Developers talk of future of building, districtRicardo KaulessarReporter staff writer 02/04/2005 There's a mammoth brick building that takes up a whole block of First Street in downtown Jersey City, an anomaly amid the luxury condos, high-rise office buildings and mid-level townhouses that have given the area known as Newport the moniker of "The Gold Coast."In its heyday, the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Powerhouse was a masterpiece of architecture.Construction started in 1906 and was completed in 1908 on the steel-framed 200,000-square-foot edifice with its 28-inch thick brick walls. The massive windows, 1,300 square feet each, are the largest of their kind on the East Coast, and trains used to slide through the access door. Topping this building off is a 200 x 200 feet observation roof with views of Manhattan to the east and Newark to the west.But the Powerhouse wasn't built just for show. It was the power station that provided electricity for the one of the largest railroad systems in the United States. However, its purpose flickered out in 1929 when it became cheaper to obtain electricity from other entities.In the succeeding years, it stood abandoned, with much of its historic machinery removed. Eventually, it was used to house electrical machinery used for the PATH system (created out of the remnants of the old Hudson & Manhattan Railroad) by the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York, which has part ownership of the building.But it found new life several years ago when local residents such as John Gomez saved the building from complete disrepair, leading the effort to have it designated as a historic landmark. Their idea was to find an enterprising developer to transform the Powerhouse into a first-class retail/office space.The building has also lent its name to an arts district encompassing several blocks around the Powerhouse, which would be zoned to accommodate arts-related work/live spaces and arts-based retail.The building's transformation and the district stalled for a while, but in recent weeks, steps have been taken to put some power back in the Powerhouse District idea.Making the Powerhouse a realityIn January, several city officials made a trip to Baltimore for a few reasons, including to learn more about Baltimore's 311 and governmental accountability systems. However, the trip also provided the opportunity to meet with Baltimore developer David Cordish, the head of the family-run Cordish Company.Cordish developed, in partnership with the city of Baltimore, the "Power Plant," a retail and dining complex that was once the city's power plant. Located in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, it opened in 1998.Cordish is one of several developers who have shown interest in redeveloping the Powerhouse in Jersey City.Ward E City Councilman Junior Maldonado, chairman of the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (JCRA) Board, was among those traveling to Baltimore. Maldonado said last week that he, along with others in the group, which included the mayor's chief of staff Carl Czaplicki and the city's business administrator Brian O' Reilly, met with Cordish."Cordish took us on a very informal tour of the Power Plant, and there was talk of projects that they have done," said Maldonado. "Cordish has also visited Jersey City before."Among the venues in Baltimore's Power Plant are a Hard Rock Cafe, a Barnes & Noble, and an ESPN Zone. The plant is also the anchor for a surrounding entertainment district known as Power Plant Live! where restaurants, nightclubs and housing co-exist.The Power Plant and the surrounding area have been cited by John Gomez, city officials and others involved in preserving the Jersey City Powerhouse as a template for redeveloping the building and the Downtown Jersey City area surrounding it - thus the Powerhouse Arts District. Cordish did not return a call to his office for comment as this article was going to press.Maldonado said that on a local level, developer Eric Silverman has looked into developing the Powerhouse, and there have been talks between the JCRA and Silverman about what his vision was for the building.Silverman confirmed last week that he has been interested in developing the Powerhouse for several years, and since May 2004 has been in talks with the JCRA."Our vision is for some kind of grand city market, bringing in local vendors to sell their products...it would be like the Redding Market in Philadelphia. Another part would be for large-scale retail and there would be a hotel and some housing," said Silverman.When asked if he has met with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey regarding his interest, he offered no comment. Silverman is known for his various development projects in Jersey City including most recently, transforming four buildings on Grove Street (one of which is the old Majestic Theater) into market-rate housing, the Merchant Restaurant, and the soon-to-open Majestic Bar.Maldonado did caution that there are still other developers who are being considered by the JCRA for being designated as a developer of the Powerhouse."