Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sharon & Jerry's Armory Proposal: New heights of harebrainism

In my humble opinion, Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' and her mentor Jerry Green's proposal for the Armory (see here) rises to new heights of harebrainism.

Plainfield Today readers may recall there has been a lot of talk for the last six years about the Armory, whether to acquire it, and what it could be used for (see links to past coverage at end of post).


The first thing that taxpayers need beware of is Jerry Green's assertion in the Courier story that the project would be 'cost-free to taxpayers'. The last time Jerry said that and the City Council believed him, they ended up with a tab for $287,000 for prettying up the new Senior Center. Once burnt, twice wary.

I once argued (see here) that a fair price would be $1. That was then, this is now. Times have changed. Not only are there all the costs associated with remediation (asbestos, underground fuel tanks), the building is not ADA-compliant and would need to be totally rewired, replumbed and have a new HVAC installation, not to mention the possibility it would have to be sprinklered for a school use.

Given the daunting fiscal situation the City is facing -- with Council President McWilliams citing the likelihood of $800,000 in cuts needed this next budget cycle -- involvement with the Armory would be foolhardy without gold-plated guarantees.
The inference in the story is that Plainfield's involvement would be to BUY THE BUILDING, with, as acting director of DPWUD Jacques Howard says, 'a national leader in charter school development' having some involvement.

What involvement? As the developer or just as a consultant? Would the charter school become the City's tenant? Why would the City want to be a landlord?

Is Jerry and Sharon's plan for the City to end up being the developer? Who would get the (very lucrative) contracts for the work? Can you see where this is going?

Armory, at East 7th & Leland has been eyed for years.

Leave aside the fact that Mayor Robinson-Briggs has no long-term strategic plan for arts and culture in the Queen City (though she could easily have updated the AT&T-funded one), or that there is no explanation of a presumed link between a charter school and a 'cultural arts and community center'.

Which of Plainfield's four charter schools could be interested in this scheme?

The Union County TEAMS charter school at Shiloh Baptist Church could probably be ruled out, as the school has the use of a large and modern facility and its rent is a considerable source of income for the church.

Likewise the Central Jersey Arts charter school, which is in the midst of renovations of the former ARC building on South Avenue -- funded by a bond issue of the Union County Improvement Authority -- which would allow it to move from its Watchung Avenue location above the Assemblyman's office to a newly renovated and more spacious facility.

Can we also count out the Barack Obama Green Charter High School? Seems likely, since they just went through protracted negotiations with the Boys & Girls Club to arrive at what seems like a mutually beneficial arrangement where they use the building during the day, and B&G uses it after school, nights and weekends.

That leaves the Queen City Academy, Plainfield's oldest charter school, housed in the former Temple Sholom, which is owned by Rose of Sharon Community Church. Is this the one? Why might it want to move? How solid is its academic footing? And its community support?

There have been rumors circulating for months that Assemblyman Green was preparing to float yet another proposal for the Armory -- one was said to be as a Veteran's Center, despite having one at the new Senior Center/Monarch condos on East Front Street.

So now, all of a sudden, we have a proposal. And, guess what? There's a RUSH. The whole thing has to be done in a month -- or less!

Mayor Robinson-Briggs told the Courier she would have a proposal IN WRITING in the Council's hands 'by the end of the month'. That was last Thursday, leaving Friday and Monday in the month of January. As of yesterday, the first of February, there was no written proposal in the hands of the Council, though a meeting is said to be scheduled for today with the Mayor and some members of the Council.

This is a REALLY TIRESOME TACTIC, and one would think Mayor Robinson-Briggs, who has tried it before, would have realized folks would see through right through this lame gambit.

With all the problems facing the City -- budgets and crime come to mind at once -- why would the Armory take the City's attention away from what really needs to be done?

If it's such a good deal for a charter school to move there, why not just let them take care of all the details? Why should the City be involved at all? Unless, of course, there's money to be made by someone well-connected?

I think it would be harebrained for the Council to go down this path at this time.
NOTE: While the Courier story refers to the proposed project as the REDEVELOPMENT of the armory, that presupposes a redevelopment plan is in place for the property, of which I am not aware. If there is no plan, it would be more properly referred to as a DEVELOPMENT project.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Very bad idea. No way the council supports this one.

