JERSEY CITY-The soft opening of the Downtown Coop supermarket atHamilton Square here is the latest step in a multi-decaderehabilitation of a hospital building into a new neighborhood,according to the developer that has overseen it from the beginning.By creating a residential, retail and services complex within theheart of Jersey City, New Yorkers and professionals relocating fromother regions are now moving west across the Hudson, says PaulSilverman, a principal of SILVERMAN.

“Getting people to buy condos is one thing, but to create aneighborhood is quite another,” Silverman tells “We’vecreated a walkable neighborhood where you can buy wine, birthdaycards, etc.”

That doesn’t mean it was easy. Paul Silverman and brother Ericbegan developing in the city in 1981, only to nearly “loseeverything” in the 1988-1994 downturn.

The lessons learned then, however, have contributed to thedevelopment today – to build quality and never cut costs. Thecompany has developed JC Lofts, Schroeder Lofts, the Park Foundryand the Majestic Theater condominiums.

“We have granite window sills, solid doors, and really good detailconstruction-wise,” Paul Silverman says. But it took time to get tothat point with Hamilton Square, located in the Hamilton ParkHistoric District in downtown.

“Jersey City in the last five years has become ‘sociallyacceptable’,” as an alternative to New York City or Hoboken as aresidence, Silverman notes. “But we still need more density inJersey City. There are plenty of buildings not yetdeveloped.”

The former St. Francis Hospital Complex on the North side of thepark was to become the condominium complex, but not without intensecommunity involvement, city funds and developer nurturing of retailtenants that would create a neighborhood.

“Before we changed the first brick in the hospital building, we had40 meetings,” with the community, Silverman recalls. The city spent$5 million to renovate Hamilton Park, a project 15 years in themaking, with Silverman donating the wrought iron to kick off theproject. Silverman also helps to maintain the park.

Retail became the catalyst for street life and to attract the condobuyers Silverman sought – affluent professionals. In some casesthey provided startup capital and financing for improvements, andin others they offered assistance with marketing, networking, eventplanning, and encouraging residents to become customers.

The result is an eclectic mix of local retailers and services,including a Montessori school, Madame Claude Wine shop, independentNewport Pharmacy, the Next Step Broadway dance school (owned by aformer Rockette), bank, florist, and bakery. Other new tenantsinclude Hamilton Health and Fitness studio. Opening next year areHound About Town pet boutique and Tribeca Pediatrics, opening itsfirst clinic outside New York City.

The condos are attracting buyers from Northern New Jersey seeking amore urban lifestyle, New Yorkers looking for housing at a fractionof city prices, and out-of-towners relocating to the area,Silverman says. Though sales are slower than originally projected –three per month rather than the five or six monthly originallyexpected – the residences are filling, and so is the retail. Butmore can be done, he adds.

“We still need a more streamlined way for small retailers to open,for easier permitting,” Silverman says, adding that a number ofofficials are responsive. Silverman also has helped toreenergize the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce.

Plans continue – when the economy permits, the South Block of thepark will be redeveloped. And a multi-decade saga will come to anend. Or will it?

“We do finish projects,” Silverman says. “But we never finish theneighborhood.”

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