The developers of the former Maxwell House factory property officially committed six acres of their land to building a new waterfront park at a signing ceremony Tuesday morning.
Their proposed 832-unit residential/commercial project is being managed by Hoboken-based developers Daniel Gans and George Vallone of the Hoboken Brownstone Company. The Maxwell House property is located on Hudson Street between 10th and 12th streets.
The project was approved by the city's Planning Board in December of 2002. One of the conditions of that approval was that the city must work with the developers to program and design the publicly accessible open space. Tuesday's signing formalizes that the Planning Board condition has been met.
The project, which sits on a 24-acre site (10 acres of which are water), will include nearly six acres of fully accessible public open space, mostly on the banks of the Hudson River. Included in the open space will be the restoration of Elysian Fields, a waterfront park that will be a quarter acre larger than Pier A park, and the renovation and reopening of a sliver of beach that has been mostly unused for more than half a century. It would be the only beach in the city, according to Gans.
The construction and future upkeep of the new parks will be funded entirely by the developers and eventually by the building's tenants and condo owners.
"This is the largest public/private open space initiative ever in Hoboken," said Mayor David Roberts Tuesday. When completed, the park will be the largest in the city, he added.
Nuts and bolts
The project is slated to include apartments and luxury condominiums, and will take up four city blocks. The entire residential component of the project will be approximately 1,090,000 square feet and will mostly be made up of high-rise buildings. Included in the mixed use development are plans for 160,000 square feet of office space and 50,000 square feet of retail.
The project will be undertaken in four stages, one block at a time. Each block will take a year to a year and a half to complete once construction begins, and the project will be fully built in approximately five years.
According to Vallone, demolition will begin within the next couple of weeks, and should be in full swing by January. The developers hope to begin driving piles for the first building in March.
The project will represent one of the largest residential developments in the city. If occupied to full capacity, the completed development will account for about 3 percent of Hoboken's total residential population. According to the 2000 census, there are approximately 38,000 people living in Hoboken.
The project will be fully taxed and, according to Vallone, will pay approximately $12 million a year in taxes which will be divided between the city, county and schools.
The park will come complete with the waterfront walkway mandated by the state. Eventually the walkway will extend from Fort Lee to Bayonne.
"The completion of the Maxwell House portion of Hoboken's Waterfront Walkway will add the largest missing segment," said Roberts, "and will put Hoboken in the enviable position of being within just the small fraction of total completion of its entire waterfront walkway."
The Maxwell House segment of the walkway comprises nearly 2,500 linear feet.
Five components of open space
According to the plans approved by the city, the six acres of land and open space will have five major components.
The first will be a historic re-creation of an old-fashioned baseball field on the site where many historians believe the first game of baseball was played in 1846 (see sidebar).
The second component of the new park will be the complete refurbishment of the 12th Street Pier. Once the 12th Street Pier building, which rises almost 40 feet above the water and covers the entire pier, is removed, it will open up a view corridor at the eastern end of 12th Street.
The 500-foot long pier will be restored and used for a variety of different purposes including fishing. One of the more interesting aspects is that the pier will have the capability to accommodate historic ships, visiting science boats, and museum barges for educational and cultural visits to the city. Gans even suggested that ships like Henry Hudson's "Half Moon" could eventually make the trip back to Hoboken.
"The Platform," which runs from 12th Street to 11th Street at the shoreline, is the third component. It will be restored and will be used as a public gathering and viewing area.
The fourth component of the park will be the conversion of the earthen peninsula, which is over two acres in size, to an open grass field with a tree grove with picnic tables underneath. The peninsula will also have an emergency boat launch at the eastern tip that will be used for police and fire rescue boats.
The final element of the park space will be the continued restoration of the natural sand beach at the 10th Street cove. One feature at the beach will be the construction of a boathouse for kayaks and small craft storage. The boat house will be a replica of the first New York Yacht Club, which originally occupied the same site.
The developers plan to provide kayaks and small sailboats with instructions, for the city's residents.
"Although George and Danny have opened the beach and the peninsula to the public on special occasions, the public has had no access to the beach since it was taken over by industrial interests in the in early 1900's," said Roberts.
While it will take five years to build all of the buildings, according to Gans and Vallone, the park space will be completely finished in around three.
Venture partner signs on
The entire development will cost $500 million to build. Gans and Vallone are part of a company called Gotham Partners LP that recently announced they have sold the property to Pinnacle Downtown, a subsidiary of Pinnacle, Ltd. in Millburn. That way, they have the money to build the project. Gans and Vallone will remain principals in this development with Pinnacle.
"We selected Brian Stolar, president of Pinnacle Communities of Millburn, as our joint venture partner because of his company's outstanding reputation as a top quality homebuilder," said Vallone. "We have joint ventured several projects in Hoboken and have been close personal friends with Brian for 20 years."
Pinnacle, Ltd. is a real estate development and investment company in the New Jersey and Connecticut markets. Since the company's founding in 1984, Pinnacle has built in excess of 3,000 luxury attached and detached homes.
Historical markers: Baseball, Henry Hudson, the America's Cup, and coffee beans
Even though it's been abandoned for the better part of the past two decades, some of the most important events in Hoboken's history have happened on the Maxwell House property. The New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office has recently approved four historic markers to be placed on the property.
The most significant will be the plaque marking where it is believed that the first organized baseball game was played on June 19, 1846 when the Knickerbockers beat the New York Nine by a score of 23 to 1.
Since the baseball field will be part of the first phase of the development, Mayor David Roberts is planning to host a ribbon cutting at the field in mid 2005, according to the project's developer.
The mayor added that the city has received a commitment from the American Historical Baseball team, the Neshanocks, located in Flemington, whose members will put on a historically accurate recreation baseball game the day of the ribbon cutting.
The second historical marker will be installed at the water's edge, memorializing that in 1609 Henry Hudson was believed by historians to have dropped anchor there. Hudson's personal log makes note of the "green serpentine rock outcropping" which Hoboken residents now call Castle Point.
The third marker will be on the boathouse which will stand on the original site of the New York Yacht Club. According to historian Joan Doherty Lovero, who wrote the book "Hudson County-The Left Bank," John Cox Stevens, the eldest son of Colonel John Stevens, Hoboken's founder, organized the New York Yacht Club and in 1845 donated a clubhouse near the Elysian Fields, which stayed open from more than 20 years.
During the city's infancy, the waterfront was originally utilized for recreation. On weekends, the area welcomed as many as 20,000 people for picnics and sailing.
According to Lovero, "In 1850 Stevens accepted a British challenge and, aided by his brother Edwin and other sailing men including Colonel James Hamilton, the son of Alexander Hamilton, he contracted the then state-of-the art yacht, the America."
The next year, under the command of John Cox Stevens, the vessel raced the prestigious "Royal Yacht Squadron" around the Isle of Wight, off the coast of Great Britain. "The victors welcomed Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on board and then returned home," read Lovero's account, "bringing with them their nation's first international trophy, the 'America's Cup'."
The fourth historic marker will memorialize 1938, when the Maxwell House coffee factory was built. At the time, it accounted for 40 percent of worldwide production of the Maxwell House brand.
According to the developers, part of the Historic Preservation Office requirements were for a complete photo documentary of the existing 11 factory buildings. A collection of the artifacts and memorabilia regarding the history of the Maxwell House coffee factory is being collected and preserved.
Additionally, all of the original blueprints for the factory, done in pencil on Mylar in the 1930s, are being preserved. The exhibit will be presented in the common areas of the property for public viewing, said the developers. - Tom Jennemann </b>