Henvy V. Vaccaro Sr., who restored, what was then known as the Berkeley-Carteret Hotel in Asbury Park, is creating a non-profit entity he believes can raise the $15 to 18 million necessary to save Convention Hall.
By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
Progress between Asbury Park and its waterfront redevelopment which has jurisdiction over two historic but shuttered properties has been made but it is just not enough, said Mayor John B. Moor.
The City Council voted this month to withdraw two of the four default notices against Madison Asbury Retail which shut down Convention Hall. The city had previously deemed the Paramount theater unsafe and closed it.
“The city still has no idea why they shut Convention Hall,” Moor said.
The Grand Arcade in Convention Hall and the businesses located there remain open.
After the Aug. 25 default notices, thus began a long war of words as the city sent multiple letters over months to ask for compliance with the 2010 subsequent redevelopers agreement which since last summer had not inspired meaningful negotiations between the city and Madison Asbury Retail.
Then, in November, Madison Asbury Retail furnished the requested certification that the company had a $30 million net worth and earlier this spring, the redeveloper furnished an updated report of its plans to stabilize the two historic structures and a series of its other boardwalk properties.
But two default notices still are outstanding and if Madison Asbury Retail reneges on the two settlements, the city could reissue the withdrawn default notices.
“We were hoping they would spend some of it,” Moor said of the $30 million. “If they would take $10 million of that $30 million and spend it on those buildings, we would sign tomorrow.”
Two meetings resulted in what the mayor terms “Low-hanging fruit: pledges to open the Splashpark this summer, make improvements to the Fourth and Sunset Avenue pavilions and open some restroom facilities.
“If they say they want this to be the musical capital of the northeast – like Nashville…it can’t happen without the Paramount and Convention Hall back open,’ laments the mayor. “We can’t keep losing all these shows.”
“Our main concern is to get Convention Hall open as soon as possible,” Moor said. “The salt water and air is just rotting it away.”
Now there is another player in the mix. Well known developer Henry V. Vaccaro Sr. – who restored, what was then known as the Berkeley-Carteret Hotel – is creating a non-profit entity he believes can raise the $15 to 18 million necessary to save those buildings. He met with a local representative of Madison Asbury who told him if he put together a non-profit, board of trustees and proposal, he would send it on to his superiors in Washington, D.C. Vaccaro did that a week ago. He has not heard back.
Moor has talked with Vaccaro about his ideas for boardwalk revival which the mayor did not deem fanciful.
“I’ve talked to Henry about this idea a long time ago and then recently,” said Moor. “If it were set up right, the city would have no problem with it.”
According to Vaccaro’s Facebook page, “Save Asbury Park’s History” the properties could remain in non-profit hands or be returned to Madison Asbury at the end of the project. His board of directors includes news anchor Ernie Anastos, Bruce Belfer, president of Lighting Manufacturing, Charles Lada, a certified public accountant who is retired chief financial officer for Cruz Construction, Philip Michals, chief executive officer of Alliance Global, Carter Sackman, a local developer and Beth Stavola of the prominent family who has a number of entrepreneurial interests.
“They will never get a return on their investment,” said Vaccaro of Madison Asbury Retail which is why the developer believes the solution is to pursue a non-profit protocol.
“We can raise the money, I have no doubt over that at all,:” Vaccaro said.
Why would he attempt such a project when Madison Asbury Retail has not made a go of it, he was asked.
“Because Asbury is my hometown,” he said. “They did it in Red Bank,” he said referring to the Count Basie Center for the Performing Arts, which underwent a $26 million redevelopment in 1999 orchestrated by a non-profit corporation. Now, the Basie has benefitted from the shut-down Paramount Theater, becoming the venue for some Light of Day events, an iconic Asbury Park event, and will welcome Ringo Starr this summer. The former Beatle was initially booked for performances at the Paramount.
“The Count Basie is going by us 10 times over by making it a non-profit,” Moor said.
Vaccaro’s evolving vision includes a rooftop restaurant and demolition and replacement of seating at the theater and an expansion of Convention Hall so it could host trade shows, But he understands the structural integrity of the Beaux Arts buildings is a first priority. They both took a beating in hurricanes Sandy and Ida and salt water intrusion is becoming a major concern.
“I even have someone interested in naming rights,” Vaccaro said.
Both Moor and Vaccaro point to the example of the Count Basie as a good example of what might work in the city.
Under the redeveloper’s’ agreement, Madison Asbury may not suspend or discontinue its projects here. The agreement also prohibits damage and destruction of the retail projects.
The 2010 redevelopment agreement includes remedies for non-compliance. But they are serious, including taking the redeveloper to court, which the city is not eager to do.
Further, the state Historic Preservation Office, which in 2004 provided an easement for the redeveloper to buy and operate the Convention Hall complex, require the protected features of Convention Hall be kept in “good condition meaning ‘intact and structurally sound having few or no cosmetic imperfections and needing no more than minor repair or routine maintenance.’
The state Historic Preservation Office considers the Convention Hall complex “a unique and early oceanfront mixed use complex. The state provided a 60-foot access which assured access to the buildings provided the redeveloper “agrees to ensure the continued preservation of the property in perpetuity…and to ensure the public continues to derive benefit’ associated with grant money used in the preservation of the structures.
For the nominal cost of $1, the state allowed the redeveloper to assume responsibility for the structures under the proviso that Madison Asbury “cannot demolish, remove or alter the property or any features” therein. That mandate involves the entirety of both buildings.