Agency holds off on acquiring homes

Facing a potential cost of roughly $1 million to acquire and demolish three homes to turn into parking for Hamilton Street arts projects, the Redevelopment Agency appears to be putting that move on hold for the time being.

Commissioners were updated at tonight’s meeting on the appraisals for the three remaining Hamilton Street homes that were initially to be acquired:

* 318-320 Hamilton St. (Block 167, Lot 43), appraised for $280,000, acquired in November 1998 for $135,000, according to PropertyShark.com.
* 332-336 Hamilton St. (Block 167, Lot 41), appraised for $280,000, most recent sale price not available.
* 342-344 Hamilton St. (Block 167, Lot 40), appraised for $220,000, acquired in November 1995 for $124,000.

Two homes already have been acquired and/or demolished with a plan to create parking for the black box theater and amphitheater. The Redevelopment Agency earlier this year decided earlier this year to focus efforts on the black box theater, where renovations began last month, while putting interim parking at the site of the former Hamilton Laundry building, where an amphitheater was planned.

While appraisals totaled $775,000, City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier told commissioners that the cost to demolish the multifamily homes likely would push the total cost toward $1 million. He sought input from the agency to give the City Council direction prior to its regular meeting this Monday night. The lot would have provided about 40 spaces, out of a total 170 spaces slated for the Hamilton Street developments. It would not impact operations of the Arts District projects, only the aesthetics, Pelissier said.

Acquiring the homes is “what we decided to do,” Chairman William Rack said, adding that acquiring the properties and demolishing the homes would continue to clean up the area. Three of seven commissioners were absent tonight but Commissioner Tim Nash expressed concerns with the rising costs of the arts projects. “I have serious reservations about whether we have the money to spend,” he said. Nash said he may have supported the parking initiative before change-orders pushed the project past $6 million but with additional interim parking at the amphitheater site, he didn’t see the need to acquire the homes for parking. Rack later changed his mind and agreed with Nash.

The proposed lot was included in the funding for renovating the Bell Building into a black box theater when change-orders were approved in March. If the homes are not acquired, Pelissier said, that money won’t be spent for the lot. “We didn’t have the appraisals at the time of the ordinance, so we didn’t know what the cost was,” he said.

The amphitheater site must be resurfaced in any event since the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires it be capped, according to Pelissier, who does not see construction of the amphitheater in the “foreseeable future.”

Director of Community Development Cindy Solomon reminded commissioners that the homes were targeted for acquisition when the plan was the build a 1,300-seat amphitheater which might have created noise issues for residents in that area, but less so with a 220-seat black box theater.

4 thoughts on “Agency holds off on acquiring homes”

  1. "Tim Nash expressed concerns with the rising costs of the arts projects. 'I have serious reservations about whether we have the money to spend,' he said."Bravo for Tim Nash. It's about time that we took a serious look at the money Rahway is burning through on the Arts District plans. In these times, it makes sense to pause and take stock of the situation rather than proceed with expensive plans made in earlier times.

  2. As a Hamilton Street resident who walks past this every day, I have two thoughts. First, if they are going to hold off acquiring the other homes, what about getting the one already acquired back "in service?" I know the city doesn't want to be in the landlord business, but with electrical service now removed from the house the city owns, it seems only a matter of time before this will become blighted and deteriorate. A second, more general concern, is developing the black box theater without a tenant in mind. Calls for interested arts groups went out in the last issue of the Rahway Review, but the process seems a bit like raising the curtain after the play has already started. I hope they find someone; it would be easier if we had an organic theater community here already.

  3. Or in lieu of putting that home "back in service" perhaps the town should just demolish it.The "black box theater" idea is just inane. How difficult is it to see that this Emperor has no clothes? It's not as if the Union County Performing Arts Center is overfilled with demand and we need a "black box" theater to satisfy the Arts-hungry masses in Rahway. It is sad, if not exactly shocking anymore, that millions of taxpayer money continues to be shoveled into black-hole projects like this.

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