According to reports in the press, Journal Square properties owned by three different management companies, with two of them sharing the same address, were found to have building violations including falling concrete, cracks in the facade of one of the buildings, electrical problems, and even homeless people residing on floors of another building.The inspections took place starting on Nov. 16 after a Jersey City Incinerator Authority employee said that when he was walking through the parking lot behind the buildings, he noticed pieces of concrete falling off a wall.
As a result, businesses ranging from a 99-cent store located near the Journal Square PATH Station to grocery stores facing Sip Avenue had to be closed for inspections carried out by the city's Building Department, the Jersey City Incinerator Authority, and other city officials.
As of the end of last week, several stores were still closed, particularly those based in the 22 Journal Square building, located on the Sip Avenue side of the Journal Square Plaza. Various problems
An engineering report done Nov. 18 for the owners of 22 Journal Square said the façade of the building had deteriorated, brickwork had come loose causing water to seep into the framing, and there was corrosion of the steel structures on the roof that holds the billboards.
Recommendations from the report called for scaffolding to be placed around the building to protect pedestrians from falling debris, which at the end of last week had been done.
Also, the report called for the steel structure holding up the billboards above the Journal Square buildings to be removed as soon as possible.
These buildings, including the now-vacant 80-plus-year-old former Hotel-On-The-Square, have been considered eyesores that have been subject to inspections over the years, a source said. When it rains, it pours
The buildings may be close to being completely demolished due to deterioration over the years.
Don Smartt, district administrator of the Journal Square Restoration Corporation (a private, not-for-profit corporation designated by the City of Jersey City to operate the Journal Square Special Improvement District), described what happened the morning of Nov. 16 that led to the measures currently taking place.
"A JCIA inspector was just walking through the building when he observed a piece of concrete," Smartt said. "He called in a number of inspectors. Then it became a series of dominoes."
Smartt said he was leaving a meeting when he came upon a slew of inspectors that day.
Smartt said that the same day, "One of the business owners was coming out though the back entrance of his business, and the jarring of the security gate and the conditions caused the concrete to fall."
Smartt said that as of the end of the week, the 99 Cent &Up Store located at 8 Journal Square remained closed. But businesses such as McDonald's that are situated in the middle of the plaza will remain open since they have already been checked for violations, in particular for rear exit doors, and have been found to be in good condition.
The 22 Journal Square building and the storeowners who occupy the retail space in the building may not be as fortunate. Engineers continue to check the building.
"They're losing thousands of dollars, but it's important for this inspection to take its time," Smartt said. "The endgame must be to take it step by step, to find out the problems, and find out how to remedy them, short of demolition." Next report
An engineering report done at the request of the owner of the 22 Journal Square building a few days after the initial discovery of the falling concrete found that "vibration caused a detachment of the plaster and collapse ensued" and that "collapse was inevitable with the introduction of the excessive vibration caused by operating equipment."
While the report pointed out that the concrete did not fall from behind the 22 Journal Square building, there were questions about the stability of the structure. The report describes the building as three stories high, built of steel and wood framing, with a brick veneer and a three-foot plus parapet. A parapet is a low wall along the edge of a roof or balcony.
In the report, it states that "the parapet displacement is severe on the west facing the Plaza" and that "fracture of the masonry completely through the masonry parapet is evidenced by the complimentary cracking on the interior of the parapet at the roof" and that "the parapet is "leaning" approximately 4" out of plumb."
As a result, scaffolding surrounds the front of the building, winding its way around Sip Avenue. Another engineering report done on Nov. 18 and 19, analyzing the structure of the 8-12 Journal Square building for its owners, which include the Hotel on the Square, found that the area on the roof sign mounted "shows signs of distress."
Also, it was recommended that chimney on the roof should be removed and either replaced or repaired. A source close to the situation said that Viacom Outdoor, a subsidiary of the Viacom Corporation that is responsible for the mounting of the billboards on top of 8 and 22 Journal Square, will take down the billboards as of this weekend, with the steel structures holding the signs to be taken down in the near future.
Smartt said that these buildings are outdated structures. He said they probably need to be taken down and replaced, including possibly Hotel on the Square.
"The future of the square rests not with outdated infrastructure, but with new investment," Smartt said.
