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A New Festival at the Beach

By Lynn Yahia and Tom Bauer, Melillo + Bauer Associates






Pier Village's Festival Plaza detailing includes maritime bollards, evocative of the former Pier that burned about 20 years ago, and seven flagpoles honoring the seven Presidents of the United States who visited or vacationed in the City of Long Branch. In the summer months, the Great Lawn offers a large open area while in December an ice rink is installed, creating a popular winter amenity.
Photos courtesy of Melillo + Bauer Associates, Inc.


As designed by Melillo + Bauer Associates, Landscape Architecture, Pier Village is a true public amenity that has revitalized Long Branch by transforming an underutilized and unsafe oceanfront property into a vibrant, thriving, mixed-use community. In just its second year, Pier Village has proven to be a resounding success, stimulating a once-dormant economy, and restoring Long Branch's historic position as a popular destination along the Jersey Shore.






As envisioned by Melillo + Bauer Associates, the focus of the Master Plan is the visibility of the ocean. Pedestrian paths throughout the site afford strong linkages and help to extend the public space into the existing community.

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Once one of the premier summer vacation spots and most fashionable residences in the northeast, the city of Long Branch boasts a rich and historically significant past. A short one-hour train ride from Manhattan, Long Branch enjoyed turn of the century popularity among the nation's elite. Sadly, as with many of New Jersey's coastal towns, time dealt a hard blow to Long Branch and its once thriving oceanfront deteriorated into a derelict area of abandoned homes and vacant beaches.






The view from the boardwalk looking west down Chelsea Avenue prior to the creation of Pier Village: Abandoned buildings and overgrown vegetation were characteristic of the area. In the background, one can actually identify the historic Star of the Sea Church bell tower in the distance.


The Pier Village site was once home to a popular amusement park and pier. A massive fire in 1987 destroyed much of the pier - once the longest on the Jersey coast - and the amusement park. The deserted facility and surrounding structures stood for more than a decade as a ghostly reminder of the city's lost tourism and subsequent economic decline. Out of the ashes rose Pier Village, which in just its second year of existence has substantially altered the fate of Long Branch by significantly adding to the economic vitality of the city, creating considerable public amenities, and restoring its appeal as a sophisticated destination and resort area.

As the lead Consultant on the project, the landscape architect, Melillo + Bauer visualized a Master Plan to be constructed in three phases. With the first phase complete and the second under construction, Pier Village now has in operation 100,000 sq. ft. of retail space and 352 residences.






The hand-hammered, copper-roofed Pavilion and flanking trellis were oriented to frame views of the oceanfront as pedestrian and vehicular traffic travel along the Chelsea Avenue axis. This Pavilion has become a landmark and symbol for the rejuvenated Long Branch oceanfront and is the stage for the town's summer concert series.


This was especially important in Phase I of the project so that Pier Village would instantly become integrated into the existing neighborhood beyond the oceanfront area. At the western boundary of the site, Ocean Boulevard was narrowed from a six lane highway to a 4 lane boulevard in order to facilitate pedestrian access from the residential neighborhood immediately to the west. Large areas of decorative pavements were constructed at these intersections to calm traffic at the pedestrian crossings. Laird Street at the northern site boundary, and Chelsea Avenue in the center of Phase I are the primary pedestrian routes through the site.






Architectural tower elements, with an open colonnade below, flank the intersection of Chelsea Avenue and Centennial Drive, providing a visual gateway to the Ocean Front across Festival Plaza - a large crescent shaped public green that provides a community gathering space within the heart of Pier Village.


At the oceanfront terminus of the axis of Chelsea Avenue lies Festival Plaza, a large public green space created by Melillo + Bauer Associates to serve as a year round public amenity at the heart of the Village. Here, a crescent-shaped retail arcade embraces this large public green offering, venues for concerts, theater, festivals, art exhibits and other events. In the summer months, the Great Lawn offers a large open lawn area, while in December, an ice rink is installed, creating a popular winter amenity. Ringing the Great Lawn are seven flagpoles, symbolizing the seven U.S. Presidents who had visited Long Branch during the 19th and 20th centuries. Melillo + Bauer Associates designed small plaza areas bordered by seat walls at the oceanfront end of the Great Lawn, anchored at the center by the Plaza Pavilion and trellis, also designed by Melillo + Bauer Associates. These areas offer gathering spaces throughout the year for residents and visitors alike.






The arcaded retail streetscape is richly detailed with decorative brick pavement and contrasting concrete paver band, decorative light and banner poles (with graphics designed by the landscape architect (below)) and hanging baskets.





