JERSEY CITY-The soft opening of the Downtown Coop supermarket at Hamilton Square here is the latest step in a multi-decade rehabilitation 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 the heart of Jersey City, New Yorkers and professionals relocating from other regions are now moving west across the Hudson, says Paul Silverman, a principal of SILVERMAN. “Getting people to buy condos is one thing, but to create a neighborhood is quite another,” Silverman tells GlobeSt.com. “We’ve created a walkable neighborhood where you can buy wine, birthday cards, etc.” That doesn’t mean it was easy. Paul Silverman and brother Eric began developing in the city in 1981, only to nearly “lose everything” in the 1988-1994 downturn. The lessons learned then, however, have contributed to the development today – to build quality and never cut costs. The company has developed JC Lofts, Schroeder Lofts, the Park Foundry and the Majestic Theater condominiums. “We have granite window sills, solid doors, and really good detail construction-wise,” Paul Silverman says. But it took time to get to that point with Hamilton Square, located in the Hamilton Park Historic District in downtown. “Jersey City in the last five years has become ‘socially acceptable’,” as an alternative to New York City or Hoboken as a residence, Silverman notes. “But we still need more density in Jersey City. There are plenty of buildings not yet developed.” The former St. Francis Hospital Complex on the North side of the park was to become the condominium complex, but not without intense community involvement, city funds and developer nurturing of retail tenants that would create a neighborhood. “Before we changed the first brick in the hospital building, we had 40 meetings,” with the community, Silverman recalls. The city spent $5 million to renovate Hamilton Park, a project 15 years in the making, with Silverman donating the wrought iron to kick off the project. Silverman also helps to maintain the park. Retail became the catalyst for street life and to attract the condo buyers Silverman sought – affluent professionals. In some cases they provided startup capital and financing for improvements, and in others they offered assistance with marketing, networking, event planning, 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, independent Newport Pharmacy, the Next Step Broadway dance school (owned by a former Rockette), bank, florist, and bakery. Other new tenants include Hamilton Health and Fitness studio. Opening next year are Hound About Town pet boutique and Tribeca Pediatrics, opening its first clinic outside New York City.  The condos are attracting buyers from Northern New Jersey seeking a more urban lifestyle, New Yorkers looking for housing at a fraction of 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 originally expected – the residences are filling, and so is the retail. But more 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 of officials are responsive.  Silverman also has helped to reenergize the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce. Plans continue – when the economy permits, the South Block of the park will be redeveloped. And a multi-decade saga will come to an end. Or will it? “We do finish projects,” Silverman says. “But we never finish the neighborhood.”

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