Vision for future Journal Square looks nothing like today

by The Jersey Journal
Wednesday October 15, 2008

ENLARGE Rendering of what Journal Square might look like with more open space and high-rise buildings

Colorful renderings of what Journal Square might look like after a multi-billion dollar redevelopment project , which was announced today by Mayor Jerramiah Healy, bear little resemblance to the Journal Square of today.

In fact, the iconic Loew’s Theatre (pictured above) is the only existing building noticeable in the renderings submitted by A. Nelessen Associates/Dean Marchetto Architects. The Google Map below shows (what looks like) the opposite view from the image above.

ENLARGE Aerial view of a new PATH entrance in Journal Square .

But other buildings, such as 26 Journal Square , the Journal Square Transportation Center , and the Jersey Journal Building (the Square is named after the Journal, after all) are nowhere in sight.

Instead there are sky-high apartment and office buildings, massive billboards, walkways, trees and a shiny new PATH station entrance, making the old Jersey City neighborhood look more like Manhattan’s Times Square , but with more grass and less traffic.

ENLARGE A closer look at what a new PATH station entrance might look like in a revamped Journal Square .

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Jersey City mayor unveils Journal Square Redevelopment Plan

by Russell Ben-Ali /
The Star-Ledger
Wednesday October 15, 2008

New parks, pedestrian-friendly streets and thousands of new apartments would surround Journal Square if a multi-billion dollar plan unveiled today by Jersey City ‘s mayor is approved.

The plan suggests the creation of nine acres of park space, configured to connect with existing city parks to stretch from Journal Square to the Jersey City waterfront, making it “the longest single urban greenway in the United States ,” Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy said.

A rendering from May of the planned development of the Hotel on the Square Block in Journal Square . The towers will be a few stories taller under revised plans approved last week.

The plan also calls for an extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail to Journal Square and the revamping of the Journal Square Transportation Center , including the PATH station and buses that carry some 8 million passengers per year. Trolley cars would carry commuters to shops and businesses, according to the designs.

Journal Square, once a center for shopping and entertainment for Jersey City , has been on the decline for decades, noted Healy, who said he remains hopeful that the city can repeat in the square its redevelopment success on the waterfront.

The mayor acknowledged, however, that the credit crisis has slowed the building industry and said it could take as long as 15 years for the Journal Square vision to be realized.

“The issue is can it be accomplished,” Healy told local, state and regional officials this morning at the Hudson County Community College Culinary Institute. “I think it can. And if you don’t have a vision nothing can be accomplished.”

Earlier this year the city commissioned two firms, A. Nelessen Associates, Inc. and Dean Marchetto Architects, P.C. to develop a plan known as ” Vision Journal Square .” The firms based their designs in part on responses to surveys taken of residential and business communities in the area.

The study cost about $400,000, with $150,000 paid through a Department of Community Affairs grant and the balance from Urban Enterprise Zone funds, officials said.

A public hearing on the plan is scheduled October 23.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy yesterday unveiled an ambitious “vision” for the Journal Square – a plan that one city official calls a Marshall Plan for the long-neglected center of the city.

Developed by planner Anton C. Nelessen and architect Dean Marchetto – with some input from residents and major property owners – the plan covers 244 acres, the heart of which is the transit hub at the Journal Square Transportation Center .

Presented to a crowd of movers and shakers at the Hudson County Community College’s Culinary Arts Center, the plan is intended to be more pedestrian-friendly, with more walkable, has more open space and fewer cars. Even residential blocks in the yesterday’s PowerPoint presentation are given islands of greenery.

“It’s bold, it is visionary,” Healy said about the plan. “And it is not only going to be a great thing for our city, our county, in our state. I believe it is going to be a model for the country to follow.”

The plan calls for between 10,000 and 15,000 new housing units, nine acres of parks, parking lot “interceptors” at the edges of the district, and light rail connecting Journal Square to the Downtown waterfront.

Distinguishing between pure “vision” and portions of the plan that are backed by money, a timetable and a builder behind it was tricky yesterday since the Nelessen’s PowerPoint presentation included both.

Clearly the most concrete element of the plan is a two-tower, mixed development slated for the old Hotel on the Square block. Both Healy and Lowell Harwood, one the developers, said they expect to break ground “within six months.”

This $400 million project includes 1,600 residential units and 70,000 square feet of retail in two towers, one 68 stories, the other 50. On the other hand, the PowerPoint show included a glittering new Port Authority of New York and New Jersey building on the Square and a new PATH entrance with sunlight beaming through from a reflecting pool at street level.

