In Jersey City, Hurley-led push to create sports facilities is going strong

People’s Park Foundation cites huge impact on kids, families

Basketball courts? Sure, they are part of the vision of the People’s Park Foundation, which has long aimed to create recreational activity areas in Liberty State Park in Jersey City.

Of course, you would expect that from a group headed by Bob Hurley, the legendary coach at St. Anthony High School before the school closed in 2017.

But if you think the so-called Miracle of St. Anthony was only about winning state titles, you’re missing the true impact of Hurley’s program: It was about providing recreational opportunities — and the ability to learn about leadership and team play — for kids desperately short on such outlets.

That’s why when Hurley, the president of the People’s Park Foundation, talks about the potential of Liberty State Park, he talks about the need to have places to not only play traditional sports such as basketball, soccer, baseball/softball, track and field, swimming and football — but also for lacrosse, cricket, pickleball, even rugby.

Or, all the things that are needed in perhaps the most diverse city in the country.

Bob Hurley

“We have a professional rugby team in Jersey City that would love to do clinics and show kids the fundamentals of rugby — but they have no place to do it,” Hurley said.

That could be changing soon.

In May, a plan unveiled by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection not only includes remediation of the 230-acre contaminated interior of the park, but much of the multipurpose fields the group had asked for.

Next month, Jersey City — which has received $50 million from the state — will begin cleanup work at the park. The creation of numerous multipurpose fields could begin shortly thereafter.

Hurley said it can’t happen soon enough. That’s why Hurley — even though his group seemingly has outflanked others who only wanted the park to be a nature preserve — is continuing to press the issue.

As a lifelong resident of the town, he not only knows the potential impact of the park, but also the impact of a delay in its creation.

“The fear is the amount of time needed to get this done,” he said. “When you know that you have kids growing up at risk and they need activities — when you know you have families that need a cheaper alternative to vacations, where they can go to a park and barbecue and watch their kids play — you want to get going as soon as possible.

“They’re breaking ground, hopefully, next month. And we know there are two phases of their work, which begins with an environmental cleanup of some areas that we’re all in favor of, but we’d really like them to try to simultaneously get more things moving. If you’re doing cleaning in one area, I don’t know why you can’t be doing something else someplace else.”

Hurley stressed that he supports the environmental vision for the park, but to just create a nature preserve would be a missed opportunity that may never come again.

He notes how the high schools and rec programs have to share a scarce number of fields for every sport — only one for football.

“I don’t care how you schedule it, there’s no way to find time for everyone,” he said.

He notes how substandard the existing fields are.

“There’s nothing more embarrassing than when a Jersey City school goes to a small suburban town and can only gawk at the level of their facilities,” he said.

He notes how a recent report said Jersey City had the least amount of usable park land of any big city in the country. And he notes the economic opportunities that the park will bring — today and tomorrow.

Sure, residents and tourists flock to the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Science Center, but after they visit, they leave. Jersey City businesses — whether it be restaurants or food trucks — should benefit more from their stay, Hurley said.

“Some people will proudly talk about the 4 million people that go to see the Statue of Liberty every year, but they won’t talk about the overall experience,” he said. “Once they come back, there’s nothing to do. If they want something to eat, they have to leave our area, so they don’t spend money locally — and our local businesses don’t benefit.”

Hurley won 26 state championships and a few national titles on the way to induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Hurley feels getting this park built may be as impactful as any of his successes. Its reach is that great, he said.

“This has been a great victory for the city of Jersey City, Hudson County and the northern New Jersey metropolitan area,” he said. “We’re going to take plots of this park that are going to be cleaned up and turn them into active space.

“So, whether a kid plays soccer or lacrosse or tennis or basketball or anything else, there are going to be so many more places available to him to be able to practice and play.

“That’s why we formed the People’s Park Foundation. That’s why we kept battling against environmental activists who truly believe that we would be better served to have all 1,200 acres be a natural preserve as opposed to adding 100 acres of recreation.

“Jersey City needs this, and we’re going to keep working until it’s here.”

Conversation Starter

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