The City Council decided at its caucus meeting March 6 to transfer about 17 acres of city-owned property to the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority (JCRA) for a proposed new tech research and residential village near Liberty State Park.
An ordinance will authorize the land transfer to the JCRA, which in turn will give the land to the Liberty Science Center (LSC) for the construction of the new $280 million project. It will feature a biotech lab, a coding lab, a technology business incubator, and a K-12 STEM-focused school, as well as a scholar’s village with residences for visiting scientists.
Some council members continued to have reservations about giving the land to the JCRA before knowing what its actual value is. David Donnelly, executive director of the JCRA, assured the council that the city would be compensated for the land after it has been assessed, prior to the closing on the property.
Donnelly said the science center is currently raising $78 million of the $280 million cost, and that would have to be paid back first from revenue generated.
“After that is paid off, then the city would get 50 percent of the net profits until the land is paid for,” Donnelly said. “After that, the city will continue to collect 20 percent of the net profits, forever.”
Although LSC is a not-for-profit organization, portions of the project will have profit-making components, similar to its current gift shop, which will generate revenue as well as pay local taxes.
LSC Executive Officer Paul Hoffman appeared for the third time at a City Council caucus to pitch the idea. LSC needs the city’s contribution of land to make the project possible. But council members Michael Yun and Richard Boggiano said they feared portions of the project, such as the proposed housing section, might be sold off to a private entity later, making a huge profit for LSC at city expense.
While other council members such as Council President Rolando Lavarro originally pushed for an assessment of the property before transferring the land, they changed their position, allowing the project to move ahead.
Donnelly originally claimed the land had no value – prompting a protest from Boggiano, who pointed to the fact that the city sold a neighboring piece of property to Jersey City Medical Center recently for $4.3 million.
Council member Candice Osborne, who supports the LSC, said the value of the land largely depends on its eventual use. So this property would have a significantly higher assessed value if it was destined to house skyscrapers than it would a parking lot.
Donnelly said repayment would be based on the assessment made at the time the land is transferred. If LSC does not commence work on the project within 36 months of the signing of a contract with the city, the land would revert to city ownership, Donnelly said.
What is the local impact?
Boggiano was also concerned about some of the previous problems at LSC, something Hoffman acknowledged.
Hoffman noted LSC was on the verge of closing when he took over six years ago, and has made a dramatic recovery, now drawing hundreds of thousands of people from inside and beyond Hudson County each year. He said more than 83 percent of Jersey City students come to LSC each year.
He said, however, that the new plans would allow LSC to engage the students more and have a greater impact on their ability to learn science.
While LSC deals with many students with learning disabilities currently, having a school on site would allow LSC to provide a more comprehensive education for them, and to be able to promote science and technology studies among the total student population.
There is a huge need for teaching of sciences and that the new village could become a national hub of innovation, he said.
Donnelly said that this donation of land is an investment in the future and the city’s partnership in the village and said the city would recoup and get more from it as the project moves ahead.
“We are working with the superintendent of Jersey City Schools and the New Jersey Department of Education to do what is best for kids.” – Paul Hoffman
Jeremy Farrell, the city attorney, said another goal of the project is to help create jobs, and the proposed village, according to Hoffman, would do that and more.
Hoffman said the village would infuse about $33 million into the local economy from salaries and local spending.
Councilman Chris Gadsden was still concerned with a potential brain drain the LSC school would have on local public schools.
Farrell said the city hoped that the village school would be a public school. Hoffman said LSC is still exploring the idea, looking into the possibility of a charter school on site, or creating a model similar to the Hudson County vocational school model
“We are working with the superintendent of Jersey City schools and the New Jersey Department of Education to do what is best for kids,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman said projections show that there will be an increased number of students in Jersey City in the future and the school will augment the district, which is struggling to find enough seats for students.
The old Horseshoe to be redevelopment
The council also voted to introduce an ordinance to establish a new redevelopment zone in what was once called the Horseshoe section of Jersey City. This is an area made famous by former Mayor Frank Hague, who grew up there.
The area is bordered by Hoboken on the north, the waterfront on the east and Palisades to the west, and the approaches to the Holland Tunnel on the south. The plan would call for public parks, a police station, and other uses as well as residential and commercial development projects.
The Cast Iron Lofts and other residential projects have already built in what historically has been a highly industrial area associated with the nearby rail lines. The redevelopment area will be named after its one time largest manufacturer there, Emerson Radio.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.