A Republican lawmaker is urging the state to audit Jersey City’s planned French art museum, calling the project slated for outside the Journal Square PATH station a symbol of “unconscionable excess.”
Sen. Michael Testa (R-Cumberland) asked the state Senate GOP office to conduct a review of the project, and a memo Testa released Monday says the project’s cost has ballooned since it was first proposed, tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on consultants, and there is no meaningful oversight of the $58 million in state aid granted to the project over the last three years.
“With the knowledge that such easy money is in the pipeline, the project has become a circus of excess and waste,” reads the memo, written by the Senate’s GOP budget director.
The museum will end up costing about $200 million, with a state subsidy of $5 million annually in its opening years, says the memo, which compares the Jersey City project unfavorably to the Trenton and Newark museums. Those museums, the memo says, “are both more modest in scope and focus on American works of art and New Jersey history.”
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who is running for governor in 2025, has touted the Centre Pompidou x Jersey City as a project that will reinvigorate the city’s Journal Square neighborhood and help turn it into an entertainment and arts hub. In a statement, Fulop’s office said the museum will be a “tourist destination for the entire region, similar to Liberty Science Center.”
Fulop spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said Testa’s review shows he is “either ignorant or a liar.” Wallace-Scalcione said Testa never sought relevant documents from the city that he could have obtained through public records requests.
“The conclusion is that Senator Testa is perhaps well-intentioned but, unfortunately, ignorant. Perhaps he should be more careful to get his facts in order before embarrassing himself,” she said.
Among the issues with the Pompidou project, according to the memo Testa released:
More than $33 million will be paid to the Center Pompidou museum in Paris, about $11 million of which is just to use the museum’s name for five years. More than 30 consultants have been hired by the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency, which is overseeing the project, including “consultants to find other consultants.” The agency issued $10 million in debt in 2018 to buy the building where the museum will be housed, debt that comes with a “staggering” 6.5% interest rate. Consultant contracts were awarded “with minimal competition and outside of public bidding.”
These findings should “alarm anyone concerned about excess and waste,” Testa said in a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy urging a performance audit and state oversight.
Wallace-Scalcione denied that no-bid contracts were awarded, saying local officials went through a public competitive process on every contract.
The memo criticizes the executive branch as “unaware or disinterested” in the project’s increased costs and “insisted on no cost constraints.” A spokesperson for Murphy did not respond to a request for comment.
The memo suggests some legislation that would “prevent the sorts of excesses and waste” associated with the project, like requiring state oversight of local projects funded with grants, barring state grant funds from being used to pay costs incurred through no-bid contracts, and tightening state pay-to-pay laws.
Plans for the Jersey City Pompidou, which would be the first North American satellite of the French museum, were announced in 2021 with an expected opening date in 2024. In April, Fulop announced the opening had been delayed until 2026.
Re-published courtesy of New Jersey Monitor, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence. Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.