In April of 2009, Jersey City officials and developers came together to kick off the construction of two privately-built $500 million towers next to the Journal Square transportation center, a cornerstone in a long-term plan to revitalize the city’s one-time hub.
Now all that stands there is a well-maintained empty lot that commuters walk by on their way to the train and bus station.
And the towers aren’t only thing being held up when it comes to Journal Square development.
In spring and summer of 2008, the city worked out a Journal Square Redevelopment Plan to outline how to revitalize Journal Square, expressing a desire for 10,000 to 15,000 new residential units for a 244-acre area. The proposal envisions thousands of square feet of commercial and retail space and 9 acres of park space.
“Nobody wants to build it now more than us.” – Lowell Harwood
The developers of the two towers said last week that the project will be built one day, but because of the current economy, they declined to estimate when.
‘A little thing called m-o-n-e-y’
Longtime Journal Square businessman Lowell Harwood joined with Washington D.C. pension fund firm Multi-Employer Pension Trust (MEPT) and Becker + Becker Associates, a Connecticut-based development company, as partners in the future construction of the two-tower project, known as Journal Square City Center Towers.
They say they still plan to build two residential towers, 43 and 61 stories, on top of a seven-story retail base at the site.
According to their plan, the two towers will include over 1,500 new luxury rental apartments, including a 40,000-square-foot rooftop terrace, fitness center, children’s play area, and swimming pool. The towers will sit atop a seven-story base containing 70,000 square feet of retail and about 680 parking spaces.
Harwood explained last week that the project is not being built at the present time because it is difficult to get financing with the economy struggling.
“A little thing called m-o-n-e-y,” Harwood said. “If there was enough of it, we would be building right now.”
Harwood added, “Nobody wants to build it now more than us.”
When asked if there was any thought about scaling down the project by reducing the amount of units, Harwood said it is very “unlikely” because of the money already invested so far in the project.
Harwood did not offer an amount spent so far, but sources with knowledge of the project have put a dollar amount at somewhere between $50 to $60 million. The money has gone to planning, retaining lawyers and consultants for the project, final demolition, and maintaining the upkeep of the property.
Harwood declined to estimate when the project will break ground.
An MEPT spokesperson said there was “no activity” on the project and that “it’s really dependent on market conditions.”
The spokesperson also said there “haven’t been any discussions” on when the project will break ground, or whether the project will be reduced in any way.
Redevelopment Plan still being revised
The Journal Square Redevelopment Plan, developed by veteran urban planner Anton Nelessen and Hoboken architect Dean Marchetto, covers a large area spanning from Highway 139 at the north end to Vroom Street at the south end. The aspect that has brought significant opposition from residents is the zoning than enables developers to build towers as high as 80 stories, thus blocking views in the neighborhoods.
The protests led to the more recent drafting of a plan within the plan: The Journal Square Core Redevelopment Plan. Proposed by the city’s Planning Department, this plan covers the much smaller area of Journal Square itself, bounded by Summit Avenue, Sip Avenue, Kennedy Boulevard, and Pavonia Avenue.
This plan is broken up into four zones, with buildings built in those zones to be taller yet thinner as to not block views. Only one of the four zones would have new height standards, while the other three zones will comply with existing zoning and include properties owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Hudson County Community College, and/or the development partners behind the two-tower project.
However, even this new, shrunk-down plan, when presented to the Jersey City Planning Board at a February, 2010 meeting, did not impress residents of the area.
Rich Boggiano, a retired Jersey City police detective who lives near Journal Square, has been a vocal critic of both the small and large redevelopment plans for Journal Square. He displayed his opposition at the February meeting along with other residents.
City planners now say they will meet with the community before presenting the plan again.
Boggiano said the Planning Department will meet with residents, business people, and community groups from the Journal Square area in future weeks to continue making changes.
“I want development of Journal Square that does not destroy what we feel is the last neighborhood in the city,” said Boggiano. He referred specifically to the city’s Island section, located a few blocks away from Journal Square.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.