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Developer for H&M Powerhouse But Must Deal with PA

By Jason Fink, Journal Staff Writer
March 29, 2002 

Jersey City has designated a developer for the Hudson &
Manhattan Powerhouse, a century-old, hulking brick building on
the waterfront that inspired an aggressive preservation effort two
years ago, eventually leading to a listing in the National Register of
Historic Places.

After years of competing proposals that never got off the ground,
Pennsylvania-based Preferred Real Estate Investments Inc. was
handed the task by the city Redevelopment Agency of devising a
plan for the Washington Boulevard building, a move that may not
sit well with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which
co-owns the facility with the city.

The developer, awarded the project by the JCRA last week, has
180 days to come up with a formal plan for adaptive re-use of the
Powerhouse, after which it will likely buy the city's stake in the
building.

Although no final decisions have been reached, a spokesman for
Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham said the city expects Preferred to
recommend that the 94-year-old building's cavernous interior be
converted to office space and perhaps a museum on its ground
floor.

The facade, which local historic preservation advocates say is an
architectural treasure, will remain largely intact, said Stan H.
Eason, the mayor's spokesman.

Computer-generated renderings provided to the city by Preferred
show an additional story added to the top of the building.

"This is a historic preservation project," Eason said. "It's going to
have to have that same look."

The Port Authority, which owns about 40 percent of the structure
and uses it to house electrical equipment for the PATH train
system, apparently was not notified of the city's decision.

A spokesman for the bi-state agency, which opposed the
Powerhouse's national designation when it was announced in
December, was guarded in his response to the city's move.

"Any plans regarding the potential use of the facility in the future is
going to have to be done in concert with the Port Authority," said
the spokesman, Dan Bledsoe.

He would not comment on whether the agency had its own plans
for the building, but various proposals have been floated in the
past, including one that would have included a tall building rising
over the structure.

That scenario seems unlikely, said Eason, who added that it is up
to the developer to work out a satisfactory deal with the Port
Authority.

"Eventually the city will sell its stake in the building," Eason said.
"Hopefully, within 180 days, Preferred can work with the Port
Authority and come up with something."

Calls to Preferred's main office in Conshohocken, Pa., were not
returned at press time. The president of the Jersey City
Landmarks Conservancy, which was created two years ago for
the express purpose of saving the Powerhouse, said Preferred is
planning to develop a different powerhouse in Pennsylvania.

The ultimate fate of the Powerhouse, which was built in 1908 as
the main power source for the old Hudson & Manhattan Railroad -
the precursor to the PATH - has been hotly debated for years.

The Conservancy president, John Gomez, said he was pleased
with the development plans thus far.

"We definitely wanted something cultural," he said, praising the
proposed museum, the subject of which has not yet been
discussed. "We knew (the city) was considering several
developers, but we didn't expect it so soon."

Gomez also urged the Port Authority to reach an agreement with
Preferred so work can begin on the project.

"It's a national landmark," he said. "They've got to move on this."

Perhaps the signature building of the so-called warehouse district
just west of Exchange Place, the Powerhouse was a central
element in a recent study conducted by the Urban Land Institute
assessing the feasibility of creating an artists community in the
immediate area.

The ULI proposed calling the neighborhood the Powerhouse Arts
District and suggested the city acquire the entire building and then
sell it to a developer.

While that is unlikely to happen, Eason said a ground-floor
museum would be in keeping with the spirit of an artists district. 

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