Speaking at the second annual "Mayor's Forum on Journal Square" Tuesday at Loews Theater in Journal Square, Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham announced the formation of the Journal Square Action Force. The Action Force will be charged with handling quality-of-life issues and improving communication between the various city agencies in order to improve an area that Cunningham described as the "transportation hub of Hudson County."
The centrally located Journal Square Transportation Center is home to New Jersey Transit bus lines and a PATH stop.
"The Force will concern itself with sanitation problems in the Square and dog curbing," said the Action Force's director, Wayne Anderson, last week. "We want to tap the resources to solve problems."
Anderson is an employee of the Jersey City Department of Neighborhood Improvement and will have no change in status or pay with his new role.
Anderson added, "People's lives are complex, and so is the life of a city square." He characterized Journal Square, which 30,000 people pass through daily, as the center of Hudson County.
Plans for improving the Journal Square Transportation Center include the relocation of the taxi stand on Kennedy Boulevard to behind the station at Magnolia and Summit avenues. Officials want to move the stand because it's impeding traffic, they say.
They will also increase the police presence in Journal Square, and they plan to rebuild a fountain in the area and re-arrange the loading areas along Kennedy Blvd. They will be having a meeting with merchants and community groups about those loading areas.
Anderson said that when the taxi stand is moved, they will also make the area "terrorist proof" so that regular drivers cannot drive through the taxi area into the train station.
"The small circle at the foot of Magnolia is where the taxis will go," explained Anderson. "We are going to make that are terrorist proof. A person could just drive right in there if they wanted."
Anderson said his task force would be working with the Journal Square Restoration Corporation, the special improvement district for the area. A Special Improvement District (SID) is a group of businesses that collect fees among themselves, which then go toward streetscape improvements and security for the district.
The power washing of streets and extra sanitation were two of the projects Anderson said he would like to see started, adding that cleanup efforts in the Journal Square are would be a 24-hour task.
"We will have people out checking the area," said Anderson. "My motto is 'There is not much to expect from what you do not inspect.'"
Sanitation has been a problem for Journal Square in the last year. In February of this year, the Journal Square Restoration Corporation was forced to lay off its maintenance and security staff due to budgetary problems.
As reported earlier, the Journal Square SID was having difficulty getting funds from the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which oversees the city's SIDs. The SID submits an annual budget to the EDC, which then matches the money with funds from the state.
Journal Square SID Assistant Administrator Dan McGinley said there had been a difference of opinion between the SID and the EDC on what could be approved in SID budgets. After delays in July, the Journal Square SID's budget was passed at the Aug. 14 meeting of the Jersey City Council.
Also mentioned by Anderson was a need to organize loading areas in the Square.
"We will be meeting with merchants and the police to create proper loading zones," said Anderson. "You don't want to back up traffic."
On hand at the meeting was Jersey City Police Department Director James Carter, who spoke on the Police Department's role in improving Journal Square.
"There is a plan for increase visibility of police officers in the area," Carter stated. "Officers will park and walk and write summons. All this is going to increase visibility."
Cunningham stressed the city's commitment to the homeless in Journal Square.
"The homeless problem is generated by us being the transportation center of Hudson County," said Cunningham, adding the city's Health and Human Services department would be working on solutions to the homeless problem.
Business community on hand
Representatives of the Journal Square business community were on hand for the meeting and were largely pleased with what they heard. Elliot Braha, owner of Lord's Department Store on Kennedy Boulevard, commented after the meeting that he was excited about the mayor's and the city's commitment to the district.
Braha commented that the now partially occupied Hotel in the Square would be the key to the redevelopment of the Square.
"If that happens, then everything will fall into place," Braha said after the meeting. "Retail chains will be interested and people will then want to live here. It will all snowball."
At the beginning of the meeting, Cunningham emphatically noted the absence of the area's councilman without mentioning the name Steve Lipski, adding that he had been invited. According to Brian Dorf, the mayor's press secretary, Lipski had been invited a number of times, especially during the Puerto Rican Day Parade on Aug.18, where he shared the review stand with Cunningham.
Lipski replied that he had only been informed at the parade that the mayor would be in Journal Square on Tuesday and not informed of the forum. Lipski said after the presentation that Cunningham's statement may have come about due to residual bitterness from this year's county executive race, during which a number of councilpeople backed a different candidate than the mayor.
"I am cautiously optimistic about the plans for Journal Square," Lipski said.