Morris Canal Park Manor

Project Would be Part of 17-Story Residential High-Rise

Jersey City could get its first municipal recreation center within the next couple of years as part of a deal being offered by nearby real estate developers.

The facility, a 22,000-square-foot, two-story structure, will include a gym, a rock climbing wall, a sauna, dance studios, music studios, and a food concession. For the more studious it will also feature computer labs and classrooms for STEM instruction. Adjacent to the center will be a 14,000-square foot structure accommodating eight “incubator” commercial working spaces for minority business enterprises (MBEs) anchored by two private retail businesses. Parts of the project will be 17 stories high.

The public package is part of a giveback pitch offered by a North Bergen-based developer seeking Jersey City’s approvals for construction of “Morris Canal Park Manor,” a 3.3-acre, 361-unit residential high-rise and parking garage that would border Berry Lane Park at Communipaw Avenue and Woodward Street in Ward F.

No tax abatements are being sought by the developer, and the part of the property dedicated to what has been tentatively called the Frederick Douglass STEM Recreation Center, valued at $900,000, will be deeded to the city.

As for the residential part of the project, the developer, Skyline Development Group, anticipates that 18 units will be designated as “affordable” as defined by federal income standards; the balance will be market rate.  Skyline’s most recent project is the Solaia, a 70-unit, 14-story condominium tower off River Road in North Bergen which just “topped off,” real-estate lingo for having had its highest story built.

The proposed Jersey City venture, whose development cost is projected to be $175 million, would displace the sprawling MacElroy Steel Co., a 150-year-old business specializing in fabricating steel parts for marine operations and, according to Skyline CEO Lou Mont, that had made the bolts for the George Washington Bridge.

Part of the business is still functioning, Mont said.

According to Mont, if the project is approved, Skyline would preserve one of the MacElroy structures—a two-story brick building fronting on Communipaw—to use as a temporary construction office and then convert it to a “market retail” business, possibly a bar and eatery.

The proposed garage would have a capacity for 284 spaces, including 40 reserved for members of the public using the center.

Mont said that test samples taken at the site showed no evidence of dangerous toxins but that there had been evidence of “some petroleum hot spots.” For this reason, some soil from the site has been removed and “a number of test wells” are being regularly monitored, Mont said.

“The only remaining issue,” according to Mont, “is that there is a minor amount of asbestos in three of the plant’s contiguous buildings that run along Woodward” that will need to be removed.

Also, to comply with environmental standards, Mont said Skyline will arrange for the project’s site to be capped with two feet of clean fill. With these measures, he added, the project “will easily meet the standards for residential development.”

The Church of God in Christ Temple, at the corner of Communipaw and Woodward, and two adjacent residential buildings would be spared from the wrecking ball if the project goes forward, Mont said.

Skyline’s plans call for a pathway through the middle of the Manor complex, leading from Communipaw to Berry Lane Park, along with a one-acre open space off of Woodward that could support such city-organized activities as  farmers’ markets or open-air concerts.

The site is a “federal opportunity zone but is currently zoned for industrial use. Mont said Skyline will ask the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency to consider amending the city’s redevelopment plan for the site to allow for residential and retail use. If the JCRA obliges, the proposed zoning change would go to the city council for ratification, and then the city planning board would be asked to schedule a site plan hearing, Mont said.

“We’re looking to spring or summer of 2021 to secure all our approvals,” he said. “We project this will be a two-year project, so summer 2023 would be the finish date. However, Mont added, once the project starts, “we anticipate the STEM/rec center to be completed ahead of the residential tower and MBE retail center.”

The residential tower features what Mont calls a “step down-tiered” design, calling for portions of the building to rise to varying elevations, from eight to 11 to 17 stories, as a means of being less intrusive on the surrounding neighborhood.

Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson said he welcomed the prospect of the city’s getting its first municipal rec complex. “I’ve always said children are our future, and while kids don’t vote, I feel I’m elected to be the voice of the voiceless. The big question is, ‘how do we fund this for the future?’ and the answer is probably going to be grants.”

Robinson said he’s already met with the city’s newly reorganized recreation division, representatives of the JCRA, and the city’s business administrator “to start the ball in motion” identifying grant programs that may be tapped.

As for the types of programs the city will be offering at the center, Robinson said: “The community is going to dictate what goes in there. I’m putting all hands on deck to get input on that.”

For more Ward F news, click here.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...

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