Senior housing application to Zoning Board

More than three years after the project initially was presented to City Council, a 51-unit senior housing development on the St. Mary’s Church complex is scheduled to come before the Zoning Board of Adjustment Monday night.

Continue reading Senior housing application to Zoning Board

Beware of red light cameras coming soon

Red light cameras could be up and in use sometime next month at two Rahway intersections: Routes 1&9 and East Milton Avenue, and St. Georges and Maple avenues. There would be a 30-day “warning phase” after installation, to get the public accustomed to them before tickets are issued, according to Police Chief John Rodger. He expects them to be installed at some point next month.

Continue reading Beware of red light cameras coming soon

Council moves forward on solar project

A canopy of solar panels would cover dozens of parking spaces at City Hall under a proposed concept plan that is expected to save the city more than a quarter-million dollars over 15 years.

The City Council was presented with the Union County Improvement Authority’s (UCIA) Renewable Energy Initiative during a special meeting tonight. The governing body ultimatly voted in favor of a resolution to move ahead on the project. Savings to the city in the first year of the program could be $14,000 and as much as $22,000 in the 15th year, with a total savings of $268,387, according to Daniel Swayze of Cranford-based Birdsall Services Group. The canopy would generate an estimate 152 kW. The change in savings over time would result from a fixed escalation factor, he said.

The canopy would be the responsibility of the developer, he said, who could decide at the end of the 15-year program to remove it or sell it, or the UCIA could extend the initiative. The city has no financial obligation, Swayze said, while the county guarantees the UCIA bonds. The canopy of solar panels is a minimum of 9 feet high but can range to 20 feet, depending on the city’s needs. City officials estimated they might need a clearance of 12 to 14 feet for certain municipal vehicles.

City officials seemed keen on repairing solar panels on the roof of City Hall, which were installed sometime in the early ’80s, as part of the recent initiative. The estimated start for construction of the UCIA’s project is February or March, said Swayze, who suggested another meeting to discuss the timing of the city’s repairs before design and construction of the canopy. There also were issues of property easements in and around the City Hall lot to be aware before installation as the solar panel canopy could not be lifted onto the roof though it could be moved to another part of the lot, if necessary.

The UCIA last summer issued Request For Proposals (RFP) for renewable energy projects, which ended up going to Tioga Energy in San Francisco. About 16 entities within 11 towns will take part in the program. The authority will borrow $20 million and cover up to 70 percent of the cost of the projects that will outfit various public buildings with solar or wind power.

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We got our 200th “like” on Facebook the other day, to go along with our 223 “friends” on Facebook and 118 followers on Twitter (@RahwayRising). Remember, you can also subscribe to blog posts via email.

Dornoch updates agency on retail properties

As promised, the remainder of the briefing the Redevelopment Agency received last week from Glen Fishman, managing partner of Dornoch Holdings.

Fishman was invited to provide an update on the firm’s activities and while the “bad news” portion consisted of an update on the lack of activity at The Savoy, the “good news” portion, as it was described, concerned Dornoch filling its rental properties along Main Street.

Temporary surfacing parking eventually will take over the rest of Lot B on Main Street, adding about 100 spaces in a deal with the Parking Authority and Redevelopment Agency. How temporary the parking is likely will depend on when the economy rebounds. The space originally was planned for 152 residential units with retail-residential mix and parking component known as The Westbury.

Dornoch has been able to rent all but two of its buildings along Main Street, Fishman said. Residential apartments above its properties at 1513 Main St. and 1469 Main St., are rented while they’ve had some interest in the retail components. A New York tenant abandoned 1469 Main St., Fishman said, but a clothing store (headed up by his stepmother) has moved into 1513 Main St. (photo above) while 1501 Main St. has two potential tenants, including a Westfield attorney who may come before the agency and/or Planning Board with changes to the interior, and another tenant who may be interested in the entire building. He’s hopeful to have the spaces filled by February or March.

“People continue to have faith in the town and are willing to spend,” Fishman told commissioners.

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Here’s an idea that might be worth copying. Summit’s merchant association, Summit Downtown, Inc., issues an annual report of sorts, the going vacancy rate and detailing the past year of openings and closings. While Summit may be vastly different in terms of demographics, like Rahway, it also has a Special Improvement District (SID) tax.

Perhaps an effort such as this may be undertaken by the reorganizing Rahway Center Partnership, which is revamping its website, the fledgling Chamber of Commerce, or be included in the mayor’s pledge to market the city.

By the way, Summit reported a vacancy rate of 4.8 percent, 10 vacancies, down from 7.6 percent, 16 vacancies, with 21 new stories and seven expansions/relocations, and five new openings anticipated early this year.

Hearing on 2011 municipal budget tonight

City Council tonight will hold a public hearing on the 2011 municipal budget during its regular meeting tonight at 7 p.m.

The $44.9-million budget will raise approximately $31.1 million from property taxes. Officials tout that appropriations have increased only 1.3 percent over last year while being below the state-mandated caps, though the exact impact of the budget on the average assessed home is unclear.

