The township officially purchased the 92-year-old American Legion building on Boulevard East at a signing ceremony Wednesday night, a deal that was in the works for more than two and half years.
The township paid $475,000 for 90 percent of the property through a Green Acres grant, a state funded grant to acquire open space for outdoor recreational facilities.
The American Legion Post 18 plans to construct a new one-story building on the back of the property, while the township uses the rest of the space to build a passive park right on Boulevard East.
“The state thought it was a great idea to buy the property,” Mayor Richard Turner said. “Not only are you preserving open space, the largest space in upper Weehawken, but it’s right across from Old Glory Park.”
“The building is ancient. It’s almost 100 years old.” – Anthony Prisco
“It’s a big, green open space,” the mayor said. “There’s a large lawn that will be great for kids to run around in or for people just enjoying the view.”
In addition to American Legion meetings, the new one-story building will also be used as a rental hall for small birthday parties, anniversaries, and other private parties. The “joint-use agreement” allows both the American Legion and the public to utilize the facility.
“[The Post] is going to submit building plans sometime in the coming weeks,” said Mayor Turner, “and hopefully we’re going to do a presentation for the neighborhood at the Elks Lodge to show the public the projected plans.”
According to Post 18 commander Anthony Prisco, the projected one-story building will have large glass panels facing east and south to maximize the view. “We wanted to make sure we could really enjoy New York and the river,” Prisco said. A former resident of West New York, 68 year-old Prisco has remained a member of the Post after moving to Toms River.
“The plans are already in the works,” Prisco said. “We’ve already hired our architectural firm, scheduled a utility shutdown – we’re ready to go.”
To be demolished
The current American Legion building, built in 1918, was deemed unable to be restored by a group of structural engineers and will be demolished sometime in the next few weeks.
“We had the building looked at from every angel to see if it could be restored,” the mayor said. “But the decision was made that it had to be demolished.”
According to the mayor, the building has “very serious structural problems” that could not be addressed through renovation.
Recruiting at the legion
Although the Post currently has upwards of 80 members, Prisco and company hope to at least double that number within the next six to eight months.
“Boosting membership wasn’t something that we originally planned,” Prisco said. “The building is ancient. It’s almost 100 years old. But the idea of attracting more members came up during negotiations and was seriously considered.”
This is not the first time the Post sold property to fund renovations. According to the mayor, two modern homes to the north of the property were sold to private developers 30 or 40 years ago.
“Back then, in order to get funds to renovate the building, the Post subdivided the property and sold them,” the mayor said. “So when they came to the township this time, we wanted to try and preserve that space for public use.”
Sean Allocca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org