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SANDY HOOK, NJ-A proposed redevelopment of a portion of Fort Hancock has apparently cleared two hurdles, one financial and one legal. The federally owned site is at the northern tip of Sandy Hook, a peninsula fronting the Atlantic Ocean within the Gateway National Recreation Area, and the redevelopment plan encompasses three dozen buildings totaling 300,000 sf out of a total building stock of more than 100 historic structures on the 477-acre site.

On the financial front, developer Sandy Hook Partners LLC (SHP) has signed an agreement with the Fort Lee-based Palisades Financial under which the latter will provide financing to get the project done. Details of the agreement between the two parties haven’t been released.

“Together, we will rehabilitate Fort Hancock into a campus that can actually be used by the public, rather than have it continue to sit and deteriorate,” says William Procida, CEO of Palfi. “The mission of this project is to preserve this historic national park while enhancing a unique multi-use project.”

On the legal front, Federal District Court Judge Mary L. Cooper in Trenton has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Save Sandy Hook, a grass roots group, and others, challenging the 60-year lease signed by SHP with the National Park Service for the site in 2004. The groups challenged the deal on the basis of privatization of public land, traffic and impact on the environment within the 1,200-acre Sandy Hook peninsula, most of which is made up of beaches, marshes, wildlife areas and a holly forest.

In her 34-page decision, Judge Cooper based her ruling on, “plaintiffs inability to show…how they would be directly harmed by the rehabilitation and adaptive use of landmark buildings… .” The plaintiffs have 60 days to re-open the case or file an amended suit.

The redevelopment plan, with a price tag estimated in the $75-million range including a $15-million first phase involving basic renovations, calls for what SHP principal James Wassel terms “a learning campus.” Uses would include marine and environmental research and education, culture and arts, corporate training facilities, fitness and health facilities, and hospitality and meeting services. A portion of the Fort Hancock site is already home to a National Marine Fisheries lab, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology and the American Littoral Society.

“Our major objective is to create a year-round community of education, research, recreation, cultural arts and hospitality,” says Wassel, whose group won the rights to the project through a bidding process. The redevelopment plan itself was originally submitted to the National Park Service in 1999.

“The National Park Service is pleased that the project is moving forward,” says superintendent Richard Wells. “We’re certain that the rehabilitated building will become a huge asset to the community.”

Built in stages from the 1870s through the 1890s, Fort Hancock constituted a portion of the coastal defenses of New York harbor. In the 1950s it was converted into a Nike missile base, functioning in that capacity for nearly two decades before being decommissioned in 1972, when it was turned over to the National Park Service.

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