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County Officials Announce Grand Opening of Boathouse Restaurant

DiVincenzo responds to recent criticism of restaurant, announces plans for Orange Reservoir

A brand new boathouse restaurant will open its doors Friday at the South Mountain Recreation Complex in West Orange.

The restaurant is the that includes Turtle Back Zoo, Richard J. Codey Arena, a three-story Park N Ride facility, a 300-space surface parking lot, miniGOLF Safari and the Treetop Adventure Course.

"The only thing that was missing was this and that was why it was so important to me," Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said during a Wednesday press conference inside the restaurant. "We didn't have a restaurant, why do we want people to come here and not have a good place to eat?"

The grand opening comes despite from state and local officials vying for a seat in the upcoming elections.

DiVincenzo fiercely defended the $4 million investment, "We can't wait for the federal government and the state government, we have to be in control of our destiny … I am not going to allow anybody to speak about Essex County."

He did not speculate as to when the investment would be recouped but said the boathouse was part of "an overall picture" and that revenue from the property would benefit the entire complex.

McLoone's will pay the county $22,500 a month to lease the space for 15 years. In addition, McLoone's will pay $12,000 a year for maintenance of the property.

"We're hiring a lot of people and we're paying a lot of money to be here too, it's not just the county handing it to us," said Tim McLoone, owner of the New Jersey Shore-based restaurant group that currently operates six eateries, including five in New Jersey and one in Maryland. He defended the partnership and said so far, he has invested $600,000 in the project, an amount that will reach a full million in the first year.

"We're here to fit into Essex County," he said. Having grown up in Essex County, McLoone said the location brings back old memories. "It's great to be back here, it really is," he said. McLoone moved from Staten Island to East Orange at the age of four, then moved to Orange and South Orange. "I went to Our Lady of Sorrows and Seton Hall Prep ... had my prom at the Short Hills Caterers ... I'm an Essex County boy."

McLoone said the restaurant has something for every price-range and every age. "It's also important that we have pricing that's more inclusive so large members of the Essex County population can feel comfortable in this building." Boasting a large menu that includes lunch, dinner, cocktail hour and Sunday brunch, McLoone said his restaurants aim to "do non-pretentious food that is familiar to people, but we do it better than you do it at home."

The 12,000 square foot restaurant seats 250 guest in its multiple rooms ornamented with dark wooden walls, fire places and model ships. The outdoor area seats an additional 85-100 people and overlooks the Orange Reservoir, owned by the township of Orange.

The area was a point of contention earlier this year when Orange Mayor Eldridge Hawkins Jr. and failing to compensate the township.

Hawkins, though, who attended the press conference, had nothing but praise for the boathouse. "The construction is magnificent, I looked out that window at our reservoir and I never saw it looking any better." He said the reservoir was used for drinking water many years ago but as of late, had "just been sitting there."

DiVincenzo said he has plans to lease the area and create jogging paths and water activities, such as kayaking and paddle boating.

Anthony Puglisi, a spokesman for the county, said the litigation was "in limbo." He said the county is negotiating with city officials to lease the reservoir from Orange, "Rather than proceed with any kind of hearing, now there's an offer on the table." Should the county and Orange sign a lease agreement, the lawsuit would be settled out of court, Puglisi said.

Detailing the agreement, Puglisi said the county would lease the space from Orange for 20 years. Orange would receive $75,000 a year for the first 10 years and $85,000 for the following 10 years.

Hawkins said Orange was eager to work with the county and called the partnership a "blessing."

"We worked out an agreement. This is a partnership," DiVincenzo said. He promised that by next April the first boat will be ready to hit the waterways. "We're going to bring this to life."

