More details regarding the possible sale of the Jersey City Museum building to the United Way of Hudson County were revealed at a City Council meeting Wednesday night when the city’s Division of Community Development sought approval from the council to apply for a package of federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). One of the grants would help the United Way upgrade the building.
Two weeks ago word leaked that the United Way had expressed an interest in purchasing Jersey City Museum’s building at 350 Montgomery St. Facing $2.98 million in debt, cutbacks in city funding, and alleged mismanagement at the art gallery, the museum has been closed since December. Meanwhile, the museum’s board has fought to salvage and reopen the struggling institution.
“The United Way is in the final stages of buying the museum.” – Robert Byrne
At Wednesday’s meeting, new details about the sale emerged and it appears a deal may be further along that first reported.
City Clerk Robert Byrne mentioned during the meeting that, “The United Way is in the final stages of buying the museum.”
The city’s Division of Community Development went before the governing body to request approval to submit a package of CDBG funding requests to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Since Community Development Block Grants are paid with federal HUD money, the department must approve local funding recommendations.
Among the funding requests made by the city was a $212,000 grant to improve the HVAC (heating and cooling) system at the Montgomery Street facility. According to the division’s director, Darcie Toon, the improvements will be made in preparation for the United Way’s eventual takeover of the building.
Ward E Councilman Steve Fulop asked whether the city is “obligated” to make such improvements to the municipally-owned building.
“It’s not uncommon for the city to provide support to nonprofit agencies to make improvements to their facilities,” said Toon. “This is a facility the United Way is going to own, where they’re going to use the facility to benefit, primarily, low- and moderate-income people. This is what we do with some of our CDBG funds. As long as they’re providing services that are going to benefit primarily low- and moderate-income people, it’s perfectly acceptable; it’s eligible [for CDBG funding.]”
The United Way of Hudson County is a nonprofit organization that helps to transition homeless people into permanent housing, train emotionally and mentally challenged individuals for jobs, and provide a range of programs for low-income children who have either been abused or who are at risk.
Toon added that the United Way is “acquiring the building with its own resources,” and would be leasing a portion of the space back to Jersey City Museum.
Although discussion of the Division’s CDBG funding recommendations came up last Tuesday during the council’s caucus meeting, Councilman-at-Large Ray Velazquez said, “I was not under the impression that we [the city] would be improving a building that someone else is going to be buying.”
And Fulop later questioned the $212,000 HVAC upgrade price tag stating, “A quarter of a million dollars is a lot of money to improve a heating and air conditioning system.”
Although Altilio attended Wednesday’s meeting, he didn’t address the council publicly and instead chose to let Toon field questions alone.
$7M in grants on the line
Jersey City receives more than $7 million in CDBG funding from HUD annually. This money is used to support community-based programs that improve the lives of low- and moderate-income residents.
Some of the Jersey City-based programs funded with CDBG money are Rising Tide Capital, an organization that improves the business skills of low-income entrepreneurs; Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which represents abused and neglected children in family court; and the Philippine American Friendship Committee, which improves the lives of Filipino immigrants in need.
The Division of Community Development is each year required to get approval from the City Council before it can submit its Community Development Block Grant recommendations to HUD.
Upon approval of the council, the division’s list of funding recommendations will be sent to HUD for review. If approved by the federal agency, the city’s Division of Community Development must return to the council to get further approval before signing any professional service contracts, as would be required for the HVAC upgrade.
By the time HUD approves the city’s application, Toon said, the United Way’s purchase of the museum building should be complete.
Ward F Councilwoman Viola Richardson asked whether the city would still be on the hook to upgrade the HVAC system – which Toon described as “highly inefficient” – if the building sale fell through. Toon said the city will not make the improvements if the sale does not move forward.
Any CDBG funding approved by HUD would be for fiscal year 2011, according to Byrne.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.