City moves to demolish E. Cherry St. building

The city has notified Dornoch that it will proceed legally to knock down the burned out building at 65 E. Cherry St.

City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier last fall asked the city engineer and city construction official to investigate whether the building was structurally sound or should be razed.

Dornoch presented plans to develop the property in November 2007, adding a third floor with residential units on the second and third floors and ground-floor retail. The building housed a former wig and beauty supply store on the first floor before a fire destroyed it in summer of 2005.

Wheatena developers working on new timeline

The city is working with developers to update a redevelopment study for the former Wheatena property and come up with a new timeline for the 130-unit project.

Redevelopment Agency Attorney Frank Regan provided a report to commissioners during their meeting earlier this month and said an amended redevelopment agreement, with a revised timeline, should be completed in 30 to 60 days.

Early this year, developers Matzel & Mumford concluded the 130-unit Carriage Park at Rahway was “economically infeasible” at this time but were still committed to it.

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The Union County Performing Arts Center recently added two shows that you might consider a little more high profile than usual: Popular ’90s band Rusted Root on May 21 and comedian Brad Garrett (the brother from Everybody Loves Raymond) on June 13. What do you think? An improvement?

Other developers presented with Savoy project

The administration is working with undisclosed developers in an attempt to have The Savoy property purchased from Wachovia bank, according to City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier.

Mayor James Kennedy is working with the bank and Dornoch about a possible purchase of the Main Street property, Pelissier said during a Redevelopment Agency meeting earlier this month. While it may not look like anything is going on at the site, he added, they’re “aggressively working with developers to move forward.”

The city plans to repair the sidewalk and move the fence back along the Main Street frontage of The Savoy, according to Pelissier. Whoever ends up doing the project will reimburse the city for the sidewalk work, he added.

Homes By Maplewood apparently has an updated Web site which no longer now lists The Savoy as “Coming Soon” but no longer The Lofts as it once did on our Local Links to the right, the leased apartments at the corner of Irving and East Cherry streets. It still mentions P&F Management’s “urban division is currently developing residential communities,” in among other places, Rahway.

Casa Borinquen grand opening Friday

Casa Borinquen will have a grand opening on Friday after several months of interior renovations.

Specializing in Puerto Rican fare, the restaurant will replace Taste of Portugal, which closed in 2009 after more than two years at the East Cherry Street location. At one time the space housed the popular Eat To The Beat Cafe.

Casa Borinquen is family owned and operated by Rahway residents. I met the co-owners while I was strolling downtown on Sunday and they were putting some finishing touches on the place.
The building is among several East Cherry Street properties owned by Dornoch.

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The grand opening of Chess Mates, originally scheduled for March 1, was postponed. No new grand opening date has been set, but construction has been delayed due in part to the recent inclement weather.

The chess cafe will occupy the second retail space in Park Square on Irving Street, next to Eyes On You.

Redevelopment Agency considers parking options for future amphitheater

The planned amphitheater on Hamilton Street is expected to break ground this fall and be completed in about a year. When the amphitheater and adjacent black box theater opens, where will patrons of the facilities park? City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier raised the issue to the Redevelopment Agency during its monthly meeting last week, initiating a discussion among commissioners about future parking options.

Among those discussed as possibilities were:
* Constructing a five- to six-story parking deck near the corner of West Main Street and Elizabeth Avenue;
* Building a deck at the property currently occupied by Cambridge Courts apartments (above) on West Main Street; and,
* Razing the four homes on Hamilton Street between the Bell Building and the amphitheater site for surface parking or a future parking facility.

Pelissier estimated the third option could provide 50 to 80 surface parking spaces and the agency also could pursue a future parking facility for the site. Construction of a parking deck is expensive (~$20,000/space) and buying the homes might be less expensive but just a matter of dealing with multiple property owners, he added.

One suggestion raised last week that was quickly shot down was pursuing a lease with St. Mark’s Church across the street from the amphitheater site. Redevelopment Agency Commissioner Timothy Nash, who sits on the St. Mark’s Church finance committee, told the agency in no uncertain terms that the church property on Hamilton Street is not for sale and will not be decided for at least 18 months. St. Mark’s — not the archdiocese — owns the church property. (St. Mark’s is slated to merge with St. Mary’s Church on Central Avenue, as per directions from the Archdiocese of Newark.)

Council approves Hamilton Street arts projects

With at least one proponent invoking the mythical tale of Prometheus, more than a dozen speakers, including labor union representatives, artists and school officials, last night spoke in favor of borrowing $8.5 million for construction of the Hamilton Street arts projects. Two residents questioned the cost and benefit to city taxpayers.

The City Council last night unanimously approved an $8.5-million bond ordinance to build a 1,100-seat amphitheater (above) at the former Hamilton Laundry site and to renovate the Bell Building (below) to house a black box theater. One speaker after the next noted that the amphitheater project is part of the city’s continuing investment in the Arts District and the overall vision for the arts to drive redevelopment, remaking the city as a destination. (Here’s The Star-Ledger‘s take on last night’s meeting.)

The council last night also unanimously approved ordinances to shift management of the Special Improvement District funds to the Rahway Arts District and to negotiate the purchase of 52 E. Cherry St. from the Rahway Center Partnership.

Construction of the amphitheater is still on schedule to begin this fall, City Engineer James Housten told the Redevelopment Agency last week. Remediation of the soil can begin now that a case manager has been assigned by the state for the city’s Brownfields sites. Most all of the soil has been contaminated with fluids used in dry cleaning, he said, adding that it can either be trucked away or mixed with chemicals on site to remediate.