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THE-37-YEAR HISTORY OF THE FAILED WATERFRONT DEVELOPMENT IN GLOUCESTER CITY

UPDATED/CORRECTED

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Above artist sketch of Gloucester Vista, to be built in the city's Southport zone(the year 2005-06). 

GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ (NOV. 11, 2021)(CNBNews)--Those local politicians involved in this failed project knew along that it would never be built because of the toxic chemicals buried in the ground. They also knew Southport is in a flood zone, the streets leading in and out of those 145 acres become impassable during heavy rainfall. Before a shovel could go into the ground that infrastructure was the first thing that had to be solved.  But, it was rarely mentioned by local politicians. 

RELATED: Compost Plant Developer Files $10.5 Million Lawsuit Against Gloucester City Residents for Breach of Contract

 

by William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNews

 

GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ (November 11, 2021)--Since 1984 up until the present the City of Gloucester City has been trying to develop its waterfront. There have been eight different mayors throughout that time, including, Bob Bevan, Walt Jost, Chuck Billingham, Bob Gorman, Tom Kilcourse, Bill James, Dan Spencer, and  Pat Keating. None of those administrations mentioned was able to move the ball over the goal line. 

The development cost to taxpayers for all of the studies, architect drawings, engineer reports, maps, land surveys, etc. is over a million dollars. 

 

How come Deptford and Camden City for example can develop their waterfront but Gloucester City is unable to do the same? We feel it is because the City wants to micro-manage any project that comes along. For example, one developer told us he wanted to build the waterfront restaurant but when the mayor and council told him what color his tablecloths should be along with what type of window shades he should install he walked away from the deal. We also feel the city would be better off selling the properties instead of leasing them. They gave Holt a 99-year-lease for the former Coast Guard building at $100,000 a year without a cost of the living clause. Today the country is going through the highest inflation rate since the 1990s. As a result that $100,000 is not worth what it was back when the lease was signed in 1996.

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 June 1, 2010, Gloucester City announces it has hired Orens Brothers to convert the 100 apartments into 50 Townhouses. Prices for the townhouses range from $167,000 to $195,000.  The arrangement with Orens, who borrows $1.1 million from the city’s UDAG program to help pay for the work, calls for the townhomes to be built as they are sold.  CNBNEWS photo: City council along with officers from Orens Brothers attend ceremonial groundbreaking at Chatham Square. This failed deal cost taxpayers nearly $12 million. 

Another example is Chatham Square, taxpayers loss millions of dollars on that failed project. Mayor James and the City council paid $4.5 million for the property and spent another $7 million on maintenance and rehab work. In the end, the City sells the property for $1.5 million.

During the10-year -period the apartments sat empty, the City became a landlord to help with expenses and rented 11 of the apartments after repairing the units. 

In December 2015 CNBNews wanted to know how much the City had spent on the property since purchasing it in 2008. According to Frank Robertson, the City's chief financial officer up until 2015 it had expended $7,184,450. Add the monies they paid to buy the apartments, $4.5 million and, the total is $11,684,450.

 

Most recently the City, taxpayers, are being sued for $10.5 million by the owner of the compost plant for breach of contract. That deal called for a 30-year lease. 

Screen Shot 2021-11-11 at 13.8.14The Proprietors Park site, King Street, was nice when it was first opened, in the late 90s or early 20s. Today though try walking through the park and you'll find goose droppings everywhere; it is like walking through a minefield. The restrooms leave a lot to be desired and some of the benches are in need of repair. 

 

The breakdown below shows a brief synopsis of each project.

 

1984 - Industry in Gloucester Point area, GAF, NJ Zinc and Harshaw Chemical (AMSPEC) closed and moved south where there were minimal environmental laws.

1985- A north Jersey builder proposes to build Hollywood East along the riverfront. City officials, led by Councilman Fred Anzide, demanded to see the developer's finances but he wouldn't open his books until a contract was signed giving him exclusive rights to the city's waterfront. 

RELATED: Gloucester City History: Our Hollywood

1985 - First redevelopment study by Rouse (American City, Inc.) recommended a mixed-use, marina, residential, retail, and commercial offices.  Also recommended that the Coast Guard Base be developed as a center for a restaurant, retail, and townhouses to stimulate the retail on the King St. Corridor.

 

    1. Coast Guard Base deeded to City.  The city entered into a lease agreement with Gloucester Point, Inc. to build a 200 boat rack and transit marina and a major 350-seat restaurant.  The city withdrew the lease when Gloucester Point wanted to build a restaurant during Phase I and then construct a marina operation in Phase II.

RELATED: The Tale of Holt, the Coast Guard Base, and the City of Gloucester City (2nd Part)

FIRST PART: The Tale of Holt, the UDAG, and the City of Gloucester City

1995-2001- A lease agreement between Holt Cargo Systems and the city to lease the property for 99 years.The lease required Holt to renovate the Coast Guard building to house his main office.It also required Holt to build a major waterfront restaurant. But, Holt backed out of the deal because the cost to rebuild the pier and dredging was more than he wanted to spend. 

Screen Shot 2021-11-11 at 12.43.46The entrance to the former Coast Guard property  on King Stree looking west towards Philadelphia (CNBNews photo)

 

2002-2003- After renovating the Coast Guard building, Holt enters into bankruptcy and is unable to build the restaurant.  The city takes control of the pier and looks for developers to build restaurants.

