Long Branch awards contract for pier design

Design team will look at feasibility, economic viability

BY KENNY WALKER Staff Writer

The design process for the proposed Long Branch pier and ferry terminal kicked off last week when a New York-based engineering firm was awarded the $1.7 million design bid.

This 2005 rendering of a proposed design for the Long Branch pier includes an amphitheater and ferry dock. This 2005 rendering of a proposed design for the Long Branch pier includes an amphitheater and ferry dock. The City Council unanimously approved the resolution awarding McLaren Engineering Group, West Nyack, N.Y., on Nov. 24. Councilman Brian Unger was absent for the vote.

McLaren will be the lead firm for the design work, which will also involve a handful of other architectural and engineering firms.

The team, led by McLaren president Mal McLaren, pitched their ideas to the council during the workshop meeting preceding the vote.

“We have designed most of the ferry terminals that have been part of the resurrection in ferry service in the Greater New York area,” McLaren said. “We’ve been working with this form of transportation for over 20 years.”

Some of the ferry terminals McLaren designed by the firm include the Battery Park Ferry Terminal in New York City and Port Imperial Ferry Terminal in Weehawken.

Of the $1.7 million award, the city is on the hook for 20 percent, or $340,000. Funding for the remaining 80 percent will come from the Federal Transit Authority.

McLaren said that one of the features that drew the firm to the Long Branch project is the entertainment feature.

“There is an entertainment component to this pier, which is an appealing part of this project,” he said.

McLaren described some of the important components that make a ferry terminal viable.

“There are three important components: safety, reliability and accessibility,” he said. “If we want to make this a viable ferry transportation hub, we have to satisfy all three of these components.”

McLaren said one of the major challenges, a reason the terminal may never be built, is that the Long Branch terminal would be on the ocean.

“Most of the work we’ve done is with the harbor,” he said. “Here we have to deal with the ocean.

“The ocean presents its own set of challenges,” he added. “It’s going to take a lot of good engineering to make this happen.

“We think it can happen,” he continued. “We are going to need to make sure we accommodate the prevailing winds, current, waves — we’ve got a lot of activity out there.”

McLaren said the idea that would make the proposed terminal work is to build an artificial harbor at the pier.

“What we are thinking is that we need to build a pier and create a harbor,” he said. “We can build a pier and put a little leg on it and create a harbor using breakwater.”

McLaren then presented a video representation of a ferry rocking in the waves without a harbor being created.

“It doesn’t look like I’d really want to go on that boat,” he said.

One idea that McLaren shot down was building a jetty.

“The problems are, if we build a solid jetty, besides the permitting issue, you have a place where the sand deposits upstream with the jetty,” he said. “You’d wind up with a lot of sand deposited where the harbor we are trying to make is.”

McLaren said that the terminal would be built to accommodate many different types of ferries.

“We’d want a side-loading vessel and probably a bow-loading vessel,” he said. “What we want to do is build something that attracts a couple of different operators.

“The ferry industry is growing,” he added. “The fleet is ever-growing and the destinations are ever-growing.”

One specific destination for a Long Branch ferry would be Coney Island in Brooklyn, N.Y., he said, noting that the New York landmark has recently put out requests for design proposals for a ferry terminal.

“The Coney Island to Long Branch run could really be something interesting,” McLaren said. “I believe if we do this and do this right, this could be a two-way ferry.

“I think not only can people commute to New York but you can bring people from New York to Long Branch,” he added. “I think it would be terrific.”

Other destinations mentioned for a Long Branch ferry route are various points in Manhattan, Weehawken, and La Guardia and JFK airports in Queens.

One of the important parts of moving the project forward will be obtaining federal funds and grants.

“We have to understand the funding sources and subsidies,” McLaren said. “There is a lot of money earmarked specifically for ferry transportation.

“It’s a great solution because it pulls people out of vehicles,” he said. “I think there is an opportunity to get some grants.”

McLaren also said that the terminal and pier must generate their own revenue.

“We also have to generate revenue,” he said. “We need to build something that will attract not just one operator but several.”

McLaren described some revenue-generating options, including rental fees and revenue from ticket sales and advertising.

The concept for the pier includes restaurants, bars, offices, an outdoor concert area, shopping, a fishing pier and a winter garden.

“We want this to be a destination not just a ferry terminal,” McLaren said.

He acknowledged that the fishing pier component could present problems, but McLaren envisions the pier as being large enough to separate the ferry and the fishing.

“Fishing and ferries don’t always get along,” he said. “You don’t want to be casting lead weights into the propellers of the vessels. I think there is room on this pier to separate them.”

McLaren said that the first portion of the design process would be figuring out if the pier and ferry could become a reality.

“The first three or four months we will be focusing on … the design requirements,” he said. “Can we build a harbor?”

“We know it will work a certain number of days in the year,” he added. “What we want to do is increase the number of days that we can operate to make it economically viable.”

One option he discussed is building the pier without the ferry terminal, but he said that would make the project ineligible for some federal funding sources and result in rents that would be too high.

“The rents that you’d have to charge to pay for something like that may make it difficult,” he said.

McLaren closed his presentation by assuring the council that his firm would be able to design the terminal, but the first order of business would be to study whether the project will make fiscal sense.

“It can be done; the challenge is, can we do it with available funds?” he said. “Whether it will attract enough people to use it is another question.

“If we only attract 500 people a day, then maybe the economics aren’t there,” he added.

Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider summarized the city’s stance on the project.

“We have to take it to a point where it is designed and shown that it will work, so that the funding will come,” Schneider said. “The problem always is the cost of the engineering, the cost of the design, the cost of the planning is very expensive.

“We have gotten funding for that; now we have to do that so that we can now go to the next level because we are clearly going to have to get substantial funds, probably from the federal government.”

Schneider said that without moving forward with the study, the city would never know if the pier and terminal are possible, adding that the project would be too costly for the city to undertake without outside funding.

“Ultimately when it is time to fund the pier, we are going to have to find sources,” he said. “We will never have that money.

“The estimate so far is that this is a $50 million project and the city cannot possibly fund that,” he added.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6th District) secured $300,000 in funding over the summer for the design of the pier.

In 1987, a fire destroyed the Long Branch pier, and since that time the city has acquired redevelopment rights and officials have said the intention is to rebuild the pier with amenities.

The pier project is divided into three components:

• The Core Pier will be the main structure and will cost approximately $36.3 million. Plans call for the pier to extend 900 feet from the boardwalk into the Atlantic Ocean.

• The high-speed ferry terminal and docking facility, slated to cost $20.2 million, would provide a direct route from the Long Branch region to lower Manhattan at a travel time of 40 minutes. The pier would contain a docking system, as well as the ticketing and waiting areas required for the ferry operation.

• The amenity uses, estimated to cost $32.5 million, would include retail, restaurants, event space, a public winter garden, outdoor amphitheater, entertainment space, fishing area and a children’s play area.

Contact Kenny Walter at

kwalter@gmnews.com.