NPS To Lease Officers Row Building To Nonprofit
SANDY HOOK – The National Park Service has announced that it has signed a Letter of Intent for the lease of Officers Row Building 2 at Fort Hancock to a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization.
In a conversation with The Two River Times on Tuesday, Jan. 31, Pete McCarthy, unit coordinator for the Sandy Hook portion of Gateway National Recreation Area, confirmed that the NPS has entered into an agreement with the AIDS Resource Foundation for Children(ARFC) to negotiate a long-term lease on Building 2. The details of the proposed lease are not yet set, McCarthy said, noting that a letter of intent is the first step in the process of negotiating lease terms.
Once a letter of intent is signed, the parties have three months to agree on the terms of the arrangement.
Dennis Reidenbach, director for the NPS Northeast Region, signed the Letter of Intent on December 19.
In 2010, the NPS’ terminated an agreement with a commercial developer, Sandy Hook Partners(SHP), for the lease of up to 35 buildings at Fort Hancock after a decade of controversy. Building 2 was among the 35 buildings that SHP had proposed to renovate and sublet for office, education and recreational uses in return for a 60-year lease.
According to McCarthy, Dr. Terry Zealand, director of the AIDS Resource Foundation for Children, contacted him after the cancellation of the agreement with SHP was announced, and inquired about the possibility of leasing one of the Officers Row houses for his organization.
Founded in 1985, the ARFC provides comprehensive services for medically fragile children and families living with HIV/AIDS at centers in Elizabeth, Jersey City, Neptune and Newark.
From 1993 to 2001, the AIDS Resource Foundation occupied Building 4 on Officers Row, where they sponsored a summer camp for families served by their organization.
That arrangement ended in 2001 when the NPS entered into its agreement with SHP through its principal, James Wassel.
“After our agreement with Sandy Hook Partners ended, we were actually contacted by Dr. Zealand – that was right around a year ago,” McCarthy said.
Zealand proposed that the NPS provide his organization with a 30-year lease on Building 2, which ARFC pledged to renovate in accordance with Fort Hancock Rehabilitation Guidelines.
The building would be used for ARFC’s St. Clare’s Summer Camp for Families and as a job-training site for their Youth Apprenticeship program. With support from the Prudential Foundation, ARFC presently provides a youth apprenticeship program at its Academy Street Firehouse location in Newark.
ARFC plans to use a portion of Building 2 as a bed-and-breakfast facility that would be open to the public and used as a training ground for post-secondary education in hotel and hospitality services.
“We want to provide, for our families that we serve, post-secondary hotel management and culinary arts training. They will basically be operating part of the program.”
A key component of the ARFC plan involves the participation of Habitat for Humanity, which actively supports the mission of ARFC and will be involved in the renovation of the building.
“We thought that was really cool, and a great way to get folks involved,” McCarthy said.
According to Zealand, Tom Matulewicz, a member of the board of Habitat for Humanity of Northeast Monmouth County, was the one who first suggested to Zealand that he inquire about a lease following the demise of the SHP plan. “He said, let’s make a partnership and approach the park service,” Zealand said.
Matulewicz and Habitat volunteers had helped ARFC with their previous house at the fort, taking down and repairing all of the windows in that house so they were again functional. “He stayed in touch with us and then became a donor.”
Now, Habitat has stepped up to coordinate the volunteer effort that will transform the dilapidated row house into a safe, comfortable and attractive facility for ARFC.
“They are coordinating the volunteers during rehab,” Zealand said. “If anyone is interested in helping us, either skilled or unskilled, hands on, they are welcome.”
ARFC is also facing a major fundraising challenge. “We need $500,000,” Zealand said. “We are trying to secure financing. We will be taking out a mortgage and we will be looking for private donations.
On Wednesday, Matulewicz was out at the site with a plumber getting bids on some of the proposed renovations.
While ARFC is planning to move quickly, the house is unlikely to be ready for occupancy this summer. “The building will be undergoing a full renovation,” Zealand said. “We’re going to do it right, so it’s wonderful.”
McCarthy and the NPS officials involved in the project have been wonderful to work with and extremely receptive to the ARFC proposal, Zealand said.
“It’s finally doing something really positive. It’s not political. It’s getting something done that should have been done a long time ago. The NPS wants this to happen. What a great use of public land, and having the community participate as volunteers.
Zealand invited anyone– and particularly “tradesmen who know their stuff – who would like to assist with the rehab or to donate to the cause to call him at (732) 995-7125.
Meanwhile, McCarthy said, he has been fielding inquiries from others interested in leasing the historic buildings at Sandy Hook. “We have 35 buildings we would like (to lease) in the future,” McCarthy said.
“We’re hoping to continue to move ahead.”
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