The boardwalk, which after the fire of 1987 was no longer continuous, has been rebuilt and expanded in a second crescent mirroring the retail arcade and Festival Plaza. The hand- hammered, copper-roofed Pavilion and flanking trellis were oriented to frame views of the oceanfront as pedestrian and vehicular traffic travel along the Chelsea Avenue axis. This Pavilion has become a landmark and symbol for the rejuvenated Long Branch oceanfront and is the stage for the town's summer concert series. Public beach access at the Pavilion was designed by the landscape architect to be fully accessible, affording all residents and visitors the opportunity to experience the oceanfront.






Sidewalk cafes enliven the streetscape along Festival Plaza.


In addition to the Master Plan vision, the success of Pier Village is due to the attention to detail paid by the landscape architect in every aspect of the project. The pavements were designed for visual interest along the ground plane, using varying paver types, colors and textures (brick, granite block and concrete pavers), all complementary to the architectural materials along the streetscape. The use of large mooring bollards along Festival Plaza recalls the vanished oceanfront pier, while benches, planters and sidewalk cafes create an active pedestrian experience, full of color and life. Additionally, Melillo + Bauer Associates designed graphics for the colorful banners that further enliven the streetscape experience, and lend a festive atmosphere throughout the year.






At the end of the streetscape and furnished with benches, planters, decorative light posts and banners, the Boardwalk provides a separation between pedestrians and the vehicular traffic on Ocean Avenue.


Planting in the seashore environment requires a limited palette of material. Working within this framework, the landscape architect created a planting design that maximized color and textural differences. The use of additional materials, such as jetty rock, lends another textural element to the design. The palette used by the landscape architect resulted in planted areas of a rugged, coastal beauty. As shade trees are problematic within this environment, vertical interest was accomplished through the use of the banner poles and streetscape pavilion structures, all designed by Melillo + Bauer Associates.






A number of recreational, social and cultural activities occur year-round including concerts, live theater, farmer's markets, arts and crafts exhibitions, food festivals and holiday activities--such as Fourth of July fireworks.


Pier Village has generated significant economic benefits to the City of Long Branch with the creation of 500 temporary jobs and more than 800 permanent jobs. The retail component is currently generating $30 million in annual sales, while the development is providing over $1 million in real estate taxes to the City's coffers. The successful transformation of 16 areas of underutilized and unsafe structures into a thriving downtown village has also considerably raised the property value of the surrounding area. In addition, with more than 300 residents now living in the apartments at Pier Village, as well as thousands of people visiting the community on a daily basis - including those using the beaches for the first time in a decade - Long Branch's entire commercial base of restaurants, retailers and hotels is benefiting from a new crop of people with disposable income. Also, in association with the Pier Village development, 85 affordable housing units have been built in Long Branch to help meet the critical need for affordable housing.






The successful transformation of 16 areas of underutilized and unsafe structures into a thriving downtown village has considerably raised the property value of the surrounding area--and added to a real sense of community.


The commitment to making Pier Village a year-round public entertainment and cultural destination as opposed to a seasonal resort will ensure that these benefits are enjoyed 12 months of the year. This is accomplished by the Developer's - The Applied Companies—decision to create a tenant base of restaurants, cafes and boutique shops rather than typical "Jersey Shore" seasonal shops. In addition, due to the public spaces designed by Melillo + Bauer Associates, a number of recreational and social and cultural activities are occurring year-round including concerts, live theater, farmer's markets, arts and crafts exhibitions, food festivals and holiday activities.






Chelsea Avenue today, looking from the boardwalk across Festival Plaza provides an expanded corridor and a strong visual link into the residental areas. Walkways through planted islands allow pedestrians safe passage across Ocean Avenue to and from the boardwalk and strengthen the link into the existing community.


Says The Applied Companies' President David Barry: "...Tom Bauer was instrumental in making Pier Village the tremendous success that it has become. Tom Bauer was intimately involved in all aspects of planning and design for Pier Village and his contributions throughout the project were critical. Pier Village is successful in large part because it has a deep sense of "place" which people relate to. Tom Bauer intuitively understands how important it is to create a development with a sense of place, and his efforts and professional input always use the medium of landscape architecture to enhance a special sense of place for the developments on which he works.






Planting throughout the site has been accomplished with massed varieties of perennials, ornamental grasses, and other vegetation suitable to the coastal environment such as northern bayberry, shore juniper, blackeyed Susans and sedum autumn glory. Jetty rock was also used as a landscape material within the planting areas.


It goes without saying that Tom Bauer's thoughtful approach to planning and landscape architecture and his unique vision were key elements in the success of the Pier Village project." The result has been a huge success with residents and visitors alike. Pier Village has already garnered the City's Mayor, Adam Schneider, with the "Public Official of the Year" award and, most recently, was honored as the "Project of the Year" by the ULI's Northern New Jersey District Council. Thanks, in part, to Pier Village, Long Branch can once again claim its place as a popular destination along the Jersey Shore.



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June 26, 2019, 12:00 pm PDT

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