Asked if the agency has agreed to these improvements, Port Authority Deputy Director Susan Bass Levin, who attended yesterday’s presentation, said, “No, we haven’t.”

“That was the first time anybody saw it, it was part of the visioning process,” Bass Levin added. “What we are doing now is a $3.3 billion PATH modernization system. . What you’re seeing here is a very, very first stage and it will take a while for this get to reality, but this is how you have to start.”

Healy said the plan could take five, 10, even 15 years to complete and he couldn’t yesterday put a price tag on how much it would cost the public.

The “vision” study, which gets a public hearing on Oct. 23, has so far cost $400,000. “Smart growth” grants from the Department of Community Affairs covered $150,000 and Urban Enterprise Zone funds $250,000, city officials said.

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A square remade for walking Jersey City unveils ambitious proposal

Thursday, October 16, 2008
Star-Ledger Staff

It’s a vision that’s easy on the eyes and tough on cars.

In artists’ renderings for a revamped Journal Square , the once-bustling hub of Jersey City that’s been on the decline for decades, trolley cars would carry commuters to and from new shops and entertainment centers. Open plazas and pedestrian walkways would replace congested streets and parking areas.

Some nine acres of new parks would be created and would connect with a rolling green that stretches from the Jersey City ‘s core down to its scenic waterfront, and natural sunlight would stream onto a revamped PATH station. The overall plan calls for 10,000 to 15,000 units of new housing and millions of square feet of retail and commercial space on 244 acres.

“It’s bold, it’s visionary,” Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy told a crowd of local, state and regional officials who gathered yesterday for an unveiling of the multibillion-dollar plan, known as “Vision Journal Square,” at the Hudson County Community College Culinary Institute.

“The issue is, can it be accomplished?” Healy said, noting the nation’s credit crunch that has crippled the building industry. “I think it can. And if you don’t have a vision, nothing can be accomplished.”

The city earlier this year commissioned two firms, A. Nelessen Associates Inc. and Dean Marchetto Architects P.C., to develop a the plan for Journal Square at a cost of about $400,000 in state funds.

The firms, which surveyed local residents and businesses, found they were most interested in bringing more green spaces to the square, pedestrian-friendly streets that widen as they approach mass transit stations and an environment centered more on walking and bicycling than driving and parking.

“This is one of those places where people can literally live without cars,” said Anton Nelessen, urban planner and designer. “This whole new strategy of how you make the pedestrian more important than the car is a regional one.”

The plan is heavily reliant on diversifying the area’s mass transit, including building an extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail to Journal Square and revamping the Journal Square Transportation Center, including the PATH station and regional buses.

Healy said he remains hopeful the city can repeat in the square the redevelopment success it reaped on the waterfront, but he acknowledged the economy and building industry slumps could mean the vision and projects would not be realized for five to 15 years.

“It’s hardly a secret that we are all facing some tough economic times,” Susan Bass Levin, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey , told the group. “Infrastructure improvement — meaning building things, fixing things, dreaming things — is one of the ways we can build our way out of this recession. And it all starts with a vision, a plan, a dream.”

Already approved for Journal Square are two residential skyscrapers, one 68 stories high, the other 50 stories, that would bring more than 1,600 new rental units, a retail center, parking and a rooftop fitness center to a location where a hotel was demolished.

Lowell Harwood of Harwood Properties, a partner in the skyscraper project, said he and his partners remain enthusiastic about the construction despite obstacles the building industry faces.

The exact cost of the projects proposed for Journal Square and its surrounding area are unknown, as are funding sources. Healy said while he hoped to attract state money, private support probably would drive the projects.

A public hearing on the plan is scheduled Oct. 23.

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City may not see revenue for decades

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Jersey City developer who has already received a 30-year tax abatement to help build an ambitious twin tower project in Journal Square – and has recruited a deep pockets partner to the deal – is now asking the city for a multi-million low-interest loan, city officials said.

Lowell Harwood, managing partner of Jersey City-based Harwood Properties, is asking the city to lend the project $20 million to $40 million by floating “revenue allocation bonds,” city officials said.

In keeping with state guidelines, the developer would repay the loan, plus interest.

But with revenue allocation bonds, the developer deducts the costs to cover the loan from whatever taxes are owed the city. This means it could be years, even decades, before the city sees any revenue from this $500 million, mixed-use development planned for the block adjacent to the PATH Transportation Center, officials said.

Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy said his administration is hearing the developer out, but the public need not worry.

“I know they are looking for some kind of assistance having to do with infrastructure,” Healy said. “Just because someone may be looking for assistance, the city is not obliged to tender that assistance. Before any agreement is struck, the city council and I will be most vigilant with the taxpayers’ money.”

Harwood, who has joined forces with the Multi-Employer Property Trust based in Bethesda, Md. – a union pension fund investment company with $6.2 billion in assets – to build the project, didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

But Elizabeth Opacity, his spokeswoman, said: “We have been working in partnership with the city on an ongoing basis to discuss the best way to move this overall program forward and revitalize the entire area. There have been no final determinations. Only discussions. There are no conclusions.”

Journal Square Councilman Steve Lipski believes the city should give Harwood the money. “I support this one billion percent,” Lipski said. “Helping the jewel of Jersey City and the only central business district of Jersey City is the right thing to do at this time.”

Downtown Councilman Steven Fulop blasted the request for additional assistance, especially since the developer received a 30-year tax break calling for annual “payment in lieu of taxes” of 10 percent, the lowest PILOT rate handed out in recent years.

“The city is obviously broke and this is a dangerous door to open,” Fulop said. “The next thing Lowell is going to ask for in a couple of months is for the city to build the building for him.”

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Money enough, but what vision?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

T here is a new player involved in the future redevelopment of a key block in Jersey City’s Journal Square. The Maryland-based Multi-Employer Property Trust (MEPT), with more than 300 participating pension funds, invests its equity in real estate and has an immense portfolio of new construction and acquisitions. It has net assets approaching $7 billion.

Harwood Properties, headquartered in Journal Square, appears to have partnered with this deep-pocketed player to self-finance the proposed Square project. Harwood now is expected to have a 22 percent stake in the development of a 1.5-acre block that once was home to the old Hotel on the Square, adjacent to the PATH Transportation Center.

The good news is that a major player means the proposed $400 million project – a two-tower residential complex with retail space and parking – is a good bet to get done. According to the trust’s Web site, it has invested $36.2 million, mostly to help buy the development property

The news that should be a concern is that another stakeholder in the project is Becker + Becker, an architecture, planning, preservation and development firm based in Fairfield, Conn.

Becker + Becker and MEPT have a working history that includes several projects. The most notable collaboration was “The Octagon,” a historic 19th century landmark building. It became a mixed-income, 500-unit apartment building on Roosevelt Island in New York City.

The Jersey City project was once touted as twin towers of equal size. There is a new concept going before the city Planning Board on Sept. 25 for preliminary site plan approval. What is being proposed is a building of 62 stories – 55 stories of residential units sitting on a 7-story base of parking and 150,000 square feet of shops, city officials said. The number of stories for the south tower would be in the “low 40s.”

This newspaper’s only concern is that there is need for something bold in Journal Square. Becker + Becker has a strong background in preservation and restoration.

One of the most aesthetically disappointing projects on the Square is the apartment building constructed on the site of the old State Theater. An explanation was simply that planners hoped to match the brick of surrounding buildings. If anything, the State Theater project should have set a new standard for future architects.

Here is another chance for something better than the status quo in Journal Square.

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Plan for Square towers revised

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The twin-tower development proposed for Jersey City’s Journal Square is changing shape.

Originally proposed as two towers of more-or-less equal size, the latest design for of the mixed-use development to be built on the block adjacent to the Journal Square Transportation Center calls for a south tower between 35 and 40 stories and a north tower stretching 55 to 65 stories, according to the developer.

The City Council is scheduled to introduce the change at its meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. today at the Mary McLeod Bethune Center, 140 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

“Both towers have been designed to maximize views and unit layout,” said Liz Opacity, spokeswoman for MEPT Journal Square Urban Renewal, LLC, the developer. “And the height difference is for aesthetics when you are looking at the towers.”

Lowell Harwood, managing partner of Jersey City-based Harwood Properties – a partner in the limited liability company formed to undertake the development – said Monday the design change was made at the request of his development partner, Washington D.C.-based Multi-Employer Property Trust (MEPT), a national real estate equity fund.

MEPT referred all questions to Opacity.

Even though there is no change in the 1.2 million gross square footage of the development, Planning Director Bob Cotter said the design change would likely add more units to the projects, a number originally pegged at 1,034.

But, Opacity said, the developers are “still assessing the market and working on architectural drawings to determine the number and layout of units.”

