Powerhouse Stabilization Gets Underway

By • Jun 11th, 2009 • Category: Arts, Blog, News
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As various factions have battled over who should pay to relocate the electrical transformers inside Jersey City’s Powerhouse, the health of the historic structure has become ever more precarious. With this in mind, the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (JCRA) and the Port Authority today are kicking off a stabilization project for the 100-plus-year-old structure. This JCRA says the project is designed to halt further decline of the building while the Port Authority relocates the transformers.

Architectural firm Beyer, Blinder and Belle was tapped to helm the stabilization effort, which is set to include the replacement of windows and roof and the installation of new drainage systems to mitigate any further deterioration of the structure. The process is anticipated to take three to five months, and comes with a $3.4 million price tag, which will be picked up by the city, the JCRA and the Port Authority.

Once the stabilization in complete in October 2009 and the transformers are removed, the city expects the redevelopment of the site to get underway. The $90 million redevelopment, which is expected to be complete by 2013, is slated to bring 180,000 square feet of gallery, restaurant and office space to the building.

“The building will again play a key role in the continued escalation of the city’s renaissance, both economically and culturally,” JCRA executive director Robert Antonicello says.

Officials hope the Powerhouse will anchor a revived arts district of the same name, which as recently as six years ago was a thriving center for the arts in Jersey City. Ever since the artists who called the bustling 111 1st St. home were forced out in 2004, the Powerhouse Arts District, despite the best efforts of some businesses and residents, has largely been an “arts district” in name only.

The iconic Powerhouse, which also faced demolition in the late 1990s, was saved by community groups led by the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy, and the building was ultimately put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

For more on the stabilization plan and the redevelopment, check out this new site from the JCRA. For more on the history of the Powerhouse, check out JCI publisher Shane Smith’s piece in NEW magazine.



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is the former co-founder of the Jersey City Independent; he now works for a public-policy nonprofit in Trenton.
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  • Alb

    One concern I have about JC List is that Dan Falcon kept yanking my posts when I tried to support a compromise position on the PAD.

    The people who were trying to save 111 First were right, and I would like to see Lloyd Goldman go to prison over him destroying that beautiful. I would love to see the PAD be full of funky and elegant creative artists.

    On the other hand, in my opinion:

    The only reason that artists ever ended up in 111 First was because of a real estate depression that knocked Jersey City flat starting around the 1960s. Maybe the current depression will empty the waterfront again and make it a great place for starving artists to live and work. But, if the Jersey City waterfront continues to be a reasonably strong real estate market, why does anyone think that it’s a suitable location for an arts neighborhood?

    To me, it seems as if it’s an area that should be home to ad agencies, video production offices, and maybe graphic design firms and business services offices. But it doesn’t seem to be a natural home to either edgy, street-oriented artists or artists who are highbrow in a traditional way. It just isn’t edgy enough for hip hoppish artists or posh enough for posh artists.

    It seems as if the browstones in Paulus Hook (or maybe, eventually, in Bergen Lafayette) are the natural homes of highbrow artists in Jersey City, and the area between Erie Street and Brunswick downtown and somewhere around Congress in the Heights would be the natural homes of hip hoppish artists.

    Another problem is that the PAD supporters just don’t seem to have the money, lawyers or fixers to defend the original vision very well. They can complain all they want about the city council being corrupt, but, OK, it’s corrupt. Deal with it. Come up with a compromise position designed in such a way that at least some of the developer lawyers and fixers will be working for PAD supporters, rather than against them.

    A third problem is that the PAD supporters have crippled themselves by asking for special treatment for galleries and artists. I think most people think it’s a good idea to save beautiful, 100-year-old brick buildings. But the idea of giving a cheap condo to an artist and making an otherwise-identical tax accountant pay full price seems absurd. It seems to me that the PAD people would be in a stronger tactical position if they were focusing mainly on historic preservation, rather than mixing historic preservation issues together with arts subsidy issues.

    Finally, I think it’s way easier to defend the idea of protecting an existing old building than it is to defend the idea of limiting the size of a new building.

    I think the PAD people would be in a stronger position if they were ferocious about protecting the old buildings and, in exchange for help from the more progressive developers, a lot more flexible about new buildings that are going up on vacant lots, or in place of post-1920 buildings.

    A lot of the PAD supporters complained bitterly about Grove Pointe, for example, but Grove Pointe is great. It fits in fine. The goal should just to be make sure that any new buildings that go into the PAD are attractive, pedestrian-friendly buildings like Grove Pointe, and not hostile cliffs like the north side of the Mack-Cali building.

  • http://www.jerseycityindependent.com Jon Whiten

    You have some good points about the PAD folks, I think. Similar points could be made about any number of the JC nabe groups (or nabe groups just about anywhere), I think.

    But to answer one of your questions:

    “The only reason that artists ever ended up in 111 First was because of a real estate depression that knocked Jersey City flat starting around the 1960s. Maybe the current depression will empty the waterfront again and make it a great place for starving artists to live and work. But, if the Jersey City waterfront continues to be a reasonably strong real estate market, why does anyone think that it’s a suitable location for an arts neighborhood?”

    I think this is a bit of a specious argument that leaves all decisions regarding planning and zoning to the whims of the market.

    It’s really no different than saying: “If the Van Vorst Park neighborhood continues to be a reasonably strong real estate market, why does anyone think that it’s a suitable location for old brownstones when there could be more luxury condos?”

    I know the PAD’s history as an arts/culture center isn’t as deep as the historic nature of some other JC ‘hoods, but it’s history nonetheless. And when you look at what has replaced much of it (hello Trump, A Condo, etc.), it certainly is a character loss for the city, in my opinion.

  • http://www.trismccall.net tris mccall

    “The only reason that artists ever ended up in 111 First was because of a real estate depression that knocked Jersey City flat starting around the 1960s. Maybe the current depression will empty the waterfront again and make it a great place for starving artists to live and work”

    different tenants chose to rent space at the arts center for different reasons.

    proximity to nyc and the path train was a sufficient reason for many. other tenants had roots in north jersey and wanted to work close to the place they knew best. some were looking for cheap rents. others were just looking for a cool place to hang for awhile. some were attracted to the city. others came to 111 because they felt it was *removed* from the city.

    111 first street had wide corridors, big doors, and staircases that were fairly easy to navigate. the freight elevators were wonky, but they were also large, and they usually worked. you could stuff a pretty big sculpture or painting in there. two large courtyards meant natural light. apparently the slop sinks were good.

    other buildings in the warehouse district didn’t have these advantages. 110, for instance, never really caught on with local artists. there were many reasons for this, but i believe that the main reason was because the layout of the building wasn’t as appealing as 111.

    most of all, artists were attracted to 111 first street because there were other artists there. the building welcomed nonconformists of all kinds. when people referred to it as the mothership, that was no joke.

    in short artists were drawn to 111 first street because of rare qualities that are difficult to replicate elsewhere.

    a handful of the tenants at 111 could have been characterized as starving artists. most couldn’t have been. many of the tenants were artists with regional — and even national — reputations. not all of the artists fighting for live-work spaces at 111 first were actually living in the building. several of the most prominent members of the tenants association had (and still have) apartments elsewhere in jersey city.

    we have an unfortunate tendency to remember the arts center as a besieged holdout, a last resort, for “starving” artists who had no place else to go. we often discuss 111 first street as if it was a place where lost souls ended up. this is dead wrong. and because we’ve forgotten what the arts center was and why artists wanted to be there, we draw the wrong lessons from its demise.