JERSEY CITY, NJ - For Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson, the proposed recreation center to be located near Berry Lane Park is a huge boost to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city.

“We will have everything here,” he said, pointing to a piece of landscape that is currently occupied by the ruins of an old warehouse and rusted steel girders testifying to a long-gone industrial past.

The recreation center could become a hub of social activities, and would include a number of features including a rock-climbing wall, a dance studio, gym facilities, a sauna, and concessions, he said. Currently, Berry Lane Park has no facilities for indoor activities.

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The two-story facility, which may be called the Frederick Douglass STEM-Recreation Center, would be 22,000-square feet that would also be home to classrooms, computer labs, and space for the arts. A partnership with the Liberty Science Center is also in the works some officials have said.

The $5.5 million cost for construction would be paid for by the developer, Robinson said. “This won’t cost Jersey City taxpayers anything.”

“We need this,” Robinson said. “This will be a resource this community desperately needs.”

Berry Lane Park, the largest and most expensive park project in the history of Jersey City, was always supposed to incorporate a recreation center when it opened three years ago. But it seemed destined to wait until additional funding became available. 

That is until Skyline Development Group, the developer of the Morris Canal Park Manor, offered to help build it as part of a community give back for a 17-story, 361-unit project it has proposed.

While residents of the area clearly favored the concept of a recreation center, many are concerned about the size of the commercial project which they claim is too large for the neighborhood and would likely begin gentrification – causing rents to rise. 

The development would bring retail stores and open space to an area that currently has a number of rundown stores, used car dealers and a number of boarded up and unused buildings, would feature 361 residential units, about 285 private parking spaces, and 43 parking spaces open to the public – a pathway from this would be constructed to Berry Lane Park. One acre of green space near the Woodward Street side of the property would be a welcome addition. 

The project would also include a Minority Business Enterprise Success Incubator and Micro Plaza, which will offer eight affordable commercial working spaces for minority-owned businesses and two market-rate commercial spaces. The developer would receive no tax abatement. 

While the magnitude of the building makes it far taller than any other structure in the neighborhood, existing building nearby, and therefore has raised concerns among some residents who claim this is way too large for the neighborhood, the project has the full support of Robinson, Freeholder Jerry Walker, Council President Joyce Watterman, and the Jersey City Black Caucus.

The project still has to get approval from the Jersey City Planning Board and the Jersey City Council before it can break ground.

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