By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
Save Asbury Park’s History – the nonprofit entity formed several months ago by prominent developer Henry Vaccaro Sr. continues to make progress in its efforts to work with Madison Asbury – the city’s waterfront redeveloper – with MA and Vacarro’s team planning to meet sometime after Labor Day to see if both entities can hammer out a plan for restoration and preservation of Convention Hall, the Paramount Theater and other iconic properties.
The properties have been stuck in redevelopment limbo after the City Council voted to issue default notices involving four of the properties.
Later, the city withdrew two of the four default notices but kept open the fact that Madison Asbury – also known as Madison Marquette in a former corporate identity – and the city were at odds about how to proceed.
Madison Asbury wanted to take a slow view at restoring the iconic buildings. The city, however, has pointed out that the developer has complied with a request by the city to prove it has the financial wherewithal to move forward on the projects so why the foot dragging.
City officials are concerned that additional delays are further compromising the structural integrity of the buildings putting the city’s history and tourism markets at risk. Asbury Park has had to surrender a number of high-profile concerts to the Count Basie in Red Bank including the much anticipated Ringo Starr tour.
“I’ve had two or three emails from MM,” said Vaccaro noting the developer’s schedule was tight during the summer; “I’m cautiously optimistic. I get a sense they want to have a meeting with me.”
A developer himself, Vaccaro knows this is not the only priority on Madison Asbury’s agenda.
“I’m sure this is not the only project on their mind,” said Vaccaro who has proposed some sort of non-profit organization for development and perhaps a joint venture for restoration or perhaps a full return to Madison Marquette’s control once construction in complete.
“I don’t want to push them,” Vaccaro said. “I want to assist them.”
Vaccaro formed his nonprofit earlier this year in an effort to save the City’s iconic structures. He said a meeting could be scheduled in Asbury Park or New York City.
If the meeting is convened in New York City, Vaccaro said he will be accompanied by two board members: WABC anchor Ernie Anastos and Bruce Belfer, chief executive officer and ex chairman of Allied Lighting Company and if it is held locally, Vaccaro will invite Charles Lada, a certified public accountant and president of JR Cruz Construction and Philip Michaels.
“I don’t want to overwhelm them,” said Vaccaro, noting he is receiving resumes each week from people who want to be a part of the project. “You’ve got to think outside the box and I can,”‘ he said adding that one of his proposals is for a rooftop restaurant.
After the Aug. 25, 2021 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,” Asbury Mayor John B. 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.”
“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.”
Vaccaro believes he 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.
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,” Moor said. “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 no-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.”