In what was touted by the fledgling Bhalla Administration as a “HUGE victory” back in January, NJTransit declined to vote on an agreement to purchase Union Dry Dock. However, the beleaguered public transportation corporation is set to revisit the option at a board meeting scheduled for Wednesday, April 4.
This move comes on the heels of Hoboken’s “offer you can’t refuse” to NY Waterway, current owners of Union Dry Dock—the 3.15-acre parcel of land and last functioning maritime business on Hoboken’s once-bustling working waterfront, located on Sinatra Drive, between the Skate Park and Maxwell Park.
NY Waterway bought the land in November for $11.5 million with the intention of using it for a ferry dock and repair station. Hoboken wants it for the purpose of completing the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway and for public open space and recreation. The City has offered to buy the property from NY Waterway for its appraised value of $11.63 million, but is also prepared to “to utilize its powers under the Eminent Domain Act of 1971 to acquire the property,” according to Mayor Ravi Bhalla, and “will only implement this power as a last resort if voluntary negotiations fail.”
The rationale for NJTransit’s purchase of the property is that the state-run corporation would offer certain bureaucratic protections against the City’s attempt at enacting Eminent Domain, as state controls effectively supersede municipal control.
This is yet another haymaker in what has already become a brutal battle on the waterfront.
A letter to NJTransit co-signed by now former Mayor Dawn Zimmer and then Mayor-Elect Bhalla pulled no punches in its objection to NJTransit’s involvement in the transaction, stating “NJ TRANSIT has raised fares twice and raided billions of dollars from its capital fund to pay for operations over the last 8 years, so it’s outrageous that, despite its acute financial challenges, it is considering spending millions of dollars on a plan that would permanently scar our waterfront.”
Union Dry Dock bought the Hoboken property in 1976, and have been running their operations there since the 1980s. Previous efforts to sell the land have fallen through. In 2001, the Stevens Institute of Technology planned to construct a soccer field on the site. In 2005, there was a $15 million contract for the property, but the buyer backed out. In 2009, a developer hoped to build residential towers on the land, but local zoning didn’t permit it. And in 2012, New Jersey Transit considered obtaining the land for NY Waterway’s ferry maintenance and refueling.
This past June, Fund for a Better Waterfront began an initiative to purchase the property, sensing the urgency of securing the land for public use.
Prior to NJTransit’s previous attempt at acquiring Union Dry Dock, Mayor Bhalla, staff members, Hoboken City Council members and representatives from Fund for a Better Waterfront all traveled to Trenton to plead their case.
Spent the morning in Trenton advocating in support of a continuous waterfront in #Hoboken. My hope is @NJTRANSIT will hit the pause button on their deal to purchase Union Dry Dock and instead work with the community to come up with a solution that works for everyone. pic.twitter.com/7kr9tWPAcE
— Ravinder S. Bhalla (@RaviBhalla) January 8, 2018
That seemed to do the trick at the time, as Governor Murphy had just assumed his position and was making aggressive moves within NJTransit’s leadership.
But for now, it seems that NJTransit is resurgent as a contender.
Watch out for that right hook…
Excerpts from a previous article authored by Jack Silbert were used in this story.