DOCKYARD FIGHT: Scuffle Brewing Over Possible Acquisition of Hoboken’s Union Dry Dock
(ABOVE: Famous fight scene from On the Waterfront—filmed in Hoboken, starring Marlon Brando and Lee J. Cobb | Columbia Pictures)
Since 2000, the 3.15-acre parcel of land known as Union Dry Dock & Repair Company—the last functioning maritime business on Hoboken’s once-bustling working waterfront, located on Sinatra Drive, between the Skate Park and Maxwell Park— has been for sale.
The City of Hoboken has reached out to discuss a possible purchase of the land. Following the meeting, Union Dry Dock sent a letter stating that it is not legally able to discuss a sale of the property to the City of Hoboken at this time.
In response, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer has opted to move ahead with an attempt to acquire the Union Dry Dock property for open space.
“In my experience with acquiring Block 12 for the Southwest Park and the 6-acre BASF property in Northwest Hoboken, it is not possible to acquire property without the City Council’s authorization for eminent domain,” said Mayor Zimmer. “Given recent new factors that have come to light, it is important to move forward with this process at this time to expand our City’s waterfront parks.”
As a result, the City Council will be asked to authorize the use of eminent domain for the acquisition of Union Dry Dock at next week’s City Council meeting.
Union Dry Dock opened in 1908 in Weehawken (even serving as a setting for a music video by the band Blondie in 1979). The company bought the Hoboken property in 1976, moving operations there in 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, for the very same purpose Zimmer is advocating. However, the group cautions against the Mayor’s aggressive approach:
The @CityofHoboken needs to learn collaboration with other stakeholders. Threatening eminent domain at this stage is questionable. #hoboken https://t.co/cfKXsmLbxW
— Better Waterfront (@Hoboken_FBW) September 28, 2017
Of course, it’s also an election year. With the Mayor in the waning days of her final term, First Ward Councilman and mayoral candidate Michael DeFusco said, “My understanding is that the property owner is willing to begin a good faith negotiation, but not with this current administration and not before the upcoming election when our city’s leadership for the next four years will be decided. A negotiation of this magnitude shouldn’t be rushed into by a mayor who already has one foot out the door.”
He cites initiatives in the past where a heavy-hand has undermined the process. “As we’ve seen time and again, this approach doesn’t always result in a timely acquisition of property, as evidenced by the decade-long process of acquiring the recently opened Southwest Park, and can lead to outrageous legal fees our taxpayers have been exposed to in ill-fated court battles like the Monarch development.”
The next Hoboken City Council Meeting is Wednesday, October 4th. The election Mayor and at-large Council seats is Tuesday, November 7.
(Excerpts from hMAG contributor Jack Silbert were used in this story.)