Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Operating with a temporary certificate of occupancy, the new senior center was opened Wednesday for a pre-primary celebration. Occupancy will occur later this year. The developer had already missed three stated deadlines, but with the re-election of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs on the line, organizers pulled out all stops for a spectacular event with celebrants packing the main room of the new center.
In the foreground here, marchers from the old center include Senior Center Director Sharron Brown, the mayor, former City Councilman and present Union County Freeholder Rayland Van Blake and 22nd District Assemblyman Jerry Green.
Developer Glen Fishman appears pensive. So far, eight condos of 63 on the upper three floors have been sold, he said. Fishman received title to the site from the city for $1, but said Wednesday he invested about $2 million in the center. Seniors made all their wishes for the center known through a building committee that met over many years. Several plans for a new center were considered and discarded. Plaintalker did not stick around for a tour, but the center does have many specialized rooms for sewing, billiards, computers and many other activities.
Public Safety Director/Police Director Martin Hellwig cuts a dashing figure as he attends along with many other City Hall staffers.
Red balloons mark the mayor's favorite color and many seniors wear red for the big event that featured prayers, songs, speeches and recognitions, especially for the building committee. Seniors gave sincere wishes for the speedy recovery of committee president Charles Nelson, who is recovering from health issues and could not attend.
The crowd acknowledged the efforts of Jayson Williams to help create a new senior center and applauded the presence of his father, E.J. Williams and representative Akhtar Farzaie.
Green and Robinson-Briggs are on the June 2 primary ballot. There are five other Democrats challenging the mayor, who is seeking a second term.
Fishman later acknowledged that terms of an agreement among the city, Dornoch Plainfield LLC and the Union County Improvement Authority have not materially changed. Among the terms: Closings on condos may not occur until issuance of of a certificate of occupancy for the senior center. The Veterans' Center space is currently being used as the sales model for the condos, but as stated Wednesday there will be an interim space made available. Once the senior center takes occupancy, the city must pay a condo fee of 13 percent or more for overall costs.
While not quite a pig in a poke, the senior center proposal is not exactly the unalloyed success that politicians would have us believe. How much longer must the city pay for the quarters at 305 East Front Street and at what rate? We need some hard, cold facts on this situation. Some might also ask what was the billable hours' total for city staffers to be away from City Hall for the event?