Anonymous said...

Just another example of how both Sharon and Jerry have no clue about anything in Plainfield.

Oh - I'm so sorry. I think I just disrespected the dynamic duo who cannot curb crime in this city, cannot bring in any economic development, cannot run an efficient administration, and spends most of their time trying to defend their ugly ways.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dan,

It's not The Queen City Academy Charter. Nice process of elimination you went through and it kind of makes sense, but it brought you to the wrong conclusion. Just so you know, QCA is on solid footing both academically and financially and would be open in our process so as to engender community support., I don't know which charter it is, I just know which it's isn't!
Back to your drawing board...
Julie A. Jerome
QCA Board President

Anonymous said...

I agree that there are many questions to be ansewered, although the idea of an arts center is appealing. What would it be used for(performing arts or charter school or both), how will the community respond to it, and is there a planning commission in place to apply for planning grants from the state and federal Gov. ?? that's the only way it wont be a tax burden. Has there been an assessment of the community's performing arts groups-the major reason for having a "home" for the performing arts?I think these are things that should have been known and in place before any declarations are made about the idea at all, otherwise even if approved by the city council(which I doubt-they're not stupid!), without having this information-the project could stall and go nowhere. The council should ask these questions and get detailed ansewers-if for no other reason than to let the community know they're thinking of them first!

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing (I don't know why I bother, but whatever) that Jerry has a line on some school construction grant money that can be used in conjunction with an outside promoter/developer who thinks he can develop a space that can be used as both an arts center and as a performance space for the arts charter school. Think of it as a new turf field stadium to be used by a 100 or so kids about once a month and otherwise be used as a rental. As to who might be the likely users, think Centric-on-tour. It could work or it could lead to disaster. It's all in the planning and follow-through details which we know for sure neither Jerry or Sharon excel at.
Let's also point out that on-site parking is inadequate and that it's on a very busy corner in a semi-residential neighborhood. The business corridor that the mayor alluded to is seemingly the most active in town but consists of quick-hit food and small purchase retail. The diner just went under, the garden center looks to be in trouble, Blockbuster is just waiting out their lease, Freshwaters wants out, the Burney Group moved to Scotch Plains (there ain't nothing more telling than that, well, maybe there is: Joe Burris sold his Plainfield house and lives full time in in Asbury Park), and the block-wide storefront opposite the Netherwood train station has exactly one active business out of I think ten rental spaces, and that's a Chinese take out with bullet-proof plexiglass between you and your fried chicken wings.
I agree that the neighborhood needs something but which part of the master plan or visioning study does the armory fit into. Answer: no part. It's just another shoot-from-the-hip, opportunistic, half-baked play by Jerry and Sharon, like buying the YWCA building, like the several "buyers" for Muhlenberg, like ShotSpotter, like the ten-thousand voice chorus, like the BLS radiothon, like the "free" senior center, like the "we own it" veteran's center.
Yeah, the "J&SPAC". I wish it were true, I wish it would help, but I won't hold my breath.

Anonymous said...

It is the Barak Obama Green Charter School that is now located in the boys and girls club. Dan look at the signatures on the Barak Obama Green Charter School and yes Assemblymen Green, and mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs both signed off on the charter school. They both have a connection with that charter school. The documents don't lie. That is the Charter School they they plan to go into the armory.

Anonymous said...

Barak Obama Green Charter School. Dan do your research as I know you will.

Bob said...

Hairbrained is a nice way to categorize Jeronda's plan. That's Jerky Jerry and Shady Sharonda combined, since they seem joined at the hip some times. I'm glad we have a city council who are intelligent and much smarter than either Jerry or Sharon. Do politicians get stupider with age or when they're about to be voted out? I'm not sure, but I am sure these jokers need to be out of office. How can I help?

Rob said...

Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber make it easier and easier every month.
This time kidding, right?
Jerry,'s ok..we already count you two as in the Top 5 worst public officials in Plainfield's history. No need to keep trying.