Two consistent critics of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop’s administration urged the city council to rethink a $20 million, 16-acre land deal with the local redevelopment agency to move the Liberty Science Center’s “SciTech Scity” project forward.
“So you plan to giveaway 16 acres [of land] worth $20 million? Wow. But first you want to transfer it to the JCRA (Jersey City Redevelopment Agency). What is [sic] JC residents getting for giving away $20 million in real estate?,” Josephine Douglas-Paige asked the council at Wednesday’s meeting.
“Doesn’t this council think that a public hearing should be scheduled, in the wards, especially Ward F, to present LSC’s foundation: full and comprehensive plan for this real estate?”
In a statement released last month, Fulop called the project, which includes a biotech lab, a coding lab, a technology business incubator and a K-12 STEM-focused school and a scholars village, “one of the most exciting projects we have had the opportunity to work on.”
Paige, who said the project had the potential to negatively impact taxpayers and should have stipulations that provide low- and moderate-income residential units for those who currently live in Ward F and A, accused Fulop of using the city as “his private monopoly board” in this instance.
Prior to the start of the meeting, the council tabled a measure that would’ve transferred the aforementioned land to the JCRA.
Nevertheless, Paige and CivicJC President Esther Wintner decided to voice their concerns on the matter.
Wintner called for an independent appraisal of the 16 acres of land, feeling that the property was being undersold at $20 million, also wondering aloud if it really made sense to transfer the city-owned property to the JCRA for a $1 fee.
A longtime political enemy of Fulop, Wintner stated she thought the large-scale endeavor was “an asset that belongs to the taxpayer,” therefore it was inappropriate for the mayor to embrace it as “a pet project.”
“Also in the ordinance in talks about the purpose and first line says ‘Mayor Fulop and the executive director of the Liberty Science Center, Paul Hoffman, have forged a vision to create a transformative project near the Liberty Science Center,’” she read.
“I don’t believe that giving away property of this magnitude is something the mayor should do as a pet project because this is an asset that belongs to the taxpayer, that is of value.”
Identifying Wintner as “a well-known critic of everything in the city,” Jersey City spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill said Wintner was “dead wrong” in this particular instance.
“We appreciate Esther Wintner and she is certainly a well-known critic of everything in the city, but in this instance she is dead wrong. The city should not be building thousands of new condos here and merely selling the property to the highest bidder to be built by a private developer,” she said in an email.
“We have the chance today to get a new public school for Jersey City students, share in any revenue from any expansion, create a global destination to be visited here in Jersey City, attract some of the greatest science minds in the world, and expand one of Jersey City’s best attractions. This is a win for everyone in Jersey City.”
Responding via text message, Wintner said that she is “a critic of everything this administration does that serves to disrespect taxpayers,” questioning if Morrill was crossing the lines of non-partisanship by spitting “vitriol on behalf of the mayor’s campaign.”
Jersey City Councilmen Rich Boggiano and Michael Yun, who also frequently speak out against Fulop, told Wintner that the deal is still being examined by the council, which is why the ordinance was tabled.