“Build it and they will come” – that is 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason’s plan for the northern end of town. But this is not just any field of dreams; the former mayoral candidate wants to attract a minor league affiliate of the Yankees, Mets, or Boston Red Sox to the northwest corner of Hoboken and use their stadium as the anchor for an uptown renewal project.
Mason pitched a concept plan at the Reporter offices last week, with a detailed analysis of how best to use the industrial area north of the 14th Street Viaduct. Right now, the Rockefeller Group of New York has been buying properties in that part of town, proposing office space and 300 condos, but Mason feels there’s a better way.
Her plan – drawn up at her expense with the services of an architectural firm – includes a museum, a convention center, an ice skating rink, and other desired public amenities without any residential development.
The area in question is part of a zone that is presently being evaluated by the city’s Planning Board to see if it is blighted enough to be designated as a “Redevelopment Zone.” If it gets the designation, the city can draw up a plan, rezone the area, and then choose a developer or developers to carry out the development.
The council also can use eminent domain to force property owners to sell, and allow for tax abatements to attract developers.
Building the North End
The North End, as Mason is calling it, covers the uptown area north of the 14th Street Viaduct, from Park Avenue west to the Palisade cliffs.
The area is 25 blocks in total, Mason said, and right now has 45 property owners.
The Rockefeller Group has bought several properties, Mason said. Last year, they submitted to the state a grant application that mentioned 1,800,000 square feet of office space, 84,000 square feet of retail, and 300 residential condos.
Mason said the council shouldn’t allow a developer, even a well-known commercial builder such as Rockefeller, to dictate what the city wants.
Mason said that Rockefeller would have to “fight the city” to get what they want, and she thinks that they or any developer would be willing to listen to what the city wants rather than fight a losing battle.
Mayor Peter Cammarano saw Mason’s plan two weeks ago, and he said he, for one, is glad there are other suggestions being made.
“I’m open to any and all ideas, especially up there,” he said. “That’s the last frontier of development.”
Mason said as the home of the first organized baseball game, Hoboken deserves a baseball squad. Minor league ball clubs are training grounds of the major league. Some are independent clubs while others are affiliated with major league teams.
The minor league affiliates range from Single A, the lowest ranking, to Triple A, the players closest to the majors. Major league players are often “sent down” to the Triple A teams when they are almost recovered from injuries. In some areas of the country, Triple A minor league ball is almost as popular as major league ball.
Mason thinks a Double A affiliate would work best, similar to the Trenton Thunder, who are an affiliate of the New York Yankees.
There are also independent leagues which include teams not affiliated with any major league team, like the Newark Bears.
“If there’s franchised teams that you can associate yourself with, that’s the way you’d want to go,” Mason said. “The Mets, the Yankees, the Red Sox. Each has a Double A team that is considering moving.”
Mason mentioned the Pawtucket Red Sox of Rhode Island, for example.
A Double A stadium in Hoboken, according to her research, would accommodate 6,500 fans and sit five stories above grade with possibly two stories below grade.
“We need an economic driver here,” Mason said, as she discussed the plan put together by the architectural firm Obelisk Consultants of New York.
She estimated that the field would cost $40 million, but that it would bring 40-50 full-time employment opportunities and another 150 seasonal jobs.
Cammarano said finding the right franchise may be difficult and cautioned against finding an independent league team to come here.
“My [law] office was literally on the property adjacent to the Newark Bears stadium. There were very few people who go to the games,” he said. “Minor league baseball is a touch-and-go business.”
Museum, rink, and a bigger park
Mason’s plan has many other components, including a moderate-sized convention center with surrounding office buildings. The convention center could be home to events like the Taste of Hoboken and a rainy day option for the Arts and Music Festival.
She wants a pedestrian boulevard that leads from the stadium to Hoboken Cove and 1600 Park Ave., where the city has been planning a park between the two bridges leading into Weehawken.
Mason said the bridge at Park Avenue could be buried, creating a tunnel and opening up more area for the park. She also suggested demolishing the Willow Avenue bridge and building a larger street flush to the ground that could handle increased traffic in the area.
Handling the influx
Mason recommends that a new Light Rail station be erected at the Weehawken border around 17th Street, and she recommends a small transportation hub be built above the rail stop.
“Whether it’s feasible financially or economically, I can’t say.” – Peter Cammarano
Above that, Mason recommended perimeter parking be added. She also recommended that other parking facilities be built in the area below ground level.
She expects other infrastructure improvements, like road rehabilitation and flooding relief, will be provided by interested parties.
Her first step, should the Planning Board call the area a redevelopment zone, would be to find interest from a minor league team and bid out the entire project.
“Start the process, then negotiate,” she said.
Cammarano said he passed no judgment on whether the plan was feasible.
“It’s intriguing,” he said. “Whether it’s feasible financially or economically, I can’t say. I don’t have the expertise in that field.”
A local developer who spoke anonymously saw the plan and laughed it off as pie-in-the-sky, especially wondering how the city could afford to bury a road so close to the waterfront. He said the city would be building a very expensive tunnel.
Mason claims the project could attract developers, although maybe not right now in this economic climate.
She said the plan would take seven to 10 years to come to fruition, and by that time the economy will hopefully have already rebounded.
She said getting the plans ready now will allow the city to be “shovel ready” when the time comes.
“The scope of this thing is very large,” she said.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at email@example.com.