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Thursday, February 11, 2010

N.J. town seeks to lease NJ Transit stations

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For a dollar a year, Lyndhurst, N.J., officials said the two dilapidated train stations in town will soon be reverted to the town's control. It could lead to refurbishment of the stations and allow the leasing of space in them. Officials said the move would augment mass transit ridership, give individuals with disabilities greater access to the trains and bring more traffic to Lyndhurst's business districts, the Bergen Record reports.

The town has already, in anticipation of the deal, passed a resolution authorizing an application to the U.S. government in hopes of securing $6.5 million through the 2011 fiscal year budget to make significant renovations to the worse of the two stations, the 82-year-old Lyndhurst Station on the corner of Court and Stuyvesant avenues.

Mayor Richard DiLascio said NJ Transit, the owner of the stations, has done little to make any renovations on either station and has been up front that little money in the agency's budgets is available to do so. The $6.5 million, if secured from the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, would be used to renovate the main station.

That station, formerly leased by Traxx Lounge, was gutted by a fire in 2006. The funds would be used to add an elevator and Americans with Disabilities Act ramp. That alone, according to DiLascio, is estimated at $5 million. Neither station is currently ADA accessible.

"When we came into office, we said it's a very important part of Lyndhurst's marketability to show that we have this type of transportation system," said DiLascio. "The key to Lyndhurst is we have not one, but two stations in Lyndhurst that can access pretty much anywhere you want."

According to DiLascio, the public private partnerships would mean sub-leasing the spaces, which currently are abandoned, in both stations. A draft lease has not yet been reviewed by township attorneys and made public. Courtney Carroll, a spokesperson for NJ Transit, said no formal request for a lease has been submitted; there's only been discussion.

"Generally, in other townships and other municipalities we have leases with, the municipality does take on the maintenance and upkeep of the station," said Carroll. In a past 16-year lease signed by the town in 1985, it essentially transferred all responsibility for station, in that case, only the Lyndhurst Station, to the town where according to the agreement, "Lessee covenants and agrees to perform all maintenance services required to keep the station parcel in a clean and safe condition and to ensure the station parcel's continued structural integrity."

The sublease would create a revenue stream and the town could put much of the maintenance responsibility on the sub-lessee. In a letter to Town Clerk Helen Polito on Aug. 2, 2004, lawyer and current municipal judge George Savino wrote on behalf of Aziz Demirbulaki about Demirbulaki leasing in the station.

They are interested in opening a Turkish restaurant in Kingsland Station, but without township control of the station, it seemed an impossibility.

The Lyndhurst Station, however, was leased to first, Jumbo Elliot's and then Traxx in the 1980s and 1990s, a bar/nightclub, and the original lease from the town called for the lessee to pay a monthly rent of $600, maintain indoor waiting areas for train passengers and maintain the interior and exterior of the rented space. The town's sublease was up in 2001 and the state continued to lease to Traxx it closed in 2005, a year before the fire.

DiLascio, specifically with the Lyndhurst Station, would like to attract a semi-upscale dining facility that would host outdoor dining on the corner of Stuyvesant and Court avenues. He said chain restaurants and bars would be excluded from the space.

"If I can get a 20-year lease on this, I'm not so much concerned about a revenue stream, I'm concerned with whatever business comes in renovates the space to tailor their needs and begins the revitalization of Stuyvesant Avenue we've been looking for," said DiLascio.

According to Carroll, average weekday ridership at the Lyndhurst Station is 760 people and at the 92-year-old Kingsland Station, average weekday ridership is 440 people.

Commuters who use the rail consistently say the stations are not only aesthetically unpleasing, but in many cases a deterrent to even wait for trains at the station. George Jacoby of North Arlington is dropped off by his wife in the morning to catch a train to the city at the Lyndhurst Station, but said if Rutherford's station were a little closer, he would rather use that.

At the Kingsland Station, the sentiments are not much different. When it's cold out, passengers can merely look at the station knowing full well there is space inside to warm up.