The Jersey City Council approved the ability to use eminent domain to acquire the property at 50 Journal Square at last night’s meeting.
By John Heinis and Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
Jill Quentzel, a co-owner of the property, began by saying that her family has owned the property for 100 years and has lived in Jersey City for 40 years.
“Council members, my father was born and bred in Jersey City. My brother and I were born in Jersey City, we worked with my dad in this building. I only want this building to go from my father, through me, to my child, his name is Justice,” she said.
“Justice is a very important concept to me: eminent domain in this case is not a fair response nor is it necessary. We are willing to come in and speak with the city, offer many concept plans that could even give the city what they want. Council members: my father, all his life, wanted to have a building in Jersey City, Journal Square.”
She pleaded for them not to take the building via condemnation, further stating that her parents made sure her initials were JSQ for Journal Square, speaking well after her time expired as she pleaded for the measure to be tabled.
Lincoln Park North Block Association Vice President Patrick Hambrecht, who described himself as a music enthusiast, said that there has been no music venues in the area since Journal Square Lounge closed.
“This is it. This is the last connection to the Tube Bar, I don’t know anyone in Lincoln Park who likes the idea of tearing down this historic building, and I’m asking you to work with the owners of this building and see if they can reopen the Journal Square Lounge,” he stated.
“I understand the Loew’s is a big music venue that will open in the future and will bring out-of-towners. This is a local music venue for locals and is of enormous importance. I hope you will consider working with the owners to reopen the Journal Square Lounge or create a music venue like it.”
Erica Walker, an aide to Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore, who said she was speaking on her own behalf as a resident and property owner, said more should be done to help longtime residents of the city.
“I feel like the city should challenge itself to do a much better job of helping residents who have been here to take advantage of the growth of this city, as opposed to allowing developers to be the ones who are primarily benefiting from the growth of this city,” she asserted.
“We have an amazing opportunity to use this as an example of how to win, how we can teach our homeowners how to win, how we can teach our existing property owners how to make money off of land and stay here. I want my parents and grandparents to learn how to become developers.”
Another resident and landlord, Chris Perez, noted that the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy opposed the plan to demolish the building in favor of a park.
He added that in 1926, Governor A. Harry Moore christened the Labor National Bank on the site where it first opened. It was also previously a radio station where concerts were recorded and Frank Sinatra performed.
“WAAT was one of the first stations in the United States to operate regularly scheduled programming that included many live performances in their studios by Frank Sinatra and others,” Perez said.
“The idea of converting this space into a park does not make sense. As a pedestrian walkway, it seems like a misuse of community resources,” Anna Davies said.
While Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano was absent, his aide, Pam Andes, urged his colleagues to preserve the building.
“The city needs to take care of Jersey City residents and history. Councilman Boggiano could not be here and regrets that. Please protect Jersey City history. Please don’t do this. This is us!” she exclaimed. “Did we even ask historic preservation for approvals?
She also wanted proof the building was crumbling.
“This is probably my favorite building in all of Journal Square. I don’t think the city’s been asked if it wants a park,” added architect Will Burns.
Gilmore said that he didn’t feel like the council had received enough information to vote and asked if the measure could be tabled.
“The administration is going to proceed with this tonight. We’re not going to delay it any further. We’re trying to line it up to have construction done as the Loew’s interior is being done,” Business Administrator John Metro replied.
“It is for a public use. It’s not for a developer, unlike what we’ve heard tonight. It’s not going to be a park with swing sets. It’s going to be an entranceway into an open public area for individuals commuting through Journal Square, including that alleyway. It will make it a lot safer. We can have some greenery.”
Metro also insisted the building was dilapidated with cardboard in many of the windows, also claiming that historic preservation had never been mentioned until eminent domain entered the picture.
“So, two weeks would the whole timing off?” Gilmore asked.
“The administration doesn’t feel that two weeks is going to create an ample opportunity to present a different argument,” Metro said, prompting a few audience members to yell out.
“Wait a minute! What I ask is for people to respect each other. So no booing,” exclaimed Council President Joyce Watterman.
Gilmore made a motion to carry, but it failed since it did not receive a second.
“You mentioned it’s not historic. Before we knock things down … our historic preservation department looks to ensure it’s not deemed historical. We would have to follow that same standard, right?” Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley asked.
“No, it does not apply to the city,” Metro said.
“But we are doing our due diligence?” Ridley asked.
“It’s not deemed historic. It’s not the burden of the city as an organization to present that,” Metro replied.
“Have we spoken to them (the Friends of the Loew’s)?” Ridley asked.
“The Friends of the Loew’s did have a meeting with JCRA (Jersey City Redevelopment Agency). There was no positive or negative attribute to that. They’re more concerned about the interior of the Loew’s,” Metro answered.
He added that they would seek their approval once a design is created and Ridley said a middle ground would be preferred to demolition before voting yes.
“Eminent domain is a very slippery slope, but we also have to think about the totality of what we want to do in Journal Square. There are state tax credits for some of this work,” Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey said.
She did not want them to miss out on credits for development and voted yes.
“This is really upsetting. It shouldn’t even have to come to the city council at all. This is coming to us because the property has been left in disarray for 20 years,” Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh said.
“I really am upset we have to do this. There are a lot of properties like this across Jersey City. If people loved this property, they would have made sure to tend to it,” he added.
“Knowing that it’s coming back before the council and that it’s been dilapidated for 20 years, I vote aye,” Ward E Councilman James Solomon said.
Gilmore said he was going to give the family the benefit of the doubt, given that there are plenty of dilapidated lots that are over 30 years old, and voted no.
“Knowing that it’s going to come back before council on the design and negotiations with the current owner, I vote aye,” Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise said.
Watterman said she spoke to Boggiano, who wanted it tabled, and did not feel right voting yes for that reason.
“He really wants us to table it. Nobody else wanted to table it. I want to keep my word with Rich. I spoke to the owner of this project. The building is dilapidated. I’m going to abstain. I’m not for eminent domain.”
Therefore the measure, it passed 6-1(1) with Gilmore voting no, Watterman abstaining, and Boggiano absent.
“Today doesn’t authorize the acquisition of the property, it authorizes the city council to allow us to negotiate on behalf of the city and eventually it will come back to the city council,” said Mayor Steven Fulop.
“We’ve done this before: this is not the first time we’ve done this in the last 10 years as mayor and it is for the purpose of public use. That building, anyone whose familiar with it, is an eyesore: there hasn’t been a dollar invested in that building in 18 years – we know that because no permits have been pulled to renovate, improve it … More importantly, it directly impacts a major investment for the public which is the Loew’s Theatre.”