Don October 20, 2011 at 08:11 PM
I would have rather the money be spent on permanently improving community-used, free to residents, open space amenities, as its supposed to be. Or put to work on things like cleaning up the various toxic areas that need cleaning up, there are many of them.
Don October 20, 2011 at 08:19 PM
Good point Damien, about the existing restaurants in that area. This is the payback they get for being good citizens and paying taxes, to have the county go into competition with them. Is there any chance that building the big arena was a mistake and its losing a lot of money, and the county is desperate to hide that loss with a money maker? The only reason I ask that is that all across the country, lots of cities and counties have built arenas, often for local sports team owners, and often with the promise of job creation as bait, but then they end up standing deserted, while requiring round the clock security, huge money losers. Its even worse when eminent domain was used to acquire the land to build them (not uncommon). So they often used eminent domain to forcibly acquire control of the land, seeing dollar signs, usually partnering with a developer who inevitably was not exposed to risk but who was cut in on the profit.. But then the crowds dont come and its a huge loss.. That kind of thing is a very real risk when you live like we do in a nation that is flirting with banana-republicanism.. The powerful basically use government spending as a way to funnel tax money to them and put the people of the country on the hook for their losses. Its a looting strategy, plain and simple.
Loren Svetvilas October 20, 2011 at 08:25 PM
Anyone want to place a bet? When the front doors of McLoon's open on Friday night, the first thing customer's will see is a bronze plaque paying tribute to Joe DiVincenzo, with his smug mug grinning to welcome customers to "his" fine eatery.
Don October 20, 2011 at 08:28 PM
Mountain biking - although its a lot of fun, is dangerous to pedestrians who often are seen by mountain bikers at a stage where its impossible for them to stop or do much of anything except hit them or drive off the trail and risk serious injury. I know, Ive done mountain biking.. and its a lot of fun, but God help you if some elderly hiker who is hard of hearing appears on the path. Its a real disaster for all concerned. Mountain bike trails are the equivalent of a ski run, trails should either have speed limits for bikes that are STRICTLY enforced or be labelled single use, one or the other.
max October 20, 2011 at 09:09 PM
There are many recreation areas that do a great job of providing various types of paths for folks with different recreation needs/desires. Based on my experience on most of the trails in the res between South Orange Ave and MIllburn, you could create a relatively easy (green) bike path that would not really attract the extremist but allow for family biking and create additional recreation opportunities within the res. I do see folks biking pretty regularly even though technically they are not supposed to. I agree mountain biking can be dangerous but I have practically been run over by dogs who are not being well managed by their owners while running, so clearly marked trails and some level of personal responsibility are required. This is not a racial idea; It is well done in many parts of the country including other ares of Jersey. Essex county really lags behind in bike trail and route availability.
max October 20, 2011 at 09:10 PM
I think it will be nice to have a lakeside dining option close to town. I only hope they sell decent healthy food, not just junk food.
Damian October 20, 2011 at 10:22 PM
Don, another prime example is the stadium built for the NJ Bears-to this day Essex County and Newark split the annual $1,000,000 to pay the bondholders that the arena was supposed to pay off. God only knows what the downtown arena will end up costing Essex County taxpayers.
Don October 20, 2011 at 11:29 PM
No one will invest in a restaurant with a 5 year lease, it's too short. Good point. You know, I'm sure you're right. And that would be a deal killer. You know, I don't know enough about this issue to be pontificating the way I am on it. It might well end up to be a unique, positive place to eat, that I enjoy going to. So, maybe I should shut up at least until after I've been there and had a meal. I shouldn't jump to conclusions.
Don October 20, 2011 at 11:30 PM
+1 on that max, me too. That's really important.
Don October 21, 2011 at 12:04 AM
Would it be asking too much to legislate some philosophy of extreme transparency and frugality when the county builds something like that? We need that. That said, sometimes, something like a stadium has to be rebuilt, for safety reasons. Bridges, too, obviously. Especially if we get any more earthquakes, we should expect them to reveal all the hidden faults in our aging infrastructure. Hopefully, not catastrophically. I have heard some hair raising stories about what its like to be on a bridge in an earthquake. Sometimes, they fail. I had a friend who was crossing the SF Bay on the SF - Oakland Bay Bridge in 1989. The section of road in front of her vanished, falling down, fall all she knew from her vantage point, hundreds of feet down into the Bay. (it actually was stopped by the lower deck) Still it was terrifying. A bus was left with its front wheels in the air, after the fall, and its only by Gods will that it did not fall in. It was hanging over the edge! She almost drove over the edge herself.. She didn't understand why people were turning around and suddenly driving back on the highway in the wrong direction yelling at her.. It didn't register for a few seconds.. The point I'm trying to make is that we need a pro-active program of replacing things like bridges before they fail. Otherwise they will fail when something like one of our rare earthquakes happens, adding to the disruption.