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Sunday’s Star-Ledger had this story that examines Rahway’s redevelopment efforts over the years and the state of downtown. I’m not sure I would call the 50-unit St. Georges Avenue apartment complex that went up in flames this month a “symbolic achievement” as much as other downtown projects, like the 222-unit Carriage City Plaza or 159-unit Park Square (which didn’t even warrant a mention in the piece). What did everyone else think?

Black box theater first, then amphitheater – maybe

Following the recommendation of the administration, the Redevelopment Agency is moving forward on a black box theater while prioritizing parking over an amphitheater in the short term.

The Redevelopment Agency on Wednesday awarded a $5.825-million construction bid to Gingerelli Bros, Inc. The Toms River-based firm was the lowest among 16 bidders to renovate the former Bell Building on Hamilton Street into a 220-seat black box theater. The award includes a base bid of $5.757 million and alternate bid of $27,112 for a folding partition and $41,200 for a metal roof instead of asphalt shingles.
City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier said the city has approved $12 million for both a black box theater and amphitheater and even with the elimination of one project, more money would have to be raised for a parking facility. The 1,300-seat amphitheater planned at the former Hamilton Laundry site cost more than the original estimate and he recommended to commissioners first building the black box theater and creating parking at the amphitheater site for the time being given the economy and city’s looming debt, such as the school system’s $34-million renovation projects. Officials estimated some $2.73 million already has been spent on architect and engineering fees and other site preparation.
There were six bidders for the amphitheater, the lowest from Berto Construction at $4.734 million ($4.2 million base bid plus $487,000 in alternate bids). Other bidders included W.D. Snyder Co., $6.15 million, and CGT Construction, $6.21 million. The amphitheater project had to be re-bid after an issue arose with the original bids, challenged by one of the bidding companies, last fall.
Former Mayor James Kennedy, now executive director of the Rahway Arts District, said the merits of building the black box theater first are basic. A black box theater would have a year-round revenue stream while removing a building that’s been blighted for over a decade. If the amphitheater was pursued first but the project ran out of money, the blighted Bell Building would remain. In addition, the amphitheater site could provide needed parking for the black box theater.
Pelissier said parking is very stressed from Grand Avenue to the arts center so for the moment, parking is more important than an amphitheater. He said it will cost $300,000 to cap the amphitheater site anyway and another $150,000 would bring a parking lot that the Parking Authority could use as a temporary revenue stream.
As currently designed, the Hamilton Street arts projects would have 48 parking spaces but creating parking at the amphitheater site would add 86. The agency was presented with an option to add two lots, the first of which would gain 16 spaces behind four homes currently stand on Hamilton Street for a total of 134 spaces (design at right). The second lot would add 138 spaces, losing 16 to reconfiguring spaces behind the homes but adding about 36 in the area of the homes, for a total 170 spaces (design above). The first lot included parking behind the homes. (Click the images to enlarge).
The bid that was awarded only includes parking behind the black box theater but not the additional parking at the amphitheater site, Pelissier said. That would have to be designed and bid, which the administration recommended pursuing separate bids for as early as next month.
Mayor Rick Proctor called it the “most common sense” solution at the moment because of the year-round revenue available from a blackbox theater as opposed to the seven to eight months from an amphitheater. “It’s the best to prioritize use of the money we have available,” he said.

Dornoch ‘dead in the water’ on The Savoy

“We’re dead in the water right now.” That’s how Glen Fishman, managing partner of Dornoch Holdings, described to Redevelopment Agency commissioners his firm’s situation with The Savoy.

In a rare appearance at the agency’s meeting Wednesday night, Fishman was invited to provide an update on the firm’s stalled projects and activity at its properties. He started with the good news (filling rental properties), but we’ll get to that in our next post. For now, the bad news.

“We’re a little stuck here, I wish I had better news,” Fishman told commissioners, adding that they’re still negotiating with Wachovia. Rahway’s real estate fundamentals still exist, with its location and proximity but housing prices have made it hard to get people to invest. “People are still confident in Rahway, it’s just the economics,” he said. Condos can’t be built when they’re selling for $150,000 a unit, he said, but expressed confidence in “getting something there” in 12 months.

Dornoch spent a lot of money acquiring properties along Main Street for the four-story, 36-unit development, many of which were razed. Archaeological and historical issues relating to cisterns at the Savoy site cost Dornoch $1 million and a year’s time, he claimed, which “blew the budget on the Wachovia loan.” At one point there was a possibility of financing from Valley National for rental apartments but the deal could not get done, he said.

Fishman told commissioners he hopes “at some point the economics make sense, whether selling to another developer who can make it work” or otherwise. Dornoch has fielded offers from some local developers, he said, but so far three offers that have been made “have not been acceptable to the lender.”

(By my estimate, via PropertyShark and other sites, Dornoch acquired almost 20 downtown parcels at a total cost of almost $9 million or more — mine may be an incomplete list — pretty much the height of the real estate market in 2006.)

Redevelopment Agency Chairman William Rack asked if the steel beams, which went up at The Savoy site in summer 2008, might be taken down at some point, assuming they probably won’t be used in whatever ends up at the site. Fishman said it’s not necessarily a certainty that the steel would go unused. Steel doesn’t really go bad so it still has value, he said, adding that Dornoch doesn’t have the money to remove it anyway, and doing so might actually reduce the value of the property.