dan Finn Classic, a six-game basketball smorgasbord to be held on Jan. 22, honoring the memory of the late St. Peter’s Prep soccer and basketball player who was tragically killed in the summer of 2004.
Local schools Hudson Catholic, St. Peter’s Prep and St. Anthony will play boys basketball games that day, with Marist, Bayonne and North Bergen’s girls teams also playing in that charity event.
Also, the HCIAA basketball championships will return to the Armory, where they were held every year in the late 1960s through 1975, on Feb. 25. St. Peter’s College will also play one game at the Armory in February, in a nationally televised game on ESPN.
“We all got involved in this project because it was the right thing to do,” said Sires, who will relinquish his role as the State Assembly Speaker in a few weeks. “I’m so proud to be able to do this as the speaker. I want to see St. Peter’s play Seton Hall here once again.” Healy gave credit to Hurley.
“He makes a big difference,” Healy said. “When a guy like Bob Hurley calls you, then you return the call. He brings such a name. He brings credibility and knowledge. This Armory has a great tradition and I’m excited that we’re able to open it back up for the kids of Jersey City and Hudson County.”