Police confirm St. Georges Ave fire was arson

(Taken about 7 a.m. today)

Rahway police today confirmed that the Jan. 4 fire that destroyed a St. Georges Avenue apartment complex under construction was arson.

“We determined it was an arson within a few days but weren’t prepared at that time to release that information,” Police Chief John Rodger said in response to another of our inquiries. He declined to go into further detail about the investigation. “Other than telling you that it was declared an arson, there isn’t a lot I can discuss about the fire,” he said.

(Taken about 7:30 p.m. today)

The 50-unit development, dubbed Brookside at Rahway, broke ground more than a year ago and was nearly completed, with leasing expected to begin as early as this spring. Instead, demolition of the three-story building started this week and could take as much as a month to complete. Jim Sisto of Fanwood-based United Excavating/Sisto Realty said he plans to rebuild after the structure is demolished down to the foundation and steel.

Poll: What’s your favorite place for pizza?

We’ve been so focused on news and other blog items, it’s been awhile since we rolled out a poll, so here’s an oldie but a goodie to nosh on while I put together the next few posts:

What’s your favorite place for pizza in Rahway?
Brooklyn Pizza
KC’s Pizzeria
Nunzio’s II
Nancy’s Towne House
Papa Vito
Rahway Pizza
Ted’s Pizzeria

I’d call it the annual Rahway Rising pizza poll but it seems we missed out in 2010. Check out our previous poll results on pizza from 2009 and 2008. Cast your vote in the poll along the right side of the main page. As always, a reminder that the poll isn’t scientific in the least, and can be easily manipulated by anyone with too much time on their hands, so please, only one vote a piece.


I came across this story in The Brooklyn Paper last month — “Fifth Avenue gets trash cans straight out of ‘The Jetsons'” — and thought it was interesting. The local Business Improvement District (BID) installed six solar-powered, self-compacting trash cans. They cost $3,000 but hold three to five times as much trash thanks to the built-in compactor that’s activated by internal sensors when trash piles up. But, there is some evidence that similar devices didn’t work when they tried it in Philadelphia last year.

Renovations begin on Bell Building

Renovations to the former Bell Telephone building on Hamilton Street got under way this week. The goal is to transform the vacant structure into a 200-seat black box theater by this time next year, along with parking on adjacent sites that had been planned as an amphitheater.

With costs rising and taxpayers facing those expenses, as well as a $34-million school bond project approved in September 2009, the Redevelopment Agency decided to move ahead with the black box theater while putting the amphitheater on hold for the time being in favor of parking. The thinking was that a black box theater could provide year-round revenue versus the seven or eight months the amphitheater could provide while also reactivating building that has laid fallow for years. The site of the proposed amphitheater could provide needed parking in the meantime, for the black box theater and the Arts District in general.

The City Council is poised to approve, at its meeting next month, a $1.6-million amendment to a $8.5-million bond ordinance approved last spring for the Hamilton Arts District projects. The additional $1.6 million would cover the costs of parking at the amphitheater site and other associated “soft costs,” for engineering and architecture.


If you agreed that the link earlier this week was pretty wonky, this one is very wonky: From the American Planning Association, “How Arts and Cultural Strategies Create, Reinforce and Enhance a Sense of Place” is a little on the long side at about 3,500 words but breaks down some key points about public art, arts and cultural programming, and urban infrastructure and design, while also citing a number of examples of cities around the country.


Earlier this year, Princeton University scrapped a plan for a $300-million arts and transit neighborhood project for the area around the Dinky. The first phase would have included a 145,000-square-foot performing arts building and the second phase would have added an additional 130,000 square feet of arts space.

Demolition of fire-damaged apartments to begin

Almost three months after a fire gutted the nearly-completed Brookside at Rahway apartments on St. Georges Avenue, demolition is scheduled to begin Thursday on the three-story structure.

The plan is to demolish down to the foundation and steel and eventually start the process of rebuilding, according to Jim Sisto of Fanwood-based United Excavating, the firm behind the development of the 50-unit rental complex. Once demolition gets under way, he expects it could take about a month, weather permitting, to take down the structure. If anyone is able to take some photos or video of the demolition, feel free to share.

A four-alarm blaze tore through the building on the morning of Jan. 4. The cause of the fire is still unclear. Police John Rodger said as recently as today he had no new information that he could share. Sisto said he hasn’t gotten any answers from authorities or insurance companies as to the cause of the fire. He believes the cause must be arson given how meticulous he said he keeps his job sites, and there was nothing on site that would have sparked a fire.
UPDATED 3/24: Updated portions in italics.


A pretty cool idea recently reported in The Wall Street Journal: “Construction info on the go — New codes on building permits provide Smartphone users with city data”. New York City’s Department of Buildings has started to bring “Quick Response,” or QR codes, similar to bar codes, on all permits for buildings undergoing any type of construction in the city. The information already is available on the city’s website but the QR codes will provide instant access to “a condense mobile version of the Buildings Department webpage, which provides permit and violation history for every building, and already received more than one million views a day.

Council to vote on another $1.6m for arts projects

The City Council last week introduced an amendment to add $1.6 million to a bond ordinance to cover additional costs associated with the Hamilton Street Arts District projects. A public hearing and final adoption is scheduled at the April 11 council meeting.

