Activists determined to fight spring demolition of historic Greystone psychiatric hospital; they say six proposals merit closer study

DATE WITH THE WRECKING BALL? Activists are trying to save the historic Greystone psychiatric hospital from demolition in early 2014. Photo courtesy of Preserve Greystone
DATE WITH THE WRECKING BALL? Activists are trying to save the historic Greystone psychiatric hospital from demolition in early 2014. Photo courtesy of Preserve Greystone
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The state plans to demolish the sprawling, 137-year-old Greystone hospital building next spring, according to activists who contend the state should thoroughly explore six proposals from potential redevelopers.

DATE WITH THE WRECKING BALL?  Activists are trying to save the historic Greystone psychiatric hospital from demolition in early 2014. Photo courtesy of Preserve Greystone
DATE WITH THE WRECKING BALL? Activists are trying to save the historic Greystone psychiatric hospital from demolition in early 2014. Photo courtesy of Preserve Greystone

State officials have concluded there are no “economically self-sustaining options” for saving the building, on a campus straddling the Parsippany/ Morris Plains border, and they plan a $9 million demolition in February or March of 2014, said Preserve Greystone, which spoke this week with representatives from the Treasury Department, the Division of Property Management and the Governor’s office.

The state has received six expressions of interest from potential redevelopers, some of whom have worked on major projects in Jersey City, Philadelphia and New Haven.

One organization suggests turning Greystone into a model “working farm,” to demonstrate sustainability practices.

Another would create a museum and run ghost tours.

Apartments and townhouses are among the proposals.  A Basking Ridge outfit suggests a “21st century village environment” called “Greystone Village,” combining housing with technology- and business ventures.

Preserve Greystone members maintain that the state did not vigorously circulate its solicitation.  They want a public review of  the proposals.

“… We feel strongly that the taxpayers have a right to know what free-market solutions are being proposed for this public heirloom during the decision-making process, not after. There should be opportunity for public input on this matter before anything is finalized,”  Preserve Greystone President John Heubner said in a statement.

More talks with the Governor’s office are planned, the group said. Here is Preserve Greystone’s full statement.

FROM PRESERVE GREYSTONE:

Greystone Activists Meet with State, Question the Thoroughness and Openness of Process

(Trenton, August 15) Representatives of Preserve Greystone, a nonprofit advocacy group, participated in a conference call with State officials today, and were not satisfied by what they heard.

The call involved citizens and historic preservation specialists from Preserve Greystone, and representatives of the NJ Treasury, Division of Property Management, and the Governor’s office, on the State’s conclusions from a request that had been put out for proposals on how to redevelop the sprawling, historic Greystone hospital building.

The talk came shortly before the State’s planned public release of the “Expressions of Interest” received. The State’s conclusion: There are no “economically self-sustaining options” for saving the 137-year-old structure, and demolition is planned to start in February or March of 2014.

Not so fast, say advocates for the historic complex.

“The imminent release of the Expressions of Interest is encouraging,” said Preserve Greystone President John Huebner, “But we feel strongly that the taxpayers have a right to know what free-market solutions are being proposed for this public heirloom during the decision-making process, not after. There should be opportunity for public input on this matter before anything is finalized.”

Demolition of the immense building is estimated by the State at $9 million, and advocates say that the taxpayers could be spared this cost, which would be avoided with redevelopment.

“The State is focusing on a gap in funding noted in the original ‘feasibility study’ they commissioned,” said Preserve Greystone trustee Adam McGovern. “But that very study showed how the gap could be closed by taking advantage of federal tax-credits for historic properties, and other factors. No one expected this formidable structure to be a commercial success on its own, but deals like this have worked out across the country.”

Group members say they asked the State officials if the State’s own historic experts at the NJ Historic Trust and the State Historic Preservation Office had reviewed the Expressions of Interest and were told they had not; the group also asked if these entities had been consulted on the demolition conclusion; the officials did not reply.

“Surely not all proposals will work,” said Huebner,” but the public needs to get a look at what is planned for its own resource, and the experts need to assess the possibilities. Private money is being offered to solve a public problem, and should be looked at seriously. We want the State to have further conversations with the developers, and get more feedback on the proposals.”

A representative from the Governor’s Policy Office offered to meet in person with Preserve Greystone to go over the proposals that were submitted; the group welcomed the offer and expects to meet again.

Preserve Greystone believes that the call for ideas was not spread widely enough by the State (a number of developers the group contacted had not heard of the Request for Expressions of Interest), but is confident that there are proposals worth further consideration among those that have been received.

“Greystone is a treasure of history that could again be a model of taxpayer savings, income generation and smart-growth redevelopment,” said McGovern. “We appreciate that the State initiated this process, and think input from the taxpayers and citizens, and meaningful dialogue on a momentous decision — not a rush to demolition — should be the next step.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Once again the elected overlords of the Garden State have spoken and another historic treasure faces oblivion. Trenton’s elite will demolish Greystone and bring another strip mall to NJ because we don’t have enough of those here. Consider that they will do this for the ratables. Yet the state will still be broke and incapable of balancing the budget. Trenton had 25 million to spend on its “Stronger than the Storm ” campaign but not the 11million to protect a historic landmark? Not to mention countless millions spent to finance the election to fill Senator Lautenbergs seat? We may be stronger than the storm, but we’re weaker than the taxes and corruption. Wake up Jersey…

  2. I really don’t want to see this place demolished. Even in its crumbling state, its beauty is undeniable. Surely, a program such as what Eastern State Pen has done to renovate its premises could be done at Greystone. There are still areas of that complex that could handle tours and museum like areas. We shouldn’t allow the Kirkbride buildings to be destroyed just from a historical position. It would be just wrong.

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