 

2004- THE KOCH TANK FARM DEVELOPMENT-Did you ever wonder what happened with the deal that Gloucester City struck with Koch regarding their facility on Water Street ? If you recall around 2004 there was a settlement of Koch’s appeal of a Planning Board denial.  The deal dealt with truck traffic, some cleanup, and gave the City the right to buy the property in 2012 for 50% of its appraised value. A few years later Koch files bankruptcy, a massive bankruptcy involving something like 70 entities. As part of that bankruptcy Koch files to get rid of all of its contracts including the deal with the City and the Court says yes. 

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TODAY- The property is occupied by BlueKnight energy products. Nearby neighbors claim the odor coming from the plant at times burn their eyes. (June 30, 2020)--A huge fire broke out early this morning at the BlueKnight Asphalt plant, after an asphalt tanker exploded in flames. People in the nearby neighborhood were evaluated. According to CBSN Philly there was a loud explosion. The plant is located at the intersection of Water Street and King Street next to Proprietors Park. 

 

2004-2005- City announces that five builders will develop the old industrial area now called Southport.This becomes a private-public partnership dubbed “G 6”.The development was to include a 300-boat marina with 900 residential units.The developers the city chose were Keating Development, K Hovanian, Pulte Homes, Scarborough Properties, and Westrum Development.

Developers said it can’t be done due to major environmental problems on this site.

 

    1. A new administration was elected in November 2006 and found that only Scarborough and Keating are the remaining players.  The Southport area has been put on hold and Scarborough and Keating are now aggressively pursuing the redevelopment of approximately five acres on the Coast Guard Base, proposing the construction of approximately 150 townhouses on this site.  

2010-The Country's Frist Organic Waste to energy/Compost Recycling Facility to be Built in Gloucester City, NJ. Eleven years later the property remains vacant.

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Today, the developer of the facility files a $10.5 million dollar lawsuit against the residents of the City of Gloucester City for breach of contract in March 2021.

 

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In the area where is was to be built has become a dumping ground. Piles of refuse are scattered about. About a month ago we visited the property and found that people were dumping there. We were hoping the Public Works Supervisor or the ACTING City Administrator/Police Chief would have seen that photo and ordered the area to be cleaned up. But that didn't happen, as a result more trash is being   dumped and the trash has expanded into the neighboring property. 

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RELATED: Compost Plant Developer Files $10.5 Million Lawsuit Against Gloucester City Residents for Breach of Contract

 

RELATED-  Work Has Begun on the Proprietor's Park/Freedom Pier Walkway



2011 - City makes major improvements on pier naming it “Freedom Pier” because it was a former site of an immigration station. New bulkheads, a waterfront promenade, lights, and docks were installed to entice further development. Over a million dollars was spent on dredging and other infrastructure work.

 

TODAY the property sits vacant, new lantern lights destroyed, park benches ripped from the walkway which is stained with goose droppings, and there are a number of promenade bricks missing from the walkway.

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2012-13- Ott’s Restaurant from Delran, NJ (owned by Don Bigley) proposes a 350 seat restaurant.In the process of signing the agreement, Don passed away. Previous developers who meet with the city to talk about building a restaurant on Freedom Pier walked away from the talks stating city officials actually wanted to manage the type and color of the table linens and curtains for the restaurant.

 

2018 -Louis Kaliamouris (former owner of Five Points Restaurant in Deptford) proposes new restaurant and finances fall through.

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CNBNews photos credit

 

Above the former home of GAF, the vacant property faces Water Street. The fence is laying on its side; anyone could easily gain entrance to the site. A few feet away there is a gated entrance that is barely standing. Place on the gate there is NO TRESPASSING sign, without a name.  One of the most spectacular views of the Delaware River and the Philadelphia skyline (below)can be seen from the GAF pier, which is about 100 to 150 yards from Water Street.

Screen Shot 2021-11-10 at 21.9.43CNBNews photo, looking west towards Philadelphia from the former GAF pier

 

2020-A COMEDY OF ERRORS--Howard Long the City solicitor was asked about the sale of the GAF property, once a prime site for Gloucester City's waterfront development since it was located on the Delaware River. Long said that the property was mistakenly sold in a tax sale sometime between 2013 and 2014.  "Our firm did not represent the city at this time."  He explained because of the mistake "the owner, GAF, was not notified that this ground was being sold in a tax sale. To rectify the mistake the city had to transfer the title back to them for $1. I believe that this happened sometime in 2013 or 2014. We were appointed in January 2015 when this was being wrapped up."

 

Related: Former GAF Property in Gloucester City For Sale

 

2020-21-The City of Gloucester City is being sued for $10.5 million by Rocco D'Antonio, head of Gloucester City Organic Recyling LLC, (GCOR) who had an agreement with the City to build a compost plant named Organic Diversions in the Southport industrial area near the end of Water Street. D'Antonio said the lawsuit was filed in March because city officials didn't live up to their part of the contract.

NOTE: Bob Bevan helped to compile the list above.

Related: Former GAF Property in Gloucester City For Sale

Gloucester City Announces Plans to Develop a Section of the Broadway Corridor

 

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