What could possibly be so important? In two words: Warrington Plaza. Most Hobokenites, and indeed most commuters who pass through Hoboken Terminal, know it as Lackawanna Plaza, named for the Erie Lackawanna Railway.
So, who the heck is Warrington? George Warrington was executive director of NJ Transit from 2002 to 2007 and an early supporter of the ARC Tunnel.
OK, maybe it’s just me, but I have a suspicion that Lackawanna Plaza is a keeper.
In any case, that’s not the issue. The issue is, how best to take advantage of the outdoor plaza and the interior of the terminal, which are currently not used to their best advantage?
The property is owned by NJ Transit, and the prospective developer is LCOR, whose website lists the Hoboken Terminal and Rail Yard as “in development.”
DeFusco explains: “The Hoboken Terminal and Rail Yard are both part of a redevelopment plan passed in 2014, which does vaguely propose activating Warrington Plaza and Lackawanna Terminal into a ‘Terminal District,’ where retail and cultural uses are encouraged to enhance the quality of the pedestrian-oriented transit plaza.
“The plan I put forth is not only to activate the outdoor plaza space but the interior of the building, which has 100,000 square feet of underutilized space,” DeFusco says. “This includes the underutilized area facing the ferry slips. That two-story waterfront-facing space is one of the most unique portions of the property and would permit for an amazing food-centric concourse.”
As you can see from the pictures on this page by Tbishphoto, the upstairs space is large and magnificent, with 50-foot ceilings, three sets of enormous skylights, one with original stained glass, remnants of old chandeliers, a geometric mosaic of myriad small tiles, and intricate molding.
It could be used, for example, to store NJ Transit’s mechanical equipment, but that would not support small businesses, draw visitors, or create a Hoboken-centered destination.
DeFusco sponsored a resolution in January, urging the mayor to prioritize development of the site, which was unanimously passed by the city council. In mid-May Mayor Bhalla “made reference to it in a public statement,” DeFusco says, “so my years-long advocacy seems to be working.” In discussing the project, DeFusco invokes Reading Market in Philadelphia and Chelsea Market in New York City—an “indoor food hall”—two wildly successful retail emporia that draw throngs of locals and tourists to buy, eat, and soak up the ambience. Chelsea Market is just minutes from the ever-popular High Line, the elevated linear park, greenway, and rail trail constructed on a former New York Central Railroad spur.
In the proposed Warrington Plaza, people can “shop locally, small businesses can succeed, and it’s near mass transportation,” DeFusco says. They can have a “dynamic waterfront experience that redefines Hoboken as a center for art and commerce.”
Hoboken Terminal is the largest transit hub in the state of New Jersey, second to Newark Airport, with trains, ferries, and buses, and within walking or biking distance of Weehawken and the Newport section of Jersey City.
Developing the plaza, he says, “was a central tenet of my platform, giving small businesses a chance to succeed in Hoboken, rents being what they are and zoning being what it is. People have a way of gravitating toward food halls and food fairs.” Noise, pollution, vandalism, and vagrancy in and around Warrington Plaza are issues in his district, according to DeFusco.
“Correctly activating rail yards has proven to be a success story for any city that takes it on,” he says. He cites as other models the Smorgasburg, an outdoor food fair in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; Union Station in Denver; and Europaallee in Zurich.
DeFusco envisions Warrington Plaza as a “unique destination that respects the history of the plaza, with fish mongers, cheese makers, and butchers, not TGI Fridays.” He sees it contributing to Hoboken as a place where “people can create and make—not just sleep, and shop in chain stores. With Amazon and e-commerce, small businesses can’t afford brick-and-mortar stores.”
Warrington Plaza, he says, would “incentivize kiosk shopping.”
After the Deluge
The post-Sandy Rebuild by Design initiative, which seeks to curb flooding in parts of Hoboken, Weehawken, and Jersey City, could affect plans for Warrington Plaza. There are two options for a flood wall: one on Observer Highway but set back, and one immediately abutting Observer. “If the wall is constructed abutting Observer, we cut off the potential for an east-west artery, which is vital for the transit project,” DeFusco says. “If we lose the transit project, we lose the funding for any future marketplace activation.”
If the wall is constructed on Observer, but set back, DeFusco says, “It’s an opportunity to work with LCOR to move forward with the project, creating the potential for a pedestrian promenade and street beautification to create a community in the small, southern post-industrial part of town.”
What Chelsea Market and the High Line did for Manhattan’s meatpacking district, Warrington Plaza could do for Hoboken. “The High Line shaped the overall development of the meatpacking district,” DeFusco says. “It was a historic homage to where the meatpacking district was and a pathway to the future.”
Warrington Plaza, he says, “would allow art galleries and restaurants to thrive based on history, not just big glass boxes or condos. It’s a no-brainer for the city, for NJ Transit, and LCOR.
“Design and food culture could come together in Hoboken.”—Kate Rounds