N.J. plan to privatize concessions at Liberty State Park causes waves

An environmental group is concerned about a proposal to privatize the concession and catering service at New Jersey’s Liberty State Park.

New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel says the request for proposals to privatize the concession service in the old Jersey Central terminal building, which houses the park’s visitors’ center, could end up limiting public access and lead to more commercial development in the park.

“There’s no real limits in the (request for proposals). So you put in a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (museum). You can put in a chain restaurant. You could put in a whole series of stores or boutiques or even a spa,” Tittel said Tuesday.

Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the state department of Environmental Protection, said there probably is a need for improved amenities at the park.

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“I think people that go to the park would like some, and we’re trying to improve it,” Ragonese said. “But there’s nothing at all to indicate that this is going to become the Disneyland of New Jersey. This is ridiculous.”

Tittel said there’s no assurance the state will be properly compensated.

“The concern is that we’re going to be leasing away this important public asset, limit the public’s use of it, and get paid pennies on the dollar which has been the tradition in other places that we’ve leased out,” Tittel said.

Ragonese said the privatization idea is part of an overall state effort to bring new revenues to parks so they can continue to operate.

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