Reebok Founder Proposes 95-Story Tower With Casino for Jersey City
By CHARLES V BAGLI
JULY 9, 2014
Real estate brokers have long described New Jersey’s gold coast, stretching from Jersey City to Weehawken, as the sixth borough of New York City, where apartments offer the best views of the Empire State Building.
But now Paul Fireman, the billionaire who built one of the world’s most expensive golf courses in Jersey City on top of a toxic dump, is challenging the notion that the gold coast should play second fiddle to New York.
Mr. Fireman, the founder and former chairman of Reebok International, is proposing a $4.6 billion project, including a 95-story skyscraper, adjoining his 160-acre golf course on the Hudson River, at the south end of Jersey City.
Mr. Fireman appears to have thrown a greatest hits of unbuilt projects into a blender — Donald J. Trump’s plan for a Nascar racetrack on Staten Island, a giant Ferris wheel in the New Jersey Meadowlands — with one of the super towers from Manhattan’s emerging Billionaire’s Row and a dollop of gambling to spice it up.
Known as Liberty Rising, the tower would include a casino, a hotel and apartments, along with expensive shops and an entertainment complex. There are also plans for what would be the world’s largest Ferris wheel and a 107,500-seat stadium for motor sports. The proposed complex was first reported on Wednesday by The Star-Ledger of Newark.
The tower would presumably be as tall or taller than 1 World Trade Center, now the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere. It would loom over the Statue of Liberty and offer panoramic views of the harbor, Lower Manhattan and New Jersey.
“You’ve got to think big,” said Mayor Steven Fulop of Jersey City, adding that he had been discussing the project with Mr. Fireman for eight months. “The opportunity to have a world-class facility on the waterfront is significant from a job-creation standpoint, for tax relief and for tourism. Paul Fireman is capable of executing something like this.”
Mr. Fireman spent $250 million cleaning up the Jersey City dump site and building the Liberty National Golf Course while still running Reebok. The course opened in 2006. It had an initiation fee of $500,000 and attracted players that included Wall Street titans, who could reach the course by ferry from Lower Manhattan, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Mr. Fireman, who did not return calls seeking comment about his new project, has been meeting with elected officials across the state.
One reason for his lobbying is that a casino outside Atlantic City would require an amendment to the State Constitution and a referendum. Until now, Gov. Chris Christie has resisted calls for casinos in North Jersey, preferring to focus on reviving Atlantic City, where gambling revenues have been in a tailspin since 2006.
But the prospect that gamblers from the state’s prosperous northern communities would go to Las Vegas-style casinos being planned in New York State has New Jersey legislators suddenly rethinking their strategy.
With 12 million adults within an hour of the Fireman site, Mr. Fulop said projections indicated “it would be the highest-grossing casino in the United States — we’re targeting the New York market.”
Mayor Fulop brushed aside fears that a casino-resort in Jersey City would undermine the 11 casinos in Atlantic City.
But not everyone is convinced that the site, a somewhat isolated area south of Liberty State Park and the Liberty Science Center, is an ideal location for ultra-expensive apartments or a luxury hotel.
“Not to criticize Jersey City, but it’s tough to create a luxury residential product outside of a hub like Manhattan,” said Jonathan J. Miller, president of Miller Samuel, an appraisal firm in Manhattan. “The trophy market isn’t simply about building something big and sticking it somewhere.
“I don’t understand this location, even if the views are spectacular. It’s aligned with things that don’t go together with high-end apartments, like motor cross.”
Mr. Fulop is not so sure about motor cross either, because of the potential increased traffic through Liberty State Park.
But with a 95-story tower, a megacasino and a proposed stadium that seats nearly 25,000 more people than MetLife Stadium, the project is drowning in superlatives. Mr. Fulop said the $4.6 billion complex would be “one of the biggest construction projects in the U.S.”
Well, it would be about as big as the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, but a fraction of the size of the $20 billion Hudson Yards project underway on the Far West Side of Manhattan.
“We’re talking about a transformational project,” said Bill Pascrell III, a lobbyist for Mr. Fireman’s project. “It will accentuate the true value of the gold coast and take advantage of a tremendous city, and maybe give something for New Yorkers to look at, instead of us looking at the magical city of New York.”
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