Woodbury’s G.G. Green Building: the New Year Brings New Hope for this Presumed-Doomed Landmark
As October 2011 came to a close, few people had hope that the G.G. Green Building, a landmark of downtown Woodbury, would still be standing at Christmas.
G.G. Green, or Green’s Block, occupies an entire block of downtown Woodbury along busy Broad Street. The former opera house, constructed in 1880 by a prominent local businessman determined to spur Woodbury’s growth and development, housed a variety of community spaces and commercial ventures through 2002, when the building was
vacated. The building suffers from significant deferred maintenance, and is currently subject to two tax liens totaling approximately $331,000.
City inspectors deemed the building “unsafe” after chips of brick were reportedly seen falling from the top of a facade during the August 23 earthquake that rocked New Jersey. The week following the quake, as concern over the fate of the building spread, preservationists sprang into action.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), Main Street New Jersey, and Preservation New Jersey joined with the Woodbury Olde-City Restoration Committee (WORC) and Main Street Woodbury to strategize and buy time. Was the building really a “hazard?’ Only an engineer familiar with historic buildings could make an adequate assessment. The groups went to work, contributing funding, attending City Council hearings to advocate for additional analysis and time, and finding an engineer willing to provide a “second opinion.” As luck would have it, an engineer both familiar with historic buildings, and familiar with the Green Building itself, took on the task.
Simultaneously, the city hired a preservation architect to provide a third assessment, as a condition of applying to the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office to spend public funds to demolish the building (since it is listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places). By October, the results were in, and the G.G. Green Building’s future was looking bleak. Both assessments raised serious concerns about the building’s structural integrity, and especially that of the facade that had reportedly sustained
earthquake damage. It seemed the city’s concerns about public danger were valid, and something needed to be done to address the building’s needs immediately. Even the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office authorized demolition, as the requirements for declaring the building a “hazard” had been met.
Many ideas were offered, but nothing seemed to answer all of the outstanding issues: the building had been severely neglected, and the owner now had neither the money nor the desire to maintain the building, but also had not been able to sell it. The building had been confirmed to be in imminent danger – it could wait no longer for attention. The building needed either an angel, with the willingness and capital to purchase it, pay off the liens and make immediate repairs, or the city would have to step in, in which case demolition would likely win out.
With no one stepping forward to offer to take on the project, despite local advocates’ pleas, the city obtained demolition estimates in November.
Fast forward to this past week, when the fate of the G.G. Green Building seemed to change overnight. On December 28, Woodbury City Council announced a tentative agreement for the building’s purchase and rehabilitation into a mixed-use housing and retail project by Montclair-based RPM Development Group. RPM is a well-known affordable housing developer, and projects such as the Ward Bakery rehabilitation in Newark and the transformation of Camden’s New Jersey Safe Deposit and Trust Company Building have won the firm historic preservation awards.
While nothing is yet certain, it would appear that there is new hope for saving the G.G. Green Building. How did it happen? Teamwork was key, although the city, and particularly Woodbury’s Economic Development Director Rhonda Abbruzzese, appear to deserve much of the credit for bringing RPM into the picture. But there’s still a long way to go. PNJ will continue to keep you posted as the agreement is finalized and the saga of the G.G. Green Building develops.
Perhaps the inspiration we as preservation advocates can take from this story is exactly what we need to begin a new year. Preservation battles are everywhere these days, and sometimes the challenges feel insurmountable. But even when it seems hope is lost and all of the cards are stacked against something, with hard work and creative thinking, new opportunities can be found. We at Preservation New Jersey hope that the story of the G.G. Green Building does indeed have chapters of rebirth and revitalization ahead, and we look forward to continuing to work to make that happen.
Are you a Woodbury area resident looking to help save the G.G. Green Building? A supportive letter to the editor in the Gloucester County Times, and encouraging calls or e-mails to the city’s leaders, couldn’t hurt.
As we all move together to tackle a new year of preserving New Jersey’s historic treasures, it will behoove us to remember: it’s not over, until it’s over.