Winner: Asbury Partners; supporting partners: City of Asbury Park; Clarke Caton Hintz; Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects
The planning concepts embedded in Asbury Park’s waterfront plan, Oceanfront Asbury, with their emphasis on new housing, retail and public improvements, mark the beginning of the long-awaited turnaround of the historic city.
Originally founded in 1871 by James Bradley, Asbury Park was designed to be the premier resort destination on the Jersey Shore, with its grand avenues of 100 feet flaring to 200 feet in width at the ocean, its three lakes and a mile-long oceanfront boardwalk. Within 20 years of its inception, the city boasted a 1,200-seat opera house, a dozen grand hotels, 1,000 guest cottages, and several large mansions owned by some of New York’s finest families.
By the 1930s, the city had become “the” tourist magnet on the Jersey Shore. The waterfront amusements continued to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors annually in the 1940s and 1950s, but by the 1960s the city had begun to look frayed around the edges. The advent of the Garden State Parkway provided a quick means for travelers to reach other shore resorts, including Long Beach Island, Seaside Heights and Atlantic City. Businesses began to move out of the downtown commercial district in favor of nearby malls; urban unrest in 1969 dealt the city another setback.
The continual erosion of visitors and business occupancy coupled with the inability to mount a successful revitalization effort have left the oceanfront area a barren landscape. Only a few lonely oases, including the renowned music venue The Stone Pony, remain as a testament to the city’s glory days. The population has also shown signs of distress. As of 2000, nearly 30 percent of Asbury Park’s residents were living below the poverty level and the median household income was at $23,081, which falls significantly behind Monmouth County’s median income of $62,271.
For more than 20 years, the city has worked to revitalize its deteriorating waterfront through various redevelopment plans and initiatives. The Waterfront Redevelopment Plan (Oceanfront Asbury), approved in June 2002, offers a new vision for this blighted area and has set the path for the renewal of the oceanfront district as a popular recreational destination. Oceanfront Asbury has been developed in full cooperation with a master redeveloper, Asbury Partners, LLC, who has committed to finance its implementation over the next 15 years.
From the start, the city and the master redeveloper, Asbury Partners, approached this project as a partnership. This collaboration gave Asbury Partners the necessary assurance to pursue the project at full-speed.
The planning concepts in Oceanfront Asbury are in keeping with the policies of New Jersey’s State Plan, which emphasizes development in “centers,” relatively densely populated areas where infrastructure is already in place. The State Plan also calls for urban revitalization through the creation of attractive, high-density, mixed-use communities that have housing, services, commercial uses and cultural resources. Oceanfront Asbury, with the incorporation of rigorous standards for buildings, streetscape and landscape architecture, is designed to create just this type of place.
Oceanfront Asbury does not seek to make a new “place” from scratch, however. Rather, it utilizes many of the existing physical and natural attributes of the area as a framework for the re-creation of a unique oceanfront district. To that end, a series of architectural design guidelines have been developed to ensure that the new construction within the redevelopment area maximizes the view of the Atlantic and respects the character of existing residential neighborhoods. A land-use component in Oceanfront Asbury allows for uses that will contribute to a vibrant, year-round, mixed-use community. Renewal of the historic “main street” shopping district is planned with a mixed-use complex of ground-floor retail, offices and residential homes that will line Cookman Avenue.
The concepts within the plan pay homage to the founder of Asbury Park, James Bradley, and his original 19th century street layout by re-establishing the city grid, which is distinguished by streets that flare open as they approach the beach. Concerns regarding public transit access have been addressed through the configuration of the street network, which will facilitate access to existing transit routes, and will create a new jitney service for intra-city trips and to the existing NJ TRANSIT Transportation Center, which is the City’s regional retail and bus hub.
New medium- to high-density market-rate residential construction will be developed within the framework of the historic street plan. This development will maintain fewer dwelling units and lower building heights along the oceanfront, and at edges shared with existing residential neighborhoods, in order to give easy public access to the beach and minimize adverse impact on existing neighborhoods. In addition, Asbury Partners has agreed to contribute $7 million in funding for affordable housing and community initiatives throughout the city, to ensure that all residents share in the oceanfront renewal.
Under the new plan, aging, obsolete city infrastructure will be completely replaced in order to enable redevelopment of the area. As redevelopment occurs, experience suggests that increases in property values will occur within the redevelopment area and will spread beyond to the city at large. This increase in property tax revenue is intended to facilitate municipal reinvestment throughout the city, not just within the redevelopment area.
From the start, the city and the master redeveloper, Asbury Partners, approached this project as a partnership. This collaboration gave Asbury Partners the necessary assurance to pursue the project at full-speed. The commitment on the part of the developer helped to ensure that implementation will occur and not remain a plan on a shelf. The inclusion of both the developer’s consultants and the city’s consultants throughout the process provided assurances to the city that the anticipated results of Oceanfront Asbury would meet their objectives.
Asbury Partners’ consulting planners, Clarke Caton Hintz and Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut and Kuhn Architects (joint venture) worked closely with all stakeholders to create a plan that will maximize the benefits for all.
Simply put, Asbury Park is a great location for redevelopment. It has existing physical infrastructure – roads, water and sewer – as well as natural amenities that make it a desirable place for growth. The adopted redevelopment plan reinforces the city’s transit connections, adds diversity to the available housing options, and provides a much-needed mix of commercial, residential, retail and entertainment uses within walking distance of one another. The team effort between the developer, city and state agencies combined with the sound planning, promises to be a recipe for success.
Images courtesy of Clarke Caton Hintz and Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, joint venture