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Play Ball
Former Jersey City railyard due for distinctive athletic fields
Concrete coal silos will now serve as a backdrop for a park amphitheater.
Courtesy Rogers Marvel Architects

Jersey City’s Ward F is home to Liberty State Park, the largest in recreational area in the city, but despite all that lush open space, the neighborhood is all but devoid of athletic fields. “It’s a very scenic park,” Ben Delisle, the director of development at the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority, said. “But it’s not very active. There are some hiking trails, but that’s about it.”

When the city created the Morris Canal Redevelopment Plan a decade ago, one of the top priorities was the creation of such a park. The canal, long filled, still divided and disrupted the city because numerous old industrial sites lay vacant, many of them contaminated. One such plot was a 17-acre lot that once served as a rail yard. The city released an RFQ for Berry Lane Park in 2007, and a team consisting of Dresdner Robin, a local environmental and civil engineering firm, and Rogers Marvel Architects were selected. After a year of work, they are preparing to unveil their final proposal for what will become the largest recreational park in the city.

“We wanted to give them something unique and not just slap down as many fields as possible,” Mark Vizzini, the associate-in-charge for Dresdner Robinson, said. He said that it was this sort of progressive thinking that led his firm to partner with Rogers Marvel, after first working with the architects on the Canco Lofts. “Not to draw too heavily on the sport analogy,” Vizzini said, “but when you play with better people, you play better yourself.”

With its multitude of uses, Berry Lane Park will become Jersey City's largest recreational area.
Courtesy Rogers Marvel Architects 

After first meeting with the community last September to hear what locals wanted from the park—basically, lots of athletic facilities—and consulting with city officials, the designers returned in February to present three different plans: Community Rooms, Neighborhood Quilt, and Big Backyard. Though the final proposal draws on all three, it most closely resembles the latter, which concentrates circulation around the perimeter and places the ball fields and other facilities within.

One of the primary reasons for this approach is that the old rail yard had long riven the residential community it surrounds. The city especially wanted to increase access to a light rail station at the southwest corner of the lot that opened in 2000. The rail yard made access from the eastern neighborhood a long and even dangerous walk. “It was a barrier that had long split the community,” Vizzini said.

This approach also offered the opportunity for a more creative arrangement to the fields within. Rogers Marvel placed a particular emphasis on highlighting the site’s industrial past. In a nod to the canal, the park’s smaller facilities—basketball and tennis courts, playgrounds, picnic areas, and a skate park—run in a line along its original path, now called the “activity canal.” And a stretch of concrete silos that once housed coal for the trains will serve as the backdrop to an amphitheater on one side and a spray park on the other.

East of the canal and the spray park are the larger ball fields, with two baseball diamonds to the north and a regulation soccer field to the south. Between these rises the projects most distinctive feature, a concession stand with an arched roof that makes the building resemble a butterfly in flight. Pushing the symbolism to its extreme, the roof will be planted with flowers to attract the very same insects. “We thought how can we get a green roof and turn it into so much more?” Vizzini said.

The same could be said for the rest of the park. “We wanted something different,” Delisle said. “And I think we’ve gotten that. When it’s finished, it’s really going to be a place where people really just step back and go, ‘Wow.’”

Matt Chaban