Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Senior Center Plans Up For Review

The fate of a proposed senior center may be in question once again, as the new administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs reviews issues of funding and location.

Robinson-Briggs visited the present center Tuesday (Feb. 7, 2006) and suggested that seniors should consider the vacant Plainfield Armory as a location, center president Charles Nelson said. The mayor also told seniors the past administration had not issued bonds for $4 million to pay for a new center, member Emily Washington said.

Robinson-Briggs did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

A brand-new center downtown has been both the express wish of the seniors and a frequent political campaign promise in the last few years. The city is presently paying $90,000 annually to lease space in a block-long building on East Front Street, but other tenants, including Union County offices, have moved out.

Nelson said the building has been sold, although tax records in City Hall do not yet reflect a sale, and he said the center’s lease is up in June. The center’s building committee will discuss the situation at a Feb. 24 meeting, Nelson said.

Regarding the funding, former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams said Tuesday night the bond for the center went through.

“The money is there - the land is already owned by the city,” he said.

The city acquired and demolished several buildings to clear the proposed site across the street from the present center. In 2003, former basketball star Jayson Williams was given approval to develop the site, but he backed out in 2005. The McWilliams administration then planned to bond for $4 million and make the new center a city project. McWilliams and dozens of officials took part in a ceremonial groundbreaking in May 2005.

The City Council authorized the administration to go out for bonding in late 2005.

Regarding location, Nelson recalled that the seniors were previously urged to move to the Armory several years ago, but rejected it. They also refused an offer to occupy space in the lower level of the former Tepper’s department store, which was converted into 75 apartments, retail space and a portion for municipal use.

According to press reports in June 2005, the state Treasury Department put the historic Armory up for sale with an asking price of $1 million. Assemblyman Jerry Green said Wednesday he is working with the new Treasury Department staff on how the city can acquire it for less.

Green, who previously tried to convince the seniors to go to the Armory, said he is now just trying to get it “in the city‘s hands.”

“The mayor asked me to reach out to Trenton,” said Green, who was campaign manager for Robinson-Briggs and is also chairman of the Democratic City Committee. The mayor and all City Council members are Democrats.

He said the new administration‘s director of Public Works and Urban Development, Jennifer Wenson-Maier, is reviewing all past development proposals to determine their status and will report her findings to the mayor.

At the end of the McWilliams administration Dec. 31, the senior center and about 13 redevelopment projects were on the books in various stages of planning.

Promising action, Green said, “We’re moving, we’re not playing.”

But he added, “All this stuff has to be looked at to make sure we are making the right decisions for the city - the city of Plainfield comes first.”

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: senior center


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