[The JCRA] is following up with developers by getting a gauge on what their plans are for developing the Powerhouse, and we are certainly going to look at all possible avenue to get a developer," said Maldonado.Also, Maldonado said he personally would like to see "fast-tracked" the redevelopment of the Powerhouse. He said that in 2002, Preferred Real Estate Advisors, a development company based in Conshocken, Pa., was designated as a redeveloper, but according to Maldonado, put very little effort into the redevelopment in the time they were given."Preferred Realty were designated because they were in favor in Mark Munley [the former head of the city's Housing, Economic Development and Commerce division who was ousted in June 2004] and they accomplished absolutely nothing," said Maldonado. He claimed that at a meeting between the JCRA and the Port Authority six months ago, the Port Authority thanked him and the Redevelopment Agency for reaching out to them, because he had approached them regarding Powerhouse development.The Port Authority has, in the past, stalled attempts at redevelopment because it meant having to relocate the electrical equipment that powers the PATH subway system.Also looking forward to seeing development action on the Powerhouse is John Gomez.In 1999, Gomez, a lifelong resident of Jersey City and president of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy, started a movement to preserve the Powerhouse that led to it being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.Gomez said last week that the Powerhouse entertainment and retail complex needs to become a reality."It's the anchor, the namesake of an arts district that would bring not only commercial entities, but also cultural entities," said Gomez.Gomez estimated that $60 to $80 million would have to be spent by the eventual developer to not only help relocate the electrical equipment for the Port Authority, but also to redevelop the entire building.Changes for the better?The Powerhouse Arts Redevelopment Plan was adopted by the City Council on Oct. 27 of last year. The plan calls a number of objectives, from "preservation and rehabilitation of existing historic structures" to "acquir[ing] certain properties by negotiation or eminent domain as may be necessary to effectuate this Plan." Buildings in the district should "provide cultural, arts, entertainment and retail amenities to the nearby waterfront office and residential districts."The Powerhouse Arts District is comprised of an area of Downtown Jersey City with borders of Marin Blvd to the west, a small part of Greene Street to the east, Second Street to the north, and Steuben Street to the south.The district is considered an "area in need of redevelopment," as determined by the City Council at a council meeting last July 14. This gives the city the power to rezone and look for developers.The Powerhouse Arts District was once home to various factories and warehouses, with railroads running through the area as well. And to accomplish any redevelopment of an area requires a redevelopment plan.In particular, the plan that was passed allowed mandates such as: "10 percent of all affordable work/live units within buildings built in this district shall be provided to income qualifying certified artists" and "that a minimum of 75 percent of the work/live units shall be sized in the 1,200 to 2,500 square feet range."Opposition and amendmentsBut at the Oct. 27, 2004 meeting, there was opposition to the plan on the grounds that 10 percent of housing being set aside for artists at low rates would scare away investors and developers. David and Michael Pazden, a father and son team of real estate investors who represent Waldo Jersey City LLC, were among those who complained.Recently, at a Jan. 11 Planning Board meeting, Michael Pazden commented on such issues regarding the plan, saying marketing of the district only to artists was illegal."That's a state function that's done by the New Jersey DCA under the New Jersey federal statutes," he said. He added that the size of the work/live units should be reduced to a "realistic" level.The concerns of investors such as Pazden, and thorough study of the plan by the city's Planning Department, led to amendments to the plan that were approved by the Planning Board at their meeting last Tuesday.Now, the City Council has to amend the ordinance by introducing a new ordinance at their next meeting this coming Wednesday.Last week, city planner Robert Cotter described the changes as "minor adjustments" that create more opportunity for development within the district.Among the changes were that the work/live units will be no less than 900 square feet in size, with a minimum of 75 percent of the work/live units being at least 1,200 square feet. Or, a minimum of 50 percent of the work/live units can be at least 1,200 square feet in size provided that artist work/live studios in a building meet certain other requirements.Also, there were amendments put in to allow for nightclubs, bars and museums that weren't in the original plan.But there is still opposition to the district's right to exist.Contesting the arts districtThere is potential litigation contesting the legitimacy of the Powerhouse Arts District. It goes back to the Oct. 27 City Council meeting when the plan was approved by the City Council.At the time, Dan Horgan, the lawyer for the owner New Gold Equities (a real estate investment group led by New York developer Lloyd Goldman) said the plan would restrict how the owner can construct his buildings. He said this plan was