Dear Editor,

The city’s plan to buy and demolish 50 Journal Square makes little sense, either in fiscal or urban planning terms. Jersey City’s taxpayers can get much more for our money, without needlessly demolishing a part of Journal Square’s history.

Tonight, the city’s plan is on for a first reading before the city council.

The city’s stated goal is to create a park.  But at best, what will be built is a forlorn plaza, arguably for the benefit of the high-rise buildings going in next door at 808 Pavonia, built on the taxpayer’s dime. Indeed, the parcel is minuscule–at less than 1,800 square feet, 23 feet wide by 69 feet long, it is about 2/3 the size of land taken up by a typical Jersey City 2-family home.  It would be one of the smallest city parks in all of Jersey City, if not the smallest.  For comparison, at 87,000 square feet, Van Vorst Park is 50 times larger. Neighboring buildings, which butt up right against the parcel, will cast it in perpetual shadow.  There will be almost no space for most of the amenities or activities of a typical park, beyond some desolate benches and pavers.

To demolish this slice of Jersey City history for a mere plaza seems like a raw deal.

One might argue that perhaps our park-starved city should take whatever it can get–but sadly, in this case, the city will have to spend an exorbitant amount of money to get it; we could get so much more with the same amount of money almost anywhere else in the neighborhood.  Land prices per square foot are extremely high where 50 Journal Sq is located, due to its proximity to Journal Square PATH and the high amount of retail foot traffic. On top of that, the parcel contains an 8-story building, which will make it even more expensive to purchase, compared to buying a less developed parcel.  In addition, the city will be on the hook for demolition costs for this 13,000-square-foot structure, which will run at least several hundred thousand dollars.  With the amount of money being spent, we deserve more than a gloomy, minuscule plaza.

Lastly, the decision to demolish this building is a mistake in terms of historic preservation.  According to some sources, 50 Journal Square, once known as the Universal Building has stood at one of Jersey City’s most prominent corners for over a century, since 1916.  In a neighborhood where constant redevelopment is a fact of life, this building is a landmark in the most literal sense of the word, anchoring this little corner of Journal Square along with the adjacent Loews Jersey Theater. 50 Journal Square is also distinctive architecturally and historically. Very few pre-war commercial buildings in the 8-story range survive in Jersey City.  It is a fine example of the great wave of commercial redevelopment that turned Journal Square into the heart of the city in the 1910s and 1920s.  This is a history that is particularly pertinent today, as Journal Square passes through a new wave of redevelopment that aims to turn it into the heart of the city once more. It is true that the building is currently in a dilapidated and unsightly state, but it must be emphasized that the building’s neglect is a conscious decision by its owner.  Given the building’s desirable location, it is an extremely viable candidate for restoration and adaptive reuse, and can easily stand at this corner for another century.  To demolish this slice of Jersey City history for a mere plaza seems like a raw deal.

We can do better; we can get parkland and preserve our architectural history, and we can do it for far less.  The City Council should reject this ill-conceived ordinance, and demand more for the money. 

Athena Minervino

Jersey City