The Paramount Theatre on the Asbury Park boardwalk has been closed due to safety concerns
By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
Madison Marquette – the parent company of Madison Asbury Retail against which Asbury Park earlier this month issued a new default notice alleging inaction regarding deteriorating condition of several iconic boardwalk structures – contends it has met the conditions of its 2010 redevelopment agreement.
In response to an inquiry from The Coaster Amer Hammour said the company cares “deeply about the boardwalk” and the emotional resonance the boardwalk has for the city, residents and visitors. The Paramount Theatre, which is owned by the redeveloper, has been closed for several years due to a leaking roof. Convention Hall was also closed by the developer.
Although Mayor John B. Moor has declined to speak on the current matter due to the potential legal quagmire, he has said in the past that Madison has proved to the city it has $30 million in assets so why doesn’t the company use some of that to secure the safety and stability of the boardwalk structures, such as Convention Hall and the Paramount Theatre.
The latest default refers to Convention Hall, the heating plant and The Grand Arcade. It raises concerns about the compliance to an easement granted from the state office of historic Preservation granting access to Convention Hall, provided it be open to the public and that its structural integrity remain solid.
In 2021, the city issued four default notices but withdrew two of them after the company provided a progress report on the boardwalk projects and a certification of the company’s multi-million resources. Two of those defaults remain in place. They refer to conditions at the Fourth Avenue Pavilion, the Sunset Avenue Pavilion and the Splash Park. Councilwoman Eileen Chapman speaking at the annual membership meeting of the Asbury Park Historical Society, said …”the buildings are crumbling into the sea.”
But Hammour notes the matter is complicated as the developer has had to deal with storms and a global pandemic during the disputed time period. Hammour is executive chairman of Madison Marquette and heads all real estate operations and investments for Madison’s parent company, Capital Guidance. In 2014, The Washington Post named him one of three people remaking the face of the nation’s capital city.
“Madison Marquette is in compliance with all obligations to the City of Asbury Park and will remain in compliance, he said. “There is no basis for default under the development agreement. We care deeply about the boardwalk and understand its importance to the hearts and minds of Asbury Park residents and visitors. We have been committed to advancing and improving it for 13 years, through economic cycles, hurricanes and the pandemic. We are actively working on a number of initiatives to advance the progress of the Asbury Park Boardwalk and look forward to engaging with the City, as appropriate. Our goal is to align on the best path forward for this storied destination to continue to flourish and grow.”
Hammour last summer pledged to meet with local developer Henry Vaccaro whose non-profit arm Save Asbury Park’s ‘ History – wants to propose a partnership to restore and improve the boardwalk. After an introductory meeting, Hammour told him they would meet sometime after Labor Day 2022. That meeting has yet to happen and Vaccaro will say now that he remains in touch with Madison executives but declines to say more. Moor who last year sought a meeting with Hammour was told it would be held after Hammour’s son’s summer 2022 wedding. So far, no meeting.
According to the American Bar Association, the legal duty to negotiate in “good faith” requires that neither party will do anything that would destroy or injure the rights of the other to receive the benefits of the contract.
Joseph J. Maraziti, Jr., who is one of Asbury’s redevelopment attorneys, explained that the city and Madison Asbury Retail both have an obligation to negotiate in good faith.
And even though the new default notices the city issued against the redeveloper for failure to maintain the Casino building contains a passage that the development entity needs to cure the defects within 30 to 40 days, Maraziti acknowledged that is likely an unrealistic timetable. What is good faith? How long can negotiations continue and still be in good faith? Typically, that is a question for the courts to decide and that remains a possibility, Maraziti said.
Even if the city moves to terminate the redevelopment agreement, Madison owns The Casino, Paramount Theater, Convention Hall and the heating plant as well as other oceanfront properties.
Meanwhile, developer Frank Cretella, whose properties include Liberty House, Hudson House, Stone House and the Ryland Inn both in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, has had a proposal for the steam plant on the drawing board for years. He already purchased a liquor license for the site, which would host weddings and other events. Cretella toured the interior of the steam plant more than eight years ago and said it was not in good shape at the time.
The relationship between the city and Madison Asbury Retail has been a source of frustration for officials here who written numerous letters asking for conditions of the agreement to be met. Maraziti described Madison Marquette as a “well funded multinational corporation” based in Washington, D.C.
Maraziti said the city will hold fast to its determination to deal in good faith with the developer while simultaneously expressing concern that without timely intervention, the iconic buildings are in danger – from neglect, the corrosive effects of salt air and saltwater intrusion.
“Your questions are excellent,” Maraziti told resident Margaret Butch recently. Butch was seeking details that were to follow the notices of default, two of which date from 21 months ago and the more recent default, which the council voted unanimously to issue Jan. 11. Officials took their vote without making public comment, in part to protect any possible litigation that could arise from the redevelopment agreements that are now in question. ‘What happens next?’ Maraziti asked rhetorically.
“We have been in dialogue over time, over last summer,” Maraziti said As a consequence of those talks and the two remaining default notices issued in 2021, Madison “made minor changes, not the big ones we wanted. But they did respond. They came to the table.”
While the 2023 default concerns the Casino and power plant, the 2021 defaults referred to the condition and status of Convention Hall, the Grand Arcade, Paramount Theater, the Sunset Avenue Pavilion and the Splash Park. In 2022, two default notices were withdrawn by the city after Madison provided a progress report on work going on along the waterfront and proof the company had $30 million in assets over the preceding 12 months.
“That is what we like to see happen,” Maraziti said of the developer’s response to two of the 2021 default notices.
Historian Jim Henry, Asbury Park said it is not just the physical appearance of the building that is the problem. With the closure of the Paramount Theater, big name concerts have been forced to abandon the city, resulting in boardwalk restaurants having difficulty drawing in lucrative night-time business and because of that, jobs also are being threatened.