intended to save the tenants of 111 First St., an already-extant artists' building (see story at left) at the expense of owners of other buildings in the soon-to-be approved district.Horgan said in an e-mail to the Jersey City Reporter last week that "The owner, New Gold Equities, is challenging the city's historic designation and zoning within the district.New Gold contends that the current Powerhouse Arts Redevelopment Plan is not going to benefit the arts or Jersey City residents due to its zoning and financial deficiencies."When asked when a lawsuit would be filed by New Gold Equities, Horgan responded, "New Gold makes all of its legal decisions after careful consideration of the facts. If the situation requires, the owner will resolve these issues through the courts."A source close to the situation said last week that at least 6,000 pages of documents have been requested from the city's Planning Department from the lawyers for Lloyd Goldman. The director of the planning department, Robert Cotter, would not comment on the matter because it is potential litigation.Mayor Jerramiah Healy, for his part, has said a number of times since becoming mayor that he would defend the Powerhouse Arts District. Some local artists, especially the tenants of 111 First St. who are now having to vacate their property, are skeptical because they believe Healy did not intervene enough in their own court battles with Goldman. But the city is acting to defend the district. At a City Council meeting on Jan.12, the City Council approved an ordinance to retain the services of the Hackensack law firm, Nowell, Amoroso, Klein and Bierman, as legal counsel to the city for that issue.
The next HCA meeting will be on Wednesday, January 16 at 7:30pm at the Villa Borinquen's community room. Enter at the back of the building, through the courtyard on Manila Avenue near Second St.There will be a presentation by the Route 139 renovation people, and we'll be talking about how we can help our friends in the PAD against Toll Bros., among other topics.
The artistic and cultural benefits to the community include a new 19,000-plus square foot, 550-seat performing arts theater...
During the Healy Administration, strides have been made that will ultimately make the PAD unique and one of the most vibrant locales on the East Coast.
The 111 First St. settlement will replace a structurally unsound and unsafe warehouse...
The criticized high rises are consistent with the high rises all around the area and, more importantly, the development is consistent with smart growth principles. Not to take advantage of the mass transit opportunities provided by the nearby PATH and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail would be environmentally foolhardy. Moreover, the critical mass of people these buildings will provide will help the cultural institutions in the PAD thrive. Currently, most of Downtown is a ghost town at night. Jersey City has more than 60,000 less people today than it did in 1930. We are helped by people moving to our city.
Pointing to the Trump Tower, Grove Pointe, 77 Hudson and other nearby skyscrapers, Toll Brothers architect Aaron Schwarz made the case that the company's towers would make the arts district visually similar to the surrounding area.
and someone needs to post these PDNA meeting notices over here...i would love to attend one
I have been a resident of the Powerhouse Arts District for several years now. I was initially excited to move into this neighborhood as it revitalized and grew.Over the years I have become increasingly frustrated and fed up with rampantly abusive and disproportionate property taxes; poor management of finances and services, and the general infrastructure; and apparent lack of accountability or conscience on the part of elected and appointed officials of our city. I have seen buildings on my block condemned due to poor oversight of adjacent construction projects (Columbus Plaza); I have sat in my living room, fearing for my and my neighbors' safety and property while I watched my building sway four and even five inches laterally as those buildings were demolished to make way for new developments.If the Toll Brothers company is allowed to proceed with this grossly twisted vision of what the PAD was originally conceived to be, it is entirely likely I will take my family, my income, and my vote to another municipality. I am DISGUSTED that Toll Brothers would even be in the position to make this demand, particularly since a small amount of ATTENTION TO DETAIL by the government of this city would have effectively precluded us from even having this discussion in the first place.Instead, complacency and, quite possibly, complicity on the part of our elected and appointed officials, now threaten this district with the very real (and, sad to say, given this government's track record, likely) fate of becoming another Newport- "prosperous" perhaps, but also soulless, sunless, overpopulated with bedroom commuters who will overtax the antiquated services infrastructure already present in the PAD, and uninvested in the future of our city. What are we gaining here, exactly? Or, perhaps the better question is, WHO benefits from Toll Brothers' plan?Do the right thing. Comply with the original spirit and letter of the redevelopment plan.
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