By Sara Martino
Gloucester City News
Gloucester City officials dedicated the Freedom Pier Saturday morning, and then announced plans for a new restaurant to be built on it overlooking the Delaware River.
Near the end of the dedication, City Councilman Nicholas Marchese asked Don Bigley and Jeff Lucas to come to the podium.
“Ott’s on the Waterfront will have an unusual concept, will be a family place to dine and will be our sixth Ott’s Tavern,” Owner Jeff Lucas told the more than 100 people in attendance on a crisp, sunny day September 17.
Permits and other details still have to be worked out, but they will start building as soon as a green light is given, he said.
“I want to welcome everyone for being here for the dedication of the former United States Coast Guard Base and Immigration Station,” Marchese said to start the program.
“This dedication of the area will be forever known as Freedom Pier,” he said. “There have been many people from around the world who have entered the United States through the former immigration station.
It is only appropriate to be now named Freedom Pier.”
The station had held detainees in a large converted Victorian house on South King Street along the river.
The facility held 50 individuals at a time, according to historian Stephen Fox, who wrote about the German internees that were at the station.
The U.S. Coast Guard vessels “Red Oak” and “Lilac” were often docked at the pier before the base was relocated to Philadelphia. Once the base was officially closed, Gloucester City acquired the area for $1.
A Coast Guard Honor Guard from Sector Delaware Bay in Philadelphia presented the colors for the occasion.
Historian Dave Munn said the area is one of the most historic properties in the City, with Proprietors Park being the other.
Former Mayor Bob Bevan said he remembered that when he first had got involved in the project idea many years ago, “My hair was brown, I still had my teeth and I could hear.”
Councilman Daniel Spencer introduced the guests, including some of the governing body and 4th and 5th Districts representatives.
State Senator Donald Norcross (D-5) said the projects that are forthcoming on the pier will develop the waterfront and, most importantly, will create new jobs in the area.
Mayor William James could not attend the event but sent a letter for the special occasion.
“Several years ago the price tag for the project was $3.8 million and was put on the back burner. We were able now to complete this project for $1 million,” he wrote. “The reconstruction of the pier was funded by a state and DRPA economic development grant.”
Bob Bevan and his wife, Janet, were honored with a commendation for their work on the project.
“This is a person who does not take ‘no’ for an answer and who continues to endure through road blocks that are placed by many when trying to accomplish a goal of this magnitude,” Marchese said while presenting the special award.
“This has really been a frustrating 25 years. Many plans were discussed and then eliminated for one reason or another. One was the fact that this once was inhabited by Indians,” Bevan said. “We thought about building a high-rise building here, a boat-motel restaurant and other ideas.
“This area is the keystone of the King Street development. A 1,200-foot paved brick walkway for public access and beautiful sunsets are only a few of the attractions here,” Bevan said.
Marchese said later the area may house a retail area and outdoor marketplace.
“You have not seen anything yet,” the City officials agreed.