SANDY HOOK: GOT ANY IDEAS?

A committee is seeking proposals that might save three dozen structures at Fort Hancock. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By COLBY WILSON

With the future of 36 historic buildings in the Fort Hancock Historic Landmark District at Sandy Hook at stake, an advisory committee is asking the public for ideas for future uses of the properties.

The Fort Hancock 21st Century Advisory Committee, established by the Secretary of the Interior in 2012, met last Friday to discuss a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI) to assess the possibility of saving deteriorated buildings that overlook the Sandy Hook Bay in the Gateway National Recreation Area.

The RFEI, issued by the National Park Service, invites individuals, government agencies, for profit and not-for-profit organizations to submit ideas for the re-use of the buildings in ways that benefit the community, maintain the serenity of Sandy Hook and preserve its rich history.

This latest effort to save Fort Hancock, a military installation established in 1895 and decommissioned in 1974, comes nearly a decade after a development group, Sandy Hook Partners, won the rights to build conference centers, hotels and cafes in three dozen of the park’s 100 structures. But the deal fell apart amid controversy surrounding the National Park Service’s attempts to privatize public property without public input. The NPS canceled the deal in 2009 after waiting eight years for the investment group to line up financing.

Former Gateway National Recreation Area Superintendent Linda Canzanelli is now officially retired, but spent her final hours on the job at Friday’s meeting. Canzanelli said part of the problem with working with the National Park Service is that it doesn’t necessarily embrace the value of public-private partnerships in the buildings – but that’s what Fort Hancock needs.

“This is the only way we can look to preserve the historic structures we have in Gateway,” Canzanelli said.

The 36 buildings included in the RFEI reflect the history of Fort Hancock as a U.S. Military Reservation. But the Hook, as many locals call  the peninsula, is treasured not only for its historic significance, but also for its beaches, wildlife and tranquility.

During a public comment period, Frank Sober, a long-time visitor, shared his family’s sentiments, illustrating the significance that the area has to members of the surrounding community.

“We like to think of Sandy Hook as a jewel,” Stober said, “and we want it to last.”

 Congress has had a similar inclination. Back in 1972, Congress established the Gateway National Recreation Area Sandy Hook Unit in order to preserve and protect the area and its  “outstanding national and recreational features.”