Week of July 15, 2002
  Snapshot from the Field
Asbury Park

"There's a blood-red circle
On the cold, dark ground
And the rain is falling down
The church doors blown open
I can hear the organ's song
But the congregation's gone ...

My city of ruins
My city of ruins ...

I pray, Lord
With these hands
For the strength, Lord ...

Come on, rise up
Come, on rise up"

– "My City in Ruins"
by Bruce Springsteen ©2000
Greetings from Asbury Park
$1.2B Redevelopment Taking Shape along Jersey Shore

Site Selection Executive Editor of Interactive Publishing

ASBURY PARK, N.J. – Somewhere, Bruce Springsteen is smiling . . . maybe.
        Asbury Park, N.J.'s favorite son, rocker Springsteen has carved a large part of his legend out of hard-truth tales about his hard-luck hometown. ("My City in Ruins," for example, while fittingly embraced as a post-9/11 anthem, wasn't really a song about New York. Springsteen wrote it a year earlier, and he wrote it for a benefit concert in Asbury Park.)

Springsteen's first album in 1973 was entitled "Greetings from Asbury Park" (pictured, above left). "The main reason I put Asbury Park on the title of the album," he later explained, "was because they were pushin' for this big New York thing - this big-town thing. I said, "Wait, you guys are nuts or something! I'm from Asbury Park, N.J.!

        Now, after four decades of sharp economic decline, Asbury Park (www.downtownasburypark.com) is eyeing a reversal of fortune. A developer has drawn up a US$1.2 billion plan to redevelop the waterfront alongside the city on the North Jersey shore. And the City Council has approved the plan by a 5-0 vote.
        "This is the start of one of the largest waterfront projects in New Jersey history," Ocean Front Acquisitions COO Larry Fishman told the crowd of some 200 gathered for the vote on the plan, which would unfold over 10 years.
Asbury Park's waterfront
Though occasionally nearly empty today, Asbury Park's waterfront (pictured) attracted hordes of well-heeled visitors from the 1880s until economic decline set in the middle of the 20th century.

        Asbury Park officials last year picked Ocean Front Acquisitions to head up the city's waterfront redevelopment. A joint venture between New York City-based MD Sass Municipal Partners and Lakewood, N.J.-based First New Jersey Real Property Management, Ocean Front was specifically created for redeveloping Asbury Park.

Dozens of Developers Dilute Risk

The joint venture won't be the first to tackle that task.
        Over the past two decades, two other developers have mounted efforts to revitalize Asbury Park, which reigned as a premier resort from the 1880s until the 1950s. The last attempt died out in 1992, when the developer went bankrupt.
        Left in the bankruptcy's wake was the uncompleted Ocean One condominium. Abandoned and now covered with graffiti, the unfinished condo project is now part of the waterfront's gallery of empty storefronts and boarded-up, once-grand hotels.
        This time, though, will be different, Ocean Front officials maintain.
        For one thing, the project - and the financial risk - won't rest on a single firm's shoulders, they say. Ocean Front will lead the plan, which calls for building as many as 3,000 townhouses and condominiums and as much as 450,000 sq. ft. (40,500 sq. m.) of commercial space. But as many as a dozen other developers will come in to work on different aspects of the redevelopment, according to Ocean Front's plan.
City founder James Bradley is memorialized in a statute (pictured) along Asbury Park's waterfront. The redevelopment plan would signal the end of Bradley's vision of public ownership of Asbury Park's beachfront land.

        Strong support from both the city and state also betters the project's odds. The same City Council that unanimously okayed the redevelopment proposal will direct the project. And New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey has visited Asbury Park to publicly support the plan. The state, McGreevey said, will expedite project permitting and provide at least several million dollars for related infrastructure improvements.

Low-Rises on the Waterfront

Ocean Front's plan arrives with another important distinction, company officials maintain: Unlike the two earlier failed efforts, their redevelopment plan, they say, won't try to change the historic character of Asbury Park, a one-square-mile (2.6-sq.-kilometer) city framed by lakes nestled at its northern and southern edges.
        Ocean Front's redevelopment will, for example, maintain the city's flared streets and many of its historic buildings, according to chief architect John Clarke.
        In addition, the plan calls for developing low-rise buildings along Ocean Avenue, the city's main drag, which runs alongside the beach. Taller structures would be located farther back from the beach, Clarke said.
        In contrast, the developer who went belly up in '92 was building high-rise residential units along Asbury Park's beachfront.

Targets of Eminent Domain Echo
Springsteen's Songs of the Dispossessed

Asbury Park's latest redevelopment plan, however, isn't a done deal yet. Several significant issues must be worked out in negotiating the final redevelopment agreement with the city. One major issue: existing residents who'll be displaced. Ocean Front's current plan calls for razing 33 apartment buildings, 22 homes and four rooming houses, as well as 18 businesses. Denizens ticketed for eminent domain face uncertain futures - ones that echo some of the back-against-the-wall figures that Springsteen has vividly etched in his tales of the dispossessed.
        The current plan, however, calls for as many as 500 housing units to be replacements for demolished residential space. It remains to be seen, however, whether the new space will be priced within the means of displaced townspeople. Of Asbury Park's 17,000 residents, 30 percent live below the poverty line. Estimated prices for the other 2,500 units in Ocean Front's plan would begin at $200,000.
        Another major issue centers on the fate of several city-owned landmarks, including the boardwalk convention center and auditorium. Ocean Front has indicated that it would like to buy those assets, paying the city some $6.5 million.
        The current plan would also signal the end of city founder James Bradley's vision of public ownership of beachfront land. The proposal calls for Ocean Front to assume control of Asbury Park's waterfront.

The Stone Pony
Asbury Park's redevelopment could affect the Stone Pony (pictured), the fabled local nightclub.
Whence the
Stone Pony?

Ocean Front's plan also brings into question the fate of the fabled Stone Pony (www.stoneponyonline.com), the local nightclub where a young Springsteen cut his teeth playing live (and continues to drop in unannounced to jam).
        The Stone Pony has faced down development before. An initiative to relocate the club several years ago stalled after local residents rose up to protest.
        The new redevelopment plan, however, is a much larger, more focused effort. And it creates very hard choices for local residents.
        As for Springsteen, "the Boss" has long been an ardent Asbury Park supporter - and not only in his music. Springsteen earlier this month donated $50,000 for repairs at several city playgrounds - only the latest of his many donations to his hometown.
        But Springsteen, who gives everything on stage, remains largely private and apolitical off it. He hasn't weighed in on the redevelopment plan. Odds are, he won't.
        Springsteen will, however, soon face a national audience. In a rare TV appearance, he'll join the thundering E Street Band to play live on the July 30 "Today" show. And where's the bandstand for the Boss and the boys?
        That would be downtown Asbury Park.

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