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Mayor Glenn Cunningham’s Vision of “Golden Neighborhoods”

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Posted by Steven Glazer, Urban Times News on September 26, 2003 at 18:21:00:




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Jersey City—It is beginning to look like the Mayor Glenn Cunningham’s vision of “Golden Neighborhoods” all through the city—and not just the Gold Coast Waterfront—may be reaching critical mass.

It began with the surprise designation of the developer for the landmark medical center. The surprise was not that George Filopolous of Metrovest was designated as redeveloper of the historic Jersey City Medical Center, but that all seven commissioners of the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency were unanimous in their choice. For the first time since shortly after the Cunningham administration took office, the formerly embattled agency reached consensus without dissent. Commissioner Patricia Gardner prefaced her vote in favor with the comment that “This is the first time I can remember that the board has been unanimous about anything.”

Filopolous has been a frontrunner from the start of the protracted selection and decision making process that began just as he was about to receive final approval as designated developer. Five other developers were invited to compete at the final stage of Filopolous’ approval to assure that the resulting project would give the city the optimum engine for development of the Medical Center neighborhood and the inner city. Liberty Healthcare, the operator of the Medical Center plans to move to its new building at Jersey and Grand next April clearing the way for Metrovest to begin work on the massive project. The project will include more than 800 market rate rental units on upper floors above retail and commercial space below and will stress ample parking, according to Filopolous.

JCRA Executive Director Suzanne Mack said that the decision was reached by the rigorous application of a number of criteria, particularly sensitivity to the sentiments of the surrounding community. Filopolous has cheerfully competed in a contest that he had every reason to think he had already won. Metrovest along with the other five developers complied extensively with wishes of the city and community surrounding the site through the multi-stage decision process that ultimately gave him the prize again. Mack said Metrovest simply had done the best job of meeting the JCRA's criteria, including financial standing, past experience and their experience with local workers, as well as the master plan for the property.

Ward C Council Member and JCRA Chair Steve Lipski said, "Since last Tuesday, I've thought long and hard about the process, and this has been one of the most open processes in Jersey City and maybe in Hudson County's history. I am very confident in casting my vote. Every developer that came before us was good, but I'm voting for the best of the best." The project, two miles from the waterfront is at the exact geographic center of the city and at the convergence of Wards C, E, and F and is expected to touch off spillover development all around it.

Minutes later in their caucus meeting, the city council prepared an ordinance for their next meeting that will give an unprecedented 40-year tax abatement to the historic Whitlock Cordage renovation in the heart of the Morris Canal redevelopment area. Charles Catrillo of the Housing and Economic Development Commission said that the plans called for demolition of the eight original historic buildings and a third building that was beyond saving but with little or no historic value. Catrillo told the counsel that the ambitious plan then called for the construction of an additional 29 new structures in keeping with the originals.

The affordable units, Catrillo explained would be aimed at a target market in an income range of $22,000 to $36,000 to assure affordability. Acting as Chair, Council member at large Mariano Vega said that while unprecedented in term of years, the benefits to the surrounding area seemed like a good trade for the city. The ambitious restoration will include some of the original building of Whitlock Cordage, once one of Jersey City’s top employers and manufacturers. The former rope mill will be turned into 330 rental housing units including 198 affordable housing units and 250 parking spaces adjoining Ercell Webb park, an area in need of upgrade according to Vega.

Viola Richardson, Ward F Council member, said “At $707 a month for a two bedroom, two bath, I don’t think I have seen anything like this, that keeps the historic value of the property and provides a place where my constituents would be proud to live. There is absolutely no difference at all between the affordable units and the market rate units. They have exactly the same features and details.”

In the Journal Square area, a ten-year extension of an existing abatement is before the council to retain a key tenant and anchor employer, ADP. The owner of the building housing ADP, PHM Associates argued that the extension would keep a key employer and good corporate citizen and neighbor from moving to lower tax suburbs with the loss of jobs and tax revenues, just as the Journal Square area was about to turn around.

Developer Joe Panepinto told council members, “I am the ‘P’ in PHM and I am probably the biggest property owner in the Journal Square area. I feel that we are right at a turning point right now in the development of the area and to lose ADP at this time would be a set back.” Ward C Council member Steve Lipski added that ground has been broken just blocks away at the site of the former State Theater for a large residential development, the first in Journal Square in more than 20 years.

In between the two locations, the Lowe’s Jersey Theater is about to take on new life with a renewed agreement with the City. Panepinto added that he was prepared to contribute $50,000 to the 1929 movie palace’s restoration and to help raise additional funds for the maintenance of the historic landmark.

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