POMPTON PLAINS -- An 82,000-square-foot, castle-themed banquet hall that involves a former "Real Housewives of New Jersey" star began hosting events this month and is expected to become fully operational in early 2018.
The Badanco Holding Co. received unanimous approval from the Pequannock Planning Board in 2008 to develop an 1,800-seat event facility on a 42-acre tract of land last active in the 1970s as the McDonald's Beach property.
A decade later, The Legacy Castle opened the first floor of the building at 141 Route 23 this month to host weddings, a Paterson Diocese anniversary celebration and a Paterson Police Benevolent Association ball.
Albert Manzo said he and his brother, Thomas, co-owners of The Brownstone in Paterson, are business partners assisting with the project that Badanco conceived and funded.
Albert Manzo is the husband of Caroline Manzo, former "Real Housewives of New Jersey" star, who was also featured in the spin-off show "Manzo'd with Children."
The operators only obtained a certificate of occupancy for the first floor of the stone structure, Manzo said. As a result, the second level's 1,500-seat grand ballroom, complete with outdoor lounge and atrium bar, are not yet open for events.
"It won't be fully up and running until after the New Year but we're getting closer and closer," he said. "The place is palatial and elegant. You'd have to go to [Las] Vegas to see something so special on that grand a scale."
The wedding and banquet venue boasts a 40-foot-high ceiling in its lobby, three ballrooms, 1,000 parking spaces, and plans show the average height of the building is about 70 feet. Fountains will adorn each of the two ponds located on the property.
"When I went to McDonald's Beach as a little boy it was a swamp," Manzo said. "But this is a pristine piece of land that was never developed so we got to start from scratch."
However, Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, criticized the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and claimed the property has been on the state's open space acquisition list for years and would be better served as open space.
"This area is one of the last pieces of undeveloped open spaces in the area and is part of the environmentally sensitive Highlands," the wildlife preservation non-profit's head said in a statement. "It is also an area that floods regularly because it is right on the river and is surrounded by two lakes. It will be a nice venue for a wedding, but it would have been even better for a park for people to use and swim."
Tittel added that the DEP has purchased hundreds of thousands of acres of open space, but have not opened a new swimming area in nearly 40 years.
Attempts to reach DEP officials were unsuccessful.
Approximately 1.4 million pounds of steel were used to erect the 85,000-square-foot facility, according to the Badanco Holding website. The castle occupies 4 acres of the property with 200,000 square feet of potential commercial retail available on the site.
At about $300 per person on prime nights, the cost of hosting 1,500 wedding guests at The Legacy Castle approaches $500,000.
John Sullivan, an attorney who represented Badanco during its planning board hearings in 2007 and 2008, said all event proceedings and music will be held inside the building.
During public comment, neighboring residents expressed reservations at the time regarding potential traffic, environmental and flooding issues as a result of the property's location in a flood plain.
Many stakeholders asked how the planning body approved an immense building that was squeezed between two lakes at a time when flooding in New Jersey was a prominent issue.
Nate Glinbizzi, of Richard Street, questioned how the applicant would evacuate the facility should a flood strike during an event.
Madison Street resident Nicholas Lombardi asked how the venue's management would react if a flood caused a wedding to be canceled.
Manzo said at the time that the catering hall would have a plan in place to deal with flooding, just as it would for a fire or other emergencies. He said any wedding canceled as a result of localized flooding would be permitted to change the date, as would be the case in the event of a snowstorm or other weather event.
Project engineer Arthur Hanson said the applicant built an outpour structure that regulates the volume of water leaving the site.
Twenty years ago, the planning board discussed plans to develop the property into a training complex for the MetroStars, a Major League Soccer franchise known today as the New York Red Bulls. The board approved the project but the rancor from opposing neighbors compelled the soccer club to kill the project.
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