On Monday, the city's Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) heard a presentation by attorneys for the building's owners, during which they asked the commission to award two certificates that would allow for the demolition of the building.
A second meeting with the HPC will take place on June 27, where representatives for the city will make their case on why the building should not be demolished, and the public will be allowed to comment on the applications for demolition.
The building is owned by New Gold Equities, a private partnership of investors led by New York real estate mogul Lloyd Goldman, which at this time last year was at the center of an intense struggle between the owner of the building and the tenants.Last year, the owner was looking to increase the rents of the spaces to comply with rents for similar spaces elsewhere. However, tenants were looking for long-term leases and improvements to their apartments and the building. If the residents' requests were granted, they would agree to pay the rents.
The two sides were soon engaged in a battle of wills as tenants fought to stay in the building and the owner fought to evict them. These events were played out in the courts, the press and in various public meetings.
But the battle soon became one to save the building, as New Gold Equities pushed to evict tenants on the premise that the building was in danger of collapsing, based on engineering reports they commissioned, and would have to be demolished.
Tenants cited the owner's concerns as disingenuous as the building had received only minor repairs during a dozen years of ownership and had stood firm during that time.
This fight, which lasted through the tenure of three mayors, came to an end Jan. 2, 2005, when the tenants and the owner came to an agreement that the remaining 70 tenants would vacate the building by March 1. The building is currently unoccupied, with the exception of visits from construction crews and engineers. Making their case
In a three-hour presentation during the city's Historic Preservation Commission meeting, Dan Horgan, the attorney for New Gold Equities, questioned several witnesses, who gave testimony of behalf of the owner of 111 First St. The lawyer asked those witnesses why the building should be demolished rather than renovated as artist/work spaces and market-rate rental apartments, as required by current zoning regulations since the building is located in the city's designated Powerhouse Arts and Warehouse Historic districts. The verbal testimony was accompanied by a slide show displaying statistics and photos of the building buttressing their case.
Michelle Berliner, director of commercial development for Building Management that oversees maintenance of the building on behalf of New Gold Equities, said based on her real estate experience and knowledge of the building, the building would cost too much to rehabilitate. She cited numerous structural problems and the logistics of transforming the 383,000 square feet of available space into artists' spaces. The assessed value of the building, according to an analysis done by the owner's representatives, is $7.5 million but would cost over $26 million to remedy the problems to bring the building up to code.
Berliner also cited that the building in its current condition would not return a profit if sold to a prospective buyer, nor could it even interest a buyer.
Joseph Stack, a Hoboken-based real estate appraiser also spoke on the building's current lack of value, citing that even if it were designated as warehouse space, the building would need a substantial amount of work before it could be used for any storage. 111 First St. at the present time
During her testimony, Berliner spoke on the current state of the building, showing slides with pictures of 111 First St. taken since the tenants vacated. Berliner said that in recent months, the building has been the target of vandals who spray-painted graffiti inside the structure.
Berliner added that a letter has been sent to the city to request security for the building. Currently, the owner retains the services of a security firm, with usually one security guard monitoring the building at night.
Frederick Porcello, a structural engineer, said that the building already shows signs of imminent collapse, which he discovered while walking around the building and doing tests of the building's structure for hours.
Gregory Dietrich, a historical architecture expert, said that the changes to the building's original structure would not merit saving it from demolition as a historic landmark.
There was laughter in the audience when Dietrich mentioned the recent removal of the smokestack at the site, a change that rendered the building not historic. The smokestack, located within the courtyard in the middle of the building, was taken down by the owner in August, who claimed at the time that the smokestack was in immediate danger of collapsing. Former tenants react
There was a sizable audience at the Monday meeting, including several former tenants of 111 First St. who came to hear the presentation.
Bill Rodwell worked and lived in the building for 15 years and was one of the early pioneers who fixed up his first loft at a time when the area was mostly undeveloped.
Rodwell expressed a good deal of contempt for the presentation. "Amazing, they say the building has all these problems so that means it has to be demolished.
That's because the owner never took care of the problems in the first place," said Rodwell. He then added sarcastically, "I guess we should give them credit for having such courage for risking their lives when they walked through the building after the tenants vacated.
Michelle Berliner and others laughing and having a good time kicking at doors while I was walking with them on March 1, they put on such a brave face."
Paul Sullivan, who along with his wife Barbara Landes, worked and lived at the First Street building for seven years, moved to a space on Union Street in the Lafayette section of the city. Sullivan had been monitoring the actions of the owners after the building had been vacated, and hopes that the current building could remain an arts center.
"Just because some idiot can buy a Monet or a Rembrandt doesn't mean they have right to destroy, although they think they do," said Sullivan, referring to Goldman, who also owns the 110 First St. property across the street and is an avid art collector. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com Sidebar Other Historic Preservation Commission business
At Monday's meeting, the commission approved the first phase of the rehabilitation of the historic Apple Tree House, located on Academy Street. A presentation was made by Eric Holtermann of Princeton-based Holt, Morgan and Russell Architects, the firm hired by the city to create the plans for the rehabilitation.
The work, according to Holtermann, includes restoring the exterior of the house to as much of its original condition as possible, which includes repairing the mortar, bricks, doors, porches as well as putting a new roof on the house. After the presentation, Holtermann told the Jersey City Reporter that the bid for a contractor to perform the rehabilitation will be advertised sometime this summer.
The Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) was also holding its first meeting after reorganizing its board. Five new commission members were present at the Monday meeting, replacing those members whose term had expired. The new members are Brian Henry, Paul Amatuso, Karen Farenholtz, Cynthia Hadjiyannis and Anthony Sandcamp. They join current members Stephan Gucciardo, who is the current HPC Chairman, Ronald Russell, Ted Brunson and Erma Yost.