Connect the Waterfront: Past Present and Future is on October 23, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Elk’s Lodge in Hoboken (1005 Washington St. at 10th St.). A fun night that includes music, dancing, a silent auction and great food, this event is the annual fundraiser for the Fund for a Better Waterfront, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, whose goal is to make the waterfront along the Hudson a continuous public park. Tickets can be purchased on their website or at the door of the event. I had the opportunity to speak with Ron Hine, a founding member and the organization’s Executive Director. We spoke about the group’s mission and the event itself.
Can you tell me a little about the Fund for a Better Waterfront’s mission and what your goals are?
RH: We began in 1990, and started by creating a plan for the Hoboken waterfront. The key part of that plan is establishing a continuous public park at the water’s edge. That’s basically our mission, to promote a public waterfront along the Hudson River and to advocate for good planning as well. The unfortunate thing is that much of New Jersey’s Hudson River waterfront has been developed prior to any municipal planning having taken place. The exception is Hoboken, and that’s largely because of our advocacy. At the southern waterfront we have this award winning waterfront park, and a plan that secures the public’s interest, in addition to making it good for the community as a whole, the developers and all the other stakeholders in the process.
Tell me about the upcoming event, “Connect the Waterfront: Past, Present, and Future.”
RH: After all these many years we’re still trying to finish the waterfront park in Hoboken. There are some key missing links. The whole idea of “Connect the Waterfront” is centered on that but also, trying to connect to the history of the Hoboken waterfront. Originally, Colonel Stevens did the plans for the waterfront, with Elysian Fields and the river walk all part of the public waterfront in Hoboken. This was back in the 1800’s and we’ve really come full circle. There’s a historical connection to make, and then also connecting to the future as well because if we are successful in creating this continuous waterfront park, it would be an asset to the community for generations to come.
So that’s concept behind the event and in order for us to fulfill that mission, it’s very important that we get support from the community. It’s also an idea that is not just for Hoboken, it’s an idea for waterfront communities throughout the region and throughout the country to embrace if they so choose. So we’re trying to give the tools to our own community, and to other waterfront cities, who are facing something similar to what we have been. It’s a really remarkable opportunity that existed when we first started because the Hudson River waterfront in New Jersey was basically a blank slate. There was just this extraordinary opportunity to do something that would be a great benefit to the public. So we’re still at it, and we’re trying to finish what we started some twenty-four years ago.
Do you have a fundraising goal for this particular event?
RH: It’s hard to say. This event for the last three years has been a major source of income for our organization, so we’re very dependent on it. Each year it has gotten bigger and this year we’re trying to attract a broader base of people. We have a band that’s going to be playing [Emily Turonis and her quintet], it’s going to be catered by Zafra Restaurant, we’ll have a skit that’s being produced by Reynold Square Theater, which is an interview with Colonel Stevens. We’re bringing him back from the time space continuum to educate us on what he was doing back in the 1800’s. That should be fun. The last several years, this event has really been something that everybody’s enjoyed, and we’re just trying to make it bigger and better than ever this year.
Is there any specific projects that you want people to be aware of?
RH: There have been two specific issues that we’ve been very involved in. There’s been a big battle over a developer who wants to put two high rise towers in the northern waterfront, where they previously promised to build open space. The last four years that’s been litigated by us and the City of Hoboken—we’re both on the same side on this issue—and also the neighbors there who are opposed to it. That’s called the Monarch Project. It’s been a big battle to we hope to eventually prevail on. The basic issue there is that, by building over a pier, they’re privatizing that part of the waterfront which should be public. So to stay true to our original mission, we have fought many projects that over the years would have built many developments on piers. We’ve been successful thus far.
The other big project that we’ve been focusing on is the city’s redesign of Sinatra Dr. Here there is an opportunity to create more park space, there’s an opportunity to extend all the wonderful qualities of the south waterfront—the rows of trees, the pedestrian friendly street from Newark to Fourth—through the central waterfront. The south waterfront, from Newark to Fourth St. really does create a model. So we’re essentially saying, take those great qualities, east of Sinatra Dr. with all the public streets, the east-west streets coming all the way down to Sinatra Dr., which creates a clear separation between the private development on the upland blocks and the public waterfront park at the water’s edge, and extend that northward to the central waterfront. If we’re successful in doing that, it would really create a prototype for how waterfronts can be developed.