In the case of Wednesday's City Council meeting, first, the good news (possibly): The unanimous approval of three ordinances pertaining to a refinancing plan proposed by the city.
The plan calls for the refinancing of $146 million in debt. It would mean short-term savings in terms of what Jersey City would have to pay over the next few years, but would add $14 million in interest from now through 2021, the 18-year period of this new restructuring plan.The new plan, outlined in a report by Wachovia Securities, calls for approximately $125 million out of $146 million of city's bonds to be refinanced, rather the $281 million that was proposed in the refinancing plan drawn up by late Jersey City mayor Glenn D. Cunningham.
Also, the new plan would call for refinancing over a shorter period of time than in Cunningham's plan. It helps save $186 million in interest payments from the Cunningham plan that stretched over an additional 12 years, officials said.
Acting Mayor L. Harvey Smith said during the council meeting that the plan was reasonable as it would payoff the debt by 2021 rather than 2033 as proposed by the Cunningham Administration.
Smith, when asked about a tax increase to help pay for some of the increased interest, vowed, "You've got to take my word for it; you're not going to get a tax increase."
Some members of the audience were not convinced of the merits of the new restructuring plan. Mia Scanga and Yvonne Balcer, longtime residents of Downtown Jersey City and critics of the Cunningham refinancing plan, also criticized the newer plan.
Scanga said that there should be a long-term plan for handling the debt rather than "refinancing the finances."
Yvonne Balcer, looking at a copy of the Wachovia report, said that the City Council will come back in three years and look to refinance again.
"This refinancing is being done in order for people to get re-elected," said Balcer.
Noted in the Wachovia report is that the short-term savings in the new plan is about $28M for three years, while in the Cunningham report the savings would have been for a 10-year period at a total of $109M. In the long-term, the Cunningham plan would accrue more interest.
And now the bad news
The council voted 5-4 to table two ordinances that would have called for the proposed Warehouse Historic District, a six-block area located near the Newport Mall that would designated for historic landmarking.
Many of the buildings in the district are over 100 years old, and the district itself has already been approved for landmaking by both the Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Board.
However, the ordinances were both tabled before a public hearing could take place. Acting Mayor Smith said that he wanted to wait until he engaged in a discussion with Lloyd Goldman, the owner of 110 and 111First St., which are located in this district. Smith said that he, along with city planner Robert Cotter and other representatives from the city, would be involved in the discussion with Goldman and his representatives that would take place on Monday.
Smith did not reveal much about what would be discussed or the location of the meeting.
Smith said that it wasn't a compromise and that meeting was to inform Goldman, whom he referred to as "elusive," about the city's plans to landmark the Warehouse Historic District.
Goldman has been at odds with the artists living at 111 First St. because he wants to add luxury units to the building and has also demolished parts of 110 across the street.
The city had drafted two ordinances pertaining to the matter of the Warehouse Historic District. Ordinance 04-088 has 110 First St. in the district and Ordinance 04-097 doesn't. There had been negotiations between the city and Goldman with the hopes that if he agreed to sell the 111 building to the city, then the 110 building would be kept from historic landmarking. Historic landmarking would have set guidelines on the owner's plans to build a 40-story tower on the 110 site.
Among the city councilpeople who voted against the tabling were Ward E Councilperson Junior Maldonado and Ward F Councilwoman Viola Richardson. Maldonado, a staunch advocate for the First Street buildings to be saved, said that this decision by Smith would "put the city in a position of weakness rather than strength" since Goldman would have seen that the city had approved the landmarking and were serious about preserving those buildings.
Council persons such as City Councilman At-Large Jerremiah Healy and Ward C Steve Lipski said that while they sympathized with the members of the audience who came to speak and to hear approval of the Warehouse Historic District, they would allow the tabling in order Smith to negotiate with Smith.
Many of the supporters of the proposed Warehouse Historic District to become a reality were vocal in their anger over this matter. Probably summing up best the disappointment and frustration at Smith's decision was Bill Rodwell, longtime tenant at 111 First St. and president of the tenants' association there.
"How can a man so tall, come up so small?" said Rodwell.