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National Park Service Officials Again Debating What To Do With Historic Officers' Quarters at Fort Hancock


How best can the National Park Service see that historic buildings at Fort Hancock at Gateway National Recreation Area are restored and maintained?

National Park Service officials seem to be back at square one in their deliberations over how best to utilize historic officers' quarters at Fort Hancock at Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey.

While there had been plans by a developer to transform three dozen of the buildings into a range of commercial establishments -- bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, conference facilities -- that vision collapsed for lack of sound financing. In October 2009 top Park Service officials deemed the contract with Sandy Hook Partners, LLC null and void.

The developer had planned to spend $70 million-$90 million on restoring the buildings that lie within the NRA's Sandy Hook unit. Sixteen Officer's Row homes were envisioned as bed-and-breakfast inns. A dorm once used for U.S. troops was proposed to be transformed into classrooms for Rutgers University or perhaps Brookdale Community College. Mess halls, gymnasiums, even the old mule barn and the officer's club also were part of the deal. And the NPS would spend $2.2 million on a new dock so he could ferry conferees over to Fort Hancock from Manhattan.

Now Gateway officials are back to gathering public comment on how best to utilize the facilities. U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, who opposed the commercial vision, said that effort is an example of how not to manage the buildings.

“The last 20 years have provided us with an example of how not to move forward. The large lease that was established for 36 of the buildings failed. While the irresponsible lessee allowed the valuable historical buildings to deteriorate, it was the local community’s ability to enjoy the historic landmark that paid the unfortunate cost," the congressman said in a press release. "Today we are faced with even greater damage to repair and the need for additional resources to fully restore the historic buildings. I believe the course forward should move away from large development plans like Sandy Hook Partners that encourage commercialization and towards a more efficient building by building rehabilitation strategy."

According to news reports, Gateway officials now are looking for individual tenants, such as universities, to occupy the buildings.


This article ignores the overriding fact that the saving and reuse of the Fort Hancock buildings, with the exception of the Chapel, Theater, and one administrative building which have been beautifully restored, was tied up for the entire period by a group opposed to their resoration, with whom Rep. Pallone was allied. The "Save Sandy Hook" group filed a lawsuit in Federal Court that from the beginning had absolutely no basis, as the courts finally held after long delays caused by SSH's mishandling and a baseless appeal. The United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit took only 2 pages [293 Fed.Appx 896, September 22, 2008] to end that case, affirming "Judge Cooper's excellent fifty-six page opinion" below. [That opinion can be accessed through the United States District Court for New Jersey, by using a no-fee PACER account] In it the Court carefully walks through the law and the facts, supporting its holding that the NPS acted properly in granting a lease for the entire 36 buildings. Unfortunately, with investors having been scared off during the course of the litigation, a bad economy intervened by the time that the case was concluded, and none could be found in time.

The suggestion of "a more efficient building by building rehabilitation strategy" is a joke. Ask officials of the Sandy Hook Foundation or the New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium/New Jersy Sea Grant what was involved in getting approval through NPS, DOI, and the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office for restoration of the Lighthouse Keepers' Quarters or Barracks Building #22. That process takes volumes, which I have seen. Pallone suggests that non-profits can do the job, but hasn't come up with one, let alone the 36 that would each be required to undertake the $2 million plus cost of restoring even the smaller buildings. The materials of which most of the buildings are constructed are identical, and the design consistent, which is a major factor [on top of its coastal location] in giving the whole complex its aesthetic appeal. It makes far more sense for one entity to tackle the entire project, avoiding very expensive duplication of effort.

The best solution would be for the original "developer" [how opponents love to use that word!] to come back with new financing, or for a new one to step in and adopt the same plan, which would not have changed a single brick of the existing structures, or added any new ones. The alternative is more deterioration as the buildings, which the public can't use now, get to the point where they can't be saved at all. Why not post a picture of the interior of the Officers' Club, Kurt, so that people can see that this has gone far beyond an intellectual exercise on adaptive re-use?


No doubt, lawsuits can tie up projects. Gateway is not exclusive to them. The snowmobile issue in Yellowstone has been tied up for a decade due to them, with no end in sight, and the Park Service has been saddled with spending more than $10 million on studies due to those lawsuits and politics, money that could have been better spent on other needs.

What this story also didn't touch on was that the developer received six extensions to demonstrate he had adequate financing to handle the project. It would seem that the Park Service bent over backwards to accommodate him.

While in March 2009 the NRA's superintendent said Sandy Hook Partners did indeed have a financial package, just five months later a review of that package by consultants from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, LLP and Capital Hotel Management, LLC. deemed it insufficent.

Perhaps if the financing had been soundly in hand the developer would still be involved at Fort Hancock.

Restoring historic buildings admittedly is no simple task, and it becomes more problematic when a state or federal agency is involved. Hopefully the renewed process for finding an answer that will save the Fort Hancock structures will overcome those challenges.

They can rent it out for rave parties like they did at Alcatraz.

the parks commission in it's burreaucratic red tape has been dragging it's feet for years, not knowing which end is up. in the interim, the decay continues to raise the economic costs of any possible restoration. "you can't have your cake and eat it, too" is a term as old as the buildings in question and applicable to the single-mindedness of the commission. the private sector is the only possibility of rearranging these structures for market demand, but with that comes the freedom by private enterprise to improve these structures for what current market conditions exist and dictate. can these magnificant stuctures with their knockout views find a niche, absolutely. is it the market place that will ultimately determine what's to be done? yes, absolutely, but certainly not the parks commission 'dictates' that happen to be market ignorant, while quagmired in it's rigid doctrines, while being very non-compliant in a narrow market-driven environment. the free market will not respond to museum pieces locked in the past without contemporary application. no viable business venture can afford to be hamstrung by the ideas and directives of unimaginative govt. workers..... mr palone in believing non-profit can resurrect this lead baloon is an indication as to what happens when unqualified bureaucrats are left in charge. the process and methods used by the parks commission in delegating power and free will to the correct people in transforming this problem into a market success is as decrepit and broken down as the structures themselves.

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