Tom Morris October 21, 2011 at 12:26 AM
I believe the vision for the future of this complex is great. I can recall when a previous EC exec was ready to sell Turtle Back Zoo. At times, government involvement is a good thing overall despite legitimate reservations and criticisms.
Thirty Four October 21, 2011 at 02:28 AM
Agreed with Max that they should create a separate biking trail which could gear a bit toward family oriented trail. That is very much needed and very hard to find in this area.
Raymond Helfrich October 21, 2011 at 03:23 AM
Interesting.
Kirby Ehret October 21, 2011 at 01:53 PM
Will there be a way to double or triple dip from this new monster? I thought open space was for fields, trees ect.
Damian October 21, 2011 at 02:27 PM
Hmmnn, I'd love to see a list of employees of the new restaurant and if any are politically connected . . .
Right of Center October 21, 2011 at 02:36 PM
"He did not speculate as to when the investment would be recouped ..." That's because at $22,500 per month at 4% interest it will take 24 years to recoup. Thanks Joey D!
David Harrison October 21, 2011 at 05:06 PM
Message to Joe Di and the Freeloaders: We are in a recession and a lot of people can no longer afford to live here. We need lower taxes, not miniature golf and another restaurant. Most County businesses such as these do not make money even in the long-term and we need relief now. The comments regarding neglect of other parts of the reservation are spot-on: bridges, trails, walkways etc. are in disrepair, security is poor, and all you've done is put up some glitzy new signs at the entrances (including way too many with Joe's obnoxious photo) and build more leisure facilities most people can't afford to use. Time for a regime change people!
Celeste October 21, 2011 at 05:11 PM
Oh, well folks, it's a done deal now....I'm personally looking forward and bringing my family tonight. I hope they serve variety of dishes, including healthy ones, and I wish the staff the best of luck on opening night. Hopefully, it will be a successful establishment.
Kirby Ehret October 21, 2011 at 07:32 PM
I think David should be in charge of tjhe County . He makes sense . Maybe he woudnt "Double Dip "
Wendy October 21, 2011 at 07:40 PM
Everybody's property tax got 1-2% EXTRA increase because of this.
Don October 22, 2011 at 06:59 AM
I like the zoo and I appreciate the fact that a lot of people visit it. We are lucky to have it.
Don October 22, 2011 at 07:19 AM
Let me guess, youre a Republican, right?
David Harrison October 24, 2011 at 04:19 PM
Wrong Don, I happen to be a registered Democrat......but like most intelligent voters I do not form opinions nor vote along party lines.
Kevin October 24, 2011 at 05:02 PM
I visited this place Saturday night and it is quite nice. It was a little more expensive than I anticipated but otherwise a very nice place. The food was good and they had a wide selection of wines and various special drinks to choose. Service was good.
Right of Center October 24, 2011 at 05:04 PM
How crowded was it Kevin? Since we taxpayers are all investors we're dying to know!
Kevin October 24, 2011 at 08:50 PM
It had a pretty good crowd ROC. Most of the tables in each of the dining rooms (2) were full as well as a nice size crowd at the bar. It is a very nice place and worth the visit.
John Lee October 24, 2011 at 09:29 PM
That whole recreation area is actually generating revenue for the county park system. Costs to clean and maintain county parks such as Anderson Park in UMC, Brookdale Park in Bloomfield, and Yantacaw Park in Nutley are paid for in part by the admission fees and business rent paid to the county. When someone buys a home, it is highly unlikely that they will have much equity in the first few years of ownership, yet home ownership is usually a good long term investment. The investments made at Turtle Back Zoo have paid off handsomely as attendence is up and growing (and as a San Diegan I am impressed with TBZ), similarly the area is fantastic. A recent report from my mom's red hatter group declared SafariGolf to be a great place for seniors to have fun with their grandchildren. A quick look at the records shows that it has an operating profit. Being days old the restaurant won't be profitable for a bit, but like Highlawn Pavillion that space is world class and surely will do well. This nation has a history of spending in times of financial distress to not only create jobs but also to create lasting infrastructure that will benefit for years, or decades, long after the strife is over. Imagine how things would have been if Hoover Dam was stopped because of the Depression, or the GWB. We have all benefitted from that forsight, and Joe D has brought that same long range planning to the county. I'm looking forward to dining there.
Right of Center October 24, 2011 at 10:49 PM
A fish restaurant, our own Hoover dam! It's just too bad that the full commercial rent for the new restaurant will be consumed in paying off the bonds for the next 24 years. But, come 2035 it sure will be great to turn a profit!
Ken October 24, 2011 at 11:19 PM
What restaurants? As far as I know, other than McDonald's, the other restaurants on that strip of Northfield have all been shut down for a good amount of time. Pretty sure McDonald's doesn't care.
Ken October 24, 2011 at 11:21 PM
Yeah, waiters and bartenders are infamous for making $2,000 political donations each election cycle.

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