Last week, Mayor Jerremiah Healy said that these buildings have been an "eyesore" for years and should be taken down. But he stopped short of calling for condemnation or seizing the buildings by eminent domain. 'It's a big ugly scar'
Pat O'Melia, host of the radio show Hudson County's Talking, said last week the inspections that took place recently only happened after he complained about the condition of the buildings on a recent episode of his show.
But O'Melia says that he has been trying to get the city for years to look at the buildings, especially the Hotel on the Square.
"I called from it to be taken down a long time ago. It's a burned-out hulking hole of a building," said O'Melia. "Some of this has been blight on the city; it's a big ugly scar."
The Hotel on the Square suffered heavy damage after a fire in the late 1980s.
O'Melia who grew up in Journal Square, pointed out that he had discussions with late mayor Glenn D. Cunningham in 2002 about the conditions of those buildings. Those discussions led to the formation of the Journal Square Task Force that did inspections of the buildings in the plaza.
"Journal Square Task Force summonsed the hell out of businesses that were in violation of city codes," said O'Melia, who added that the task force was active until early 2003, when it was discontinued.
O'Melia also remembered that local developer Joseph Panepinto had once been in partnership with the buildings' owners years ago and had plans drawn up to build new buildings on the site. Panepinto is the president of Panepinto Properties based in Jersey City and the owner and developer of prime pieces of real estate in the Journal Square including the ADP Building and the new apartment complex on the site of the old State Theatre.
Panepinto told the Jersey City Reporter last week that he once been in partnership with the owners of the buildings under inspection currently, the Tawil (which he pronounces Towel) family, in the mid 1980s.
"I had bought the Hotel on the Square site, and 22 Journal Square," he said. "The Tawil family from Deal, New Jersey got involved in 1984-1985. Our intention was to build a project. It's was going to be mixed use retail with offices on top. I was going to put up a new Hotel on the Square."
But a lawsuit and differences of opinion caused Panepinto to sell his interest in the properties, he said.
The current owners of the properties have been cited in the press as several companies with the names Madison Acquisitions, LP, (owners of 1-7 Journal Square), Oxford Acquisition LP, (Owners of 8-12 Journal Square), and Adams Acquisitions L.P (17-23 Journal Square). No information was available on the owners of 13-16 Journal Square. But NJ Tax Records hint that the Tawil family is still involved with the Journal Square properties. In the records, listed as the owners of 17-23 Journal Square are Adams Acquisitions L.P. c/o Issac Tawil.
All of the owners listed above also share the same business address of 240 West 40th Street in New York City.
Members of the Tawil family could not be reached for comment, nor could their representatives at Centurion Realty, LLC in New York City.
Another interesting bit of information gleaned from state tax records are details of the acquisition of the some of the Journal Square buildings.
For the 1-7 Journal Square building where the Twin Donut shop is based, the building was purchased by Madison Acquisitions, L.P. on December 31, 1986 for $3 million, with the land currently assessed at $2,850,000 including cost of land and the improvements done to the building. The 8-11 Journal Square building where the Hotel on the Square is located was purchased by Oxford Acquisition L.P. on Sept. 14, 1987 for $2 million, with the current assessed value at $1 million. And the 17-23 Journal Square building was purchased by Adams Acquisitions L.P. on April 12, 1988 for $2.35 million, but the assessed value is $1.15 million.
One source who has dealt with the Tawil family over the years said the owners of the buildings have not seen the need to repair the buildings because it is in their benefit to maintain the status quo.
"$5,000 to $7,000 month rent from the tenants," the source said. "Their market conditions mean they don't need to do anything to those buildings. The buildings are an eyesore and a cash cow." What's in the future?
The proprietor of HT Wireless, located in 12 Journal Square, said last week that he has very little idea what will happen to his business, although he was able to open a day after the initial inspections.
"I can't afford to move from this location," said Mohamed, who did not give his last name. "It's difficult to find a location like this and the relocation costs are too much." He has operated the store for seven years.
An employee of Central Parking, which leases the parking lot in the back of the buildings from NJ Transit, said that work being done to upgrade the parking lot would have been happening last week, but now is put on hold.
He also offered this prediction for the future of the buildings: "My friend, based on what I have found out, don't be surprised if these buildings come down in two months."