Construction for the Exchange Place Plaza renovations in Jersey City had begun last month, amidst controversy over the fate of the Katyn Memorial located there.
Exchange Place Alliance Executive Director Elizabeth Cain told the Hudson Reporter in an email that they broke ground at the location last month, and the fencing erected there will be moved to follow various phases of the project.
“We are currently removing the top paves throughout the site,” she said. “The next step includes the removal of the existing light poles, dead and diseased trees and expanding the fenced area to accommodate more of the total project footprint.”
On August 10, fencing was raised in an area around the western front of Katyn Memorial and one of the entrances to the PATH station. The statue was only accessible from the waterfront towards the east.
An Exchange Place Alliance newsletter dated to August 4 said that they broke ground “shortly after our epic July 4th celebration in the plaza.” According to their website, “Phase 1” of their construction will take place from July to October 31, while “Phase 2” will take place from Nov.1 to Dec. 31.
The Alliance has proposed adding a private roadway, a pedestrian plaza and greenery in the plaza earlier this year as part of their redesign plans.
But the most contentious part includes a semi-circular bench in front of the Katyn Memorial, which has been opposed by a number of residents, including those from the Polish American community, for potentially obstructing the statue.
The statue commemorates the 1940 massacre of more than 22,000 Polish soldiers and prisoners of war by the Soviet Union. It had been planned for relocation four years ago to make way for renovations at the plaza, but ultimately did not go through after months of push back.
The redesigns were initially rejected by the Planning Board back in April, but were then approved by the board after the Alliance appealed. The Alliance is also facing a lawsuit by a local resident and a Polish American group over their approval of the project.
“Of course, as part of our commitment to ensure the Katyn Memorial is always accessible and permanently cared for special fencing has been installed,” continued Cain. “We’re thrilled to see ground broken on this project – what is to come will be transformative for the waterfront.”
The Exchange Place Alliance, which is a Special Improvement District, has not seen their new budget adopted by the City Council. The council had given initial approval to it back on July 13, which earmarks $5.5 million for “capital improvements” for the plaza. The council’s next meeting is on August 17.
Councilman James Solomon, who represents the Downtown-based Ward E, said that it is his understanding that the Alliance had acquired permits for construction despite not having their new budget adopted.
“They got approval from City Council to turn the Exchange Place in a pedestrian zone, they got permits from the [Department of Environmental Protection] and others at the city Planning Board,” he said. “In prior year budgets, they’ve been approved for construction, so they can tack those prior year budgets while awaiting the approval on their current fiscal year budget.”
When asked if he supports or opposes the plans that could affect the statue, Solomon replied that there are “reasonable requests to amend the design to create better access to the statue.” “I am hopeful the Alliance will give them due consideration as it moves forward on its project,” he said.
Andrzej Burghardt, the president of the Polish American Congress’ New Jersey division and a vocal critic of the redesign plans, said that the Alliance should not start any construction work while they face a lawsuit. He also questioned whether the Alliance has the permits needed to begin construction.
“About a week from now, the Jersey City Council, we might think that we should again come to this meeting to try to convince the council to demand details, which would answer the questions that I raised,” he said.