At least when it comes to parking, Essex County’s South Mountain Recreation Complex in West Orange has become a victim of its own success.
With the revamped Turtle Back Zoo seeing record-breaking attendance, plus the popularity of mini golf, paddle boating, the walking path bordering the Orange Reservoir and McLoone’s Boathouse restaurant, available parking is no longer sufficient.
But that will soon change.
On Tuesday, officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking on a 500-car parking garage at the Recreation Complex, which will alleviate the parking crunch.
“With Turtle Back Zoo as our anchor and new attractions like the paddle boating and 1.7-mile walking path at the Orange Reservoir, our Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex has become a regional destination for people seeking leisure, recreation and educational activities,” said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. in a news release.
The complex currently includes the 400-space parking lot at the zoo, a 477-space Park N Ride facility, a lot by the miniGOLF Sarafi and McCloone’s and a small lot across from the Paddle Boat Dock. When all are at capacity, cars are directed to park in nearby business parking lots, on the grass archery field off of Cherry Lane in South Mountain Reservation and on local streets around the zoo, according to a news release.
The construction of the garage will be a “massive undertaking” that will worsen the parking situation for several months, said DiVincenzo. “We ask for the public’s understanding and patience while we work to improve our parking accommodations,” he said.
“The transformation of this corner of Essex County is a major accomplishment for our County Executive and there is no question that additional parking spaces are needed,” Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver said in the release. “What we will have is an architecturally pleasing facility that fills a great need,” she added.
Essex County Turtle Back Zoo Director Brint Spencer said attendance at the Zoo continues to surpass record numbers, with attendance up by 43,000 visitors this year. “Our programs are expanding rapidly. We had one education building and last week we opened our second. We had one parking deck and today we are starting to build our second. The parking facility is definitely needed,” he noted.
The new five-story facility will be located in the surface parking lot between Turtle Back Zoo and Codey Arena. There will be stairwell and elevator access close to the Zoo and Arena for visitors who park in the new garage. To enhance traffic control on Northfield Avenue, a traffic signal will be installed at the western end of Codey Arena.
More statistics on the popularity of the complex’s attractions, from the release:
- Turtle Back Zoo welcomed an all-time record 621,828 visitors in 2013 and through July 7th has welcomed 322,938.
- Codey Arena had about 400,000 in attendance in 2013.
- The miniGOLF Safari recorded 40,747 rounds in 2013 and has recorded 14,155 through July 7th.
- At the start of its first full [season], the paddle boating on the Orange Reservoir has seen 5,113 people take to the water.
- McLoone’s Boathouse Restaurant and the new walkway around the Orange Reservoir also have been magnets for people attracted to the complex.
Greg Comito and Associates from Newark was awarded a $388,000 contract to design the parking facility. Terminal Construction from Wood-Ridge, NJ, was awarded a publicly bid contract for $11,642,000 to construct the parking facility.
The project, which is being funded through the Essex County Capital Budget, is scheduled for completion in spring of 2015.