The gathering came at a time when some proposed improvements for the city’s historic shopping district seem stalled, specifically the signature development called One Journal Square and the restoration of the historic landmark Loews Theater into a performing arts center.
Journal Square historically has been the center of commerce for the state’s second largest city, a retail center to which people have flocked for decades. In contrast to the massive development that has taken place along the waterfront in Jersey City, Journal Square’s decline over the last twenty years has symbolized a city in decline, and has been the center of many pitched political battles about how to restore it. Crime, homelessness, cleanliness, and other issues have been part of that ongoing conversation.
Joining Fulop were Planning Director Annisia Cialone, Health Department Director Stacy Flanagan and Police Chief Mike Kelly, each fielding questions about development, health, and public safety.
Pressing for change
Last year, the New JSQ Community Association issued recommendations for adjusting the Journal Square Redevelopment Plan, focusing on the need for open green space, public safety, and zoning to provide incentives for new retail businesses to open and provide needed public amenities.
To a series of questions posed by association president Bill Armbruster, Fulop said he felt strongly about the progress the city is making in developing areas away from the waterfront such as Journal Square, and said he felt more positive about the first six months of his second term as mayor than any other six months.
“Two things have changed,” he said. “We have developed a strategy for moving development away from the waterfront, and we are getting away from abatements… We have not given an abatement in over a year, and we will be stricter when we do use them.”
“We have developed a strategy for moving development away from the waterfront, and we are getting away from abatements.” – Mayor Steven Fulop
Most pressing was the One Journal Square project slated for a property located at the heart of Journal Square. Long vacant, its development became one of the symbolic issues in Fulop’s successful 2013 campaign to become mayor. Despite his promise to bring in a developer, the site still remains vacant, and may be tied up in litigation for the foreseeable future as a result of a lawsuit filed by the developer.
When asked if the city intended to take the land for other uses, Fulop said the city has no plans to use eminent domain to take it for future development or even temporary development of a sorely needed public park.
Cialone said the abandoned rail right of way known as the Bergen Arches could, however, provide park space as well as a possible new route for light rail service.
Gentrification, lack of affordable housing, and homelessness
Fearing that Journal Square could lose its affordability with new upscale development, the group asked how the city intended to protect low-and-middle income residents.
Fulop said the city would implement a new requirement for developers seeking variances similar to those that the city imposed for approval of abatements, requiring developers to set aside 20 percent of units as affordable.
Because Journal Square attracts numerous homeless people, the association asked what the city intends to do for them. Flanagan said the city is working with a number of local community groups to provide temporary housing, mental health, and other services.
Fulop went on to say that the city will soon announce plans to upgrade St. Lucy’s Shelter located near the Hoboken border to make it more appealing to people who need its services.
“Many homeless do not want to go there,” he said. “But improving the conditions, they may want to.”
Loew’s Theater, attracting retail
One huge question looming over Journal Square is the restoration and upgrading of Loew’s Theater into a center of performing arts.
After several years of legal conflict with the Friends of the Loews, progress is at a standstill. This could change next year when the lease expires and the city reclaims control, Fulop said. Meanwhile, the city has taken an alternate route, purchasing a building near the Journal Square PATH station that will be converted into a museum and arts center.
Since Journal Square is a commercial center, the association asked what the city is doing to make it attractive for new retail establishments.
Promoting retail development is an issue in Jersey City as well as across the nation, said Cialone.
“We can require a developer to build a space, but someone needs to fill it,” she said.
By increasing the number of people living in the area, the more attractive the area becomes for retail development.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.