Published in the Courier News, Sunday, July 1, 2007
Plainfield officials detail plans for long-awaited senior center
By BERNICE PAGLIA
PLAINFIELD -- The promise of their own new center has tantalized seniors for nearly a decade, but now city officials insist it will come true.
Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs said a July 3 groundbreaking at 400 E. Front St. will not just be ceremonial, but also will mark the start of construction on the $15 million project that includes three floors of market-rate condos over a new 12,770-square-foot senior center.
Developer Glen Fishman of Dornoch Plainfield LLC will build the center at no cost to the city, and its design will reflect wishes of the seniors for a commercial kitchen, a large meeting space and rooms for activities and administration.
A 10,000-square-foot, second-floor roof garden will be accessible to both condo owners and seniors, and the roof will have solar panels. The building will have 93 parking spaces, or 1.5 per two-bedroom unit.
Among other terms of the agreement:
- No closings will be held on condos until the center is built and ready for occupancy.
- The developer will use up to 1,500 feet on the first floor for a sale model. After all the condos have been sold, the space will revert to the city for use by seniors or veterans.
- If nothing is built by two years after the city issues a building permit, barring an "uncontrollable circumstance," the city can take back the land.
- The senior center will have a 13.96 percent ownership interest in the building and will have to pay for "common expenses" at that rate. If a separate veterans center opens at the site, it would have to pay common expenses at a rate of 1.02 percent.
Seniors have been waiting several years for actions on city promises.
In May 2005, a group of seniors walked half a block from the present leased space at 305 E. Front St. to a city-owned vacant lot where officials stuck shovels into a pile of imported dirt and posed for photographs. But after then-Mayor Albert T. McWilliams lost the June 2005 primary, plans to build a $4 million center at the city's expense were dropped.
It wasn't until mid-2006 that Robinson-Briggs introduced Fishman to seniors and unveiled his plan for the mixed-use project with the condos that will bring in revenue and prevent the site from being taken off the tax rolls. Of several major new proposals the mayor has floated since taking office in January 2006, Fishman's is the first to make it through to site plan approval.
Fishman, who told seniors he has done projects in 22 places across New Jersey, pledged to have the building up in 12 months after receiving building permits, even though his agreement with the city allows two years.
As of last week, Dornoch was in the process of posting a performance bond necessary for release of the permits, Planning Director Bill Nierstedt and Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said.
Dornoch Plainfield project manager Isaac Kirzner could not be reached for comment last week.
A home of their own would be a first for the seniors.
The city had a 10-year lease on the space at 305 E. Front St. at $66,333 annually, but after it expired in 1999, the rental amount went up to $86,000. It is now about $100,000 a year, center president Charles Nelson said.
Meanwhile, seniors rejected plans to relocate the center to the Plainfield Armory or to the basement of the former Tepper's building, which was converted to 75 apartments with stores at ground level. A proposal by former NBA basketball star Jayson Williams to pay for a new center also fell through in early 2005.
Nelson, center president for the last seven years, has seen proposals come and go, but he said, "I feel confident that it's going to go through now."
Nelson also serves on the center's building committee, which meets monthly. Over the last year, its focus has been on the Dornoch plan.
"I would say they're very cooperative," Nelson said.
When the city signed over the land to Dornoch in January, the mayor insisted on having Nelson add his signature as a witness.
With his early doubts allayed, Nelson said, "We're on the road to having a new center."
TIMELINE FOR PLAINFIELD SENIOR CENTER
- January 1989: Seniors move from 334 E. Front St. to 305 E. Front St.; space has an annual rental of $66,332.76.
- January 1999: The 10-year lease expires, and the rent escalates.
- June 2005: Ground is broken for a new $4 million center after several other options fail, but that plan also falls through.
- July 2006: Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs introduces seniors to developer Glen Fishman, who proposes a four-story, $15 million building with a new senior center at ground level and 63 condos on the upper floors.
- December 2006: Fishman's firm, Dornoch Plainfield LLC, receives site-plan approval from the Planning Board.
- January 2007: Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs signs documents that convey the city-owned property to Dornoch for $1.
- July 3, 2007: A groundbreaking and "commencement ceremony" marking the start of construction will be conducted at 11 a.m. at 400 E. Front St.
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