The governing body approved two bond ordinances and introduced six others last Monday to borrow funds for various improvements or equipment. We’ll break down the ordinances related to redevelopment projects in  the coming weeks.

An $8.5-million bond ordinance, originally adopted in March 2010, was amended to $10.1 million. The extra $1.6 million would cover additional expenses that were presented to the Redevelopment Agency earlier this month, . The original ordinance included funds for the renovation of the Bell Building into a 200-seat black box theater and related equipment, acquisition of nearby homes for eventual parking, and the future acquisition of the Elizabethtown Gas building at the corner of Hamilton Street and Central Avenue. The $1.6 million would cover, among others things, construction of a parking lot behind the Bell Building and a temporary lot where an 1,100-seat amphitheater is planned.


A pretty wonky read, Next American City magazine offers a roundtable entitled The Art of Change, with three experts discussing, among other things, what cities can do to support the arts. Not too long but relevant considering Rahway’s efforts to make the arts a cornerstone of redevelopment efforts. One of the roundtable participants is president of Americans for the Arts, which recently released a study indicating that 41 percent of nonprofit arts groups last year failed to meet a balanced budget, up from 38 percent in 2008, with the “health of the sector at a 12-year low.”

E. Cherry St. eyesore may come down by summer

The City Council Monday night awarded a contract to install a fence around Dornoch’s dormant Savoy property on Main Street and moved forward on demolishing the developer’s East Cherry Street eyesore.

First, the governing body unanimously approved a $16,820 contract to Pollock Installations, Inc. of Woodbridge to install a fence at Dornoch I, a.k.a., The Savoy, at Main and Monroe streets. The council then introduced a $200,000 bond ordinance to cover the cost of the fence installation, as well as the demolition of 65 E. Cherry St., and improvements to Parking Lot B, a.k.a., Dornoch II/The Westbury.

The council is scheduled to approve the bond ordinance at its April 11 meeting. If all goes well, bids for demolition would be awarded by June and demolition could come by summer, according to City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier. The property paid about $1,040 in property taxes last year, according to PropertyShark.com.

During a meeting in December, Redevelopment Agency officials asked Glen Fishman, managing partner of Dornoch, about the possibility of at least installing a fence around The Savoy site, since it’s sitting there just waiting to be vandalized. Given Dornoch’s financial situation, his suggestion was for the city to install the fence and place a lien on the property.

The wall that collapsed at the property last month was not load bearing, according to Richard Watkins, director of the Department of Building, Planning and Economic Development. The building was declared unsafe and the owner was ordered to demolish it, however, he has refused, Watkins said. The city plans to place a lien on the property to recover the cost of demolition.

Dornoch purchased the East Cherry Street property from the Parking Authority for $65,000 (less than the likely cost of demolition) and had proposed renovations to the Planning Board in 2007.

Some more storefront shuffling

Catching up on some more retail turnover in the past few weeks, one of the longest tenured stories on East Cherry Street closed. Big Belly Deli opened in spring 2005 but it looks like the owner has some bigger issues to worry about now.

In case you hadn’t seen this story over the weekend from The Star-Ledger/nj.com, the owner of the deli and another man were accused by police of driving around the Rutgers University campus, shooting deer without hunting permits, and bringing the carcasses back to the deli — oh, and they allegedly were intoxicated too. “Authorities have not determined if the deer meat…allegedly brought into the store was sold to customers,” according to the story.

A “Business For Sale” sign was in the window a couple of weeks ago while the deli had closed in February. I’d heard some rumblings about the reason behind the closing but hadn’t been able to confirm that to post about it.

A newcomer to East Cherry Street appears to be Pet Essentials. Stenciled signage in the window at 43 E. Cherry St. indicates a place called Pet Essentials will be taking up space there. It’s essentially been vacant since the Rahway Art Hive moved down the block to Main Street last summer. The flier in the window seems to indicate an April opening for the pet supply store.

Speaking of The Art Hive, I’ve been told Jim McKeon, the man behind the Art Hive, is on hiatus traveling for the spring and closed up the art gallery and co-op studio last month.


A story last month in The New York Times takes a look at continued redevelopment efforts in Asbury Park (Asbury Park’s Boardwalk Revival Moves Inward).

Some key takeaways:

* “Recent development projects and a growing restaurant scene have helped potential investors see the town as one that was ‘moving forward,’ and that its creative history had attracted a passionate crew.”

* Market-rate rents for street-level retail spaces range from $12 to $15 a square foot.

* “A soft economy and a lack of parking and pedestrian traffic had kept business from truly booming.”

Agency discusses potential developer

Rahway is apparently drawing interest from a developer that has the funding to back a project Redevelopment Director and City Administrator Peter Pelissier told the Redevelopment Agency at its March 2 meeting that he and Mayor Rick Proctor met with a developer within the last couple of weeks who’s “very, very interested,” and has financing available, for development in Rahway. Later in the meeting, the Redevelopment Agency went into closed session for about 40 minutes to discuss the matter.

Government bodies are allowed to close portions of their meetings when discussing matters of personnel or potential litigation.


David Ginfrida, owner of David Ginfrida Home Improvements on Elm Avenue, passed away March 10. His obituary appeared in The Star-Ledger and his funeral will be tomorrow morning.