"I think that's the one thing that everyone agreed upon," Mayor Richard Turner said last week. "And because of failed promises in the past, everyone also wanted to see if there was a way to have the amenities built up front. Roseland is not required by law to do so, but everyone wanted to see if there was a way to have the waterfront walkway, the linear park and the six-acre recreation area built first."
Added Turner, "People are fed up waiting for promises of having parks built. And since I've been here, all I hear is that we don't have enough open space or enough recreation facilities."
One prime example is the Riva Pointe condominium complex in Lincoln Harbor, which had plans to build a luxurious public park along the waterfront. There was only one problem. Due to financial woes and eventual bankruptcy of the original developer, the construction of Riva Pointe never made it past the second phase, which included the condos. The recreational area and park along the waterfront remains a distant memory.
"That's the history of Weehawken," Turner said. "We keep waiting for the planned amenities and nothing ever happens."
Township officials spoke with Roseland Properties developer Carl Goldberg to see if there was a way that the proposed open areas - a waterfront walkway, a linear park along the extent of the development and a six-acre recreation area - could be constructed first. Usually, the areas are constructed in stages, to coincide with the rest of the development, as soon as the developer starts to receive revenues from sales.
"We approached Carl and told him what we would like to see done," Turner said. "We asked him if we could find low-interest loans, would he be willing to do everything up front. He was very open to the idea, as long as we could find a source for the funding."
Turner found the source - in the form of the Hudson County Improvement Authority.
"[County Executive] Bob Janiszewski has been a leading advocate of having the Hudson River walkway completed," Turner said. "The county was very agreeable to the idea. So we had to create a Special Improvement District at the site, in order to receive the funds from the HCIA."
The Special Improvement Districts were formed five years ago, for urban areas in the county that are designated in need of rehabilitation. The most prominent SID is the one that was formed to do the major reconstruction of the Journal Square area in Jersey City.
"The SID has become a very common way to make these improvements in the county," Turner said.
How it works is simple: The HCIA provides a loan, in this instance $8 million, in order for the designated SID to make the necessary improvements. The Township Council has been appointed to act as the trustees for the Weehawken SID.
The new Weehawken SID then signs a specific detailed contract with Roseland Properties, in order to secure that the necessary amenities are built and the HCIA funds go to only build the specific amenities.
The SID then creates a special tax that will be levied to prospective Port Imperial South homeowners, and the collected taxes will go back to the HCIA to repay the loan over a period of 10 years, plus the accrued interest. "The Weehawken SID will determine the rate of tax, in order to repay the loan," Turner said. "The plan doesn't cost our taxpayers one penny. Roseland is building it with the government funding that enables us to have the amenities up front. Roseland is getting the low-interest loan as an inducement to built the amenities up front."
The city and the HCIA approved the plan last week.
The members of the Township Council applauded the efforts.
"Instead of getting the amenities piecemeal, it's all being developed up front," Councilman James Terlizzi said.
"And there's no danger that we won't get the amenities. It's something I've been after for a long time. This isn't helping Roseland. This is helping the people of Weehawken."
Added Councilwoman Rosemary Lavagnino: "This is an ideal investment vehicle. But it also gives us additional controls on the design of what happens down along the waterfront and we are exposed to no liabilities."
"We've always been in dire need for more recreation facilities," Councilman Lou Ferullo said. "This gives us the opportunity to build more fields right away."
Turner said that the deal enables the township to enjoy the amenities within the next 18 months, as expected, not 10 to 12 years, like the proposed development. He also said that the work at the six-acre recreational site provided by Roseland would coincide with the work of the adjacent five-acre parcel of land that the township purchased last year.
Since the SID has been formed, the township can now move ahead with plans to secure Green Acres state and federal funds to develop its waterfront land, which will make the total recreation area along the waterfront that much greater.
"Not often do you get an opportunity like this, especially in an urban area," Turner said. "It's the largest public works project sponsored by the town in the history of the town. We are doubling the total amount of open space we have in the entire town. We had 12 and a half acres and we're now getting 13 total acres at the waterfront. And we'll have it done in 18 months, if the development goes according to schedule."
Turner said that the next step would be to find the proper way to utilize the new recreational areas.
"We have a committee of 10 to 12 people from every organization in the town to help us design the type of facilities needed at the site," Turner said. "We have to figure out what's most needed, whether it's a soccer field, baseball fields, a pool facility. But now, we can begin to make the plans."
Councilman Robert Sosa added, "We finally have the opportunity to provide the facilities to our residents. For many years, all I've heard from parents and children alike, that we need more fields. Now, we're going to do it." Turner said that the proposed deal also doubly secures public access to the waterfront.
"It's being built with public funds, so this guarantees it will be open to the public," Turner said.