The $400 million development, to include multiple levels of parking and retail, is still considered a rental project, Opacity said, but “the feasibility of the condominiums will continue to be explored.”

Jersey City Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Robert Antonicello predicted existing structures on the entire block would be leveled by the end of the year so construction can begin.

McDonald’s, at 15-16 Journal Square, still hasn’t relocated.

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Harwood brings in a partner for 2-tower project at Square

Saturday, APRIL 14, 2007

The two-tower development planned for Jersey City’s Journal Square now has two partners sharing the risk, burden – and potential rewards – of building the $400 million project.

The board of the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency voted yesterday to amend the redeveloper’s agreement with Jersey City-based Harwood Properties to include Washington-based Multi-Employer Property Trust, a national real estate equity fund that invests union pension funds.

“I am confident that with MEPT’s support, Journal Square will soon become a thriving neighborhood and a destination,” said Lowell Harwood, managing partner of Harwood Properties.

“Redevelopment of Journal Square has been talked about for 30 or 40 years. Now it’s finally going to happen.”

David Antonelli, senior vice president of Kennedy Associates Real Estate Council Inc. LP, MEPT’s sole advisor and founder, noted, “We’re early on in the process. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

MEPT is a $6.2 billion real estate equity fund owned by 312 pension plans, with a portfolio of 172 properties in 25 major metropolitan markets, said company spokeswoman Pamela Silberman.

The new entity created by the partnership is called MEPT Journal Square Urban Renewal, LLC. The partners declined to say what percentage of the new company they owned.

The project is slated to be built on the site of the old Hotel on the Square and several stores, next to the PATH Transportation Center, and is to consist of two towers, 52 and 46 stories, containing 1,034 apartments, 150,000 square feet of retail space and three levels of parking.

By next week, officials said, MEPT will be the owner of all the properties on the block still standing.

The JCRA has hired a relocation specialist to help relocate the remaining businesses on the block, including a McDonald’s, said JCRA Executive Director Robert Antonicello. The developer would reimburse the city for the moving expenses, Antonicello said.

Harwood predicted that by August all the remaining structures on the block will be leveled. Construction would take 18 months to two years, he said.

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Square developer aims for massive abatement

Monday, March 12, 2007

With the blessing of Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, the developer of the largest project to come to Journal Square in decades is seeking one of the biggest tax abatements ever handed out by the city.

Harwood Properties of Jersey City has filed an application seeking a 30-year tax abatement with payments in lieu of taxes amounting to 10 percent of gross annual revenues.

The standard in recent years has been 20 years, paying 16 percent PILOTs.

“Journal Square has seen better days and it’s obviously an area that needs a boost,” said Healy. “This incentive (the abatement) will be a shot of adrenaline to the renaissance that will come about due to this project.”

There have been exceptions to the 20 years/16 percent norm. Most recently, the first three buildings at the Beacon – the condo renovation project at the old Jersey City Medical Center – were granted 30 years at 10 percent abatements.

But the yet-to-be named $600 million Journal Square project – to feature two towers, 52 and 46 stories, containing 1,034 apartments, 150,000 square feet of retail, and three levels of parking – would be the first rental project in memory of several city officials to snag such a deal.

Lowell Harwood, managing partner of Harwood Properties, declined to comment since the matter still has to be reviewed by the city’s Department of Housing, Economic, Development and Commerce, endorsed by the city’s tax abatement committee and OK’d by the City Council.

The city would receive $3.5 million in annual PILOT payments, plus a one-time $2.3 million contribution to the affordable housing trust fund.

The city would get $1.3 million more than it would under conventional taxes – but the developer would pay nothing to schools and only a modest amount to county services. The total amount the developer would pay under conventional taxes could not be calculated yesterday.

“It (the project) will be paying the city nearly 10 times the taxes the property is currently paying,” said Jersey City Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Robert Antonicello. “That is what the residents of Jersey City need to keep in mind.”

City Council President Mariano Vega, chair of the city’s tax abatement committee, said he’d look at how many jobs and how much economic activity the project would generate before making up his mind.

The application promises 400 full-time jobs during the three- to four-year construction period and 300 plus permanent jobs once the project is built.

Harwood Properties either owns or is under contract to buy all the buildings on the block next to the PATH Transportation Center – except 15-16 Journal Square, home to McDonald’s, Song’s Hallmark, HT Wireless and a dentist’s office, city officials said.

City officials have condemned this building and expect to turn it over to Harwood by the end of this month.