In a move that could advance the city’s plans for Journal Square to become a center for the arts, the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority (JCRA) is asking the City Council to approve a $10 million bond. The 30 year bond would pay the $9 million purchase price for the Pathside Building in Journal Square formerly used as a repair and garage for Public Service, the forerunner to PSE&G, plus renovations that would allow it to be leased to a potential arts organization.
At its Jan. 24 meeting, the council passed a resolution authorizing a subsidy agreement between the city and the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency, representing an important next step in the acquisition of the building.
The Pathside Building will be transformed into the home of a new Jersey City Museum and community center.
Several representatives of arts groups spoke during the public portion of the meeting in support of the purchase, including one group that has bid to serve as a consultant for the project.
Last November, the New Jersey Local Finance Board authorized the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (JCRA) to issue $10 million in redevelopment bonds for the purchase of the Pathside Building, located at 25 Sip Ave. adjacent to the Journal Square PATH station.
The five-story, 55,000 square foot building is currently owned by the Hudson County Community College. The financing also covers the hiring of a consultant to design a strategic plan for the museum and community center for both capital improvements and programming, for which a request for proposals (RFP) has already been issued. The acquisition will allow the JCRA to begin facilitating the conversion of the building into a museum and community center.
While the current intention is to focus on the visual arts (with a component of the building reserved for local artists), the city will also consider other forms of art such as performance art.
The council will likely introduce the bond ordinance early in February if they can come to an agreement.
David Donnelly, executive director of the JCRA, said this may be the city’s last opportunity to purchase a building in the area. The JCRA hopes to purchase the building from Hudson County Community College in order to turn it into a world class art center and museum before development forces prices up in the area.
If the City Council agrees to issue the bond, the JRCA would hire an arts consultant to find a permanent tenant to operate the museum. Six consulting firms have already responded to the JCRA’s request for proposals.
While the building is not on any historic registry, Donnelly said, it is of “historic significance.”
When Public Service was a bus company, too
Public Service ran the trolleys, a by-product of energy companies that used to compete for business by offering services that ran on the energy they sold. Today’s young people are confused when old-timers mumble something about catching a “public service” bus, as most of them were either born after 1980 when Public Service Gas and Electric gave up their claim, or moved into the state after the power company gave up its routes to NJ Transit, the semi-governmental entity that currently runs most of the trains and buses in New Jersey.
For a brief time, Public Service actually ran vehicles that were hybrid vehicles that ran on both electric and fossil fuels. Eventually this evolved into a fleet of vehicles that serviced most of the major bus routes in the state until 1980 when they become the Public Service Gas and Electric company an focused almost exclusively on providing power to the electric grid and gas to homes and businesses.
Although Public Service’s main headquarters was based in Newark, they had significant involvement in public transportation projects throughout the state, including some of the engineering work that led to the construction of the Holland Tunnel. They also ran many of the bus lines that used Journal Square transportation hub.
The proposed building is located next to the current bus and PATH terminal.
“We were hoping the money would fall out of the sky or we might get a grant. But that didn’t happen so we have to bond.” – David Donnelly
Taking advantage of a good situation
Donnelly said the JCRA has been negotiating with Hudson Community College – which currently owns the building – for about 18 months.
“We were supposed to close the deal last March,” he said, noting the financing was the issue. “We were hoping the money would fall out of the sky or we might get a grant. But that didn’t happen so we have to bond.”
He said if the city does not act quickly, it might lose its opportunity to make the purchase, and with massive development coming into the area, an opportunity like this will not likely occur again.
The problem, however, is that there is no guarantee a tenant will be able to make the center profitable enough to pay the expected $550,000 annual bond payment, which means city taxpayers will be on the hook to make up the difference each year.
While Councilman Michael Yun said he understands that the city might have to subsidize the project, he would like an estimate of how much the city might have to pay before the council votes to authorize the $10 million bond.
Donnelly, however, said this is not something that the city can estimate, but that if they do not authorize the bond, the college may choose to sell the building to someone else, and the city will lose a rare opportunity.
Councilmembers James Solomon said he was concerned about local artists, who are struggling to find space to display their works. Donnelly said the future plans would envision a provision for local arts, and that one of the six bidders was a large Jersey City arts organization. He would not say which one.
Council woman Mira Prinz-Arey questioned about the cost of building a collection for the museum.
Donnelly said many museums do not have enough space to display all the art they already have and might be tapped to allow some of these works to be displayed in Jersey City.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.