After five hours of discussion, including nearly four hours of public comment, the Jersey City Council approved transferring city-owned land to the local redevelopment agency – which will ultimately be the home of the $280 million SciTech Scity project.
Jersey City resident Henry Gage questioned the council’s commitment to the community in this endeavor, given that the city didn’t host a single public hearing on the topic.
“So my request is that the council would consider pausing on approving this, in fact, voting no in order to give enough time to adequately collaborate with community,” said Gage.
“Unfortunately, what seems to have become, unfortunately, through communication, an oppositional issue – which even is even exhibited here, within the council itself, with the characterization of questions.”
Gage also questioned how ethical it was for Council President Rolando Lavarro and Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera to serve on the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency, but Lavarro explained this was state law and a decades old standard in Jersey City.
City teacher Gilbert Moore, like many other speakers advocating on behalf of the Jersey City Public School district, said language in the ordinance regarding the school portion of the project needs to be more specific.
Local blogger Bruce Alston said that the Liberty Science Center’s past shortcomings need to be taken into consideration when evaluating the new initiative.
“If you could sit there in good conscience and say that … an organization that lost approximately $6.4 million in the past three years. And just recently, last year, shows a revenue surplus of $4.4 billion dollars make them an ideal candidate to develop a $280 million project?,” Alston questioned.
“This sounds like Donald Trump trying to be a developer,” he added.
Plenty of speakers were in favor of the project though, including Friends of Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin.
“The Friends [of Liberty State Park] board feels that SciTech Scity is a very positive plan in relationship to the Liberty State Park and it’s also a visionary plan for science advancement and for the progress of Jersey City,” stated Pesin.
Rafael Torres, a longtime volunteer at the Liberty Science Center, said the project is a win for everyone involved.
Former Jersey City Mayor Jerry McCann, who was instrumental in bringing LSC to the city in 1993, was another strong proponent of the project.
“We gave land to LeFrak, in Newport, at $5,000 an acre. 186 acres. It now sells for $20 million an acre. Was that a bad investment on the part of [the] city, at that time? It wasn’t,” explained McCann, telling detractors they didn’t understand the circumstances.
However, Ron Greco, the president of the Jersey City Education Association, said he couldn’t support the project in its current form and that if the city wanted to give away land, they give it to the board of education.
Closing out the public comment portion of the ordinance was LSC President and CEO Paul Hoffman, who said he wanted to clear up misinformation surrounding SciTech Scity.
“I just want to correct a few things that have been said: it’s about 12 acres, it’s not 16 acres. There have been misunderstandings about the financial arrangement here: the $78 million that we talk about, that is philanthropic funding that Liberty Science Center has to raise to make this project work,” Hoffman said.
“In fact, we also have to take care of the full $280 million dollars. The $78 million dollars is what the philanthropists need to contribute. We then need to find investors to put in $55 million and also take on debt when we make this.”
The council approved the measure by a vote of 6-3, with Councilmen Chris Gadsden, Rich Boggiano and Michael Yun voting no.
Gadsden made a motion to table the measure, which was seconded by Yun, but that motion was defeated by an identical vote.
The entire council vote, which was originally streamed live on our Facebook page, can be seen below.