County Court Complex project advances

City Council authorizes HCIA to oversee development

Old court house will remain until new court house is finished.
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Old court house will remain until new court house is finished.

The City Council adopted an ordinance at its July 18 meeting that transferred power from the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority to the Hudson County Improvement Authority to oversee development of a new County Courthouse complex along Newark Avenue.

The county owns the properties that are part of the Journal Square Redevelopment area where the county proposes to construct the new complex, including a courthouse, parking, county administration offices and other amenities.

However, the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority is the designated redevelopment agency for the area. The ordinance transfers the authority to the HCIA to act as redevelopment authority over those properties that are included in the complex.

This is a significant step in the development of the new facility. The freeholders have been debating a new courthouse complex for more than a decade to replace the County Administration Building at 595 Newark Ave. That building was constructed in the 1960s, but has had massive and costly problems over the last 20 years.

The agreement includes the extension of Central Avenue from its current end at Hoboken Avenue to Pavonia Avenue. The new complex will be located directly across Newark Avenue from the current courthouse

The $400 million project had been held up by a dispute over a proposed 3-acre park to be situated on part of the property occupied by the existing complex.

“We managed to get the city administration to give us two separate agreements,” said Councilman Richard Boggiano, who represents the Journal Square area where the project is located. “We approved one for north of Newark Avenue. The land south of Newark Avenue is still under discussion.”

The county proposes to demolish the existing court house and sell off the land for private redevelopment to help offset the $400 million price tag on the new complex.

Part of the original agreement was to develop a sorely-needed public park on that site.

“But the county wanted to cut back from the three-acres it originally proposed, we’re holding out for all three acres,” Boggiano said. “We need that space. Other development in the area failed to provide green space, even though they were supposed to under the zoning approvals.”

There are no parks in the Journal Square area currently.

“We’ve met with community organizations and county officials,” Boggiano said. “[County Executive] Tommy DeGise has been great.”

Project can finally move ahead

DeGise said he is very gratified by the council’s action, and that the agreement will allow the project to move ahead.

“We should have replaced the court house 25 years ago,” he said. “If we had, this would have been a lot easier and a lot cheaper.”

He said the agreement with the city allows the project to move onto the next phases, which are road improvements.

“We’ve already cleared the land,” he said. “The next thing we will do is widen Oakland Avenue  and eliminate Cook Street to extend Central Avenue south. This will improve traffic in the area.”

He said the project will likely take up to four years to complete, and will be done in phases. A proposed 530 car garage will be the first structure built near Route 139, and eventually the courthouse will be constructed with the front facing the newly extended Central Avenue.

Demolition of the existing courthouse will likely be one of the last things done because the county needs to continue to operate out of it until the new courthouse is ready.

The existing administration building, constructed in the 1960s, contains state and county courtrooms, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, and other county offices. The new building would contain mostly courtrooms.

DeGise said he is committed to providing a park in the area, and he will be reaching out to the community to talk about it.

County officials were notified about the problems at 595 Newark Ave. more than 25 years ago. Now the cost is nearly 10 times what the county originally estimated. A 1988 study done by the National Center for State Courts showed that the administration building was “functionally unsatisfactory in terms of circulation, structural, and environmental systems.”

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com