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Jersey JCC Project May Grind to a Halt

July 2, 2013 By:
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The Princeton Mercer Bucks Jewish community campus in September 2012: Work on the project has stopped and the building may never open. Photo by Rick Glazer

Leaders behind a $28 million Jewish communal campus in Mercer County, N.J., say that short of a miracle, the project that’s been 12 years in the making will likely end up being an unused, empty building.

The project, which was meant to serve Bucks County as well and started with such promise, appears set to devolve into lawsuits, possible foreclosure and bankruptcy. 

As of October, construction was 90 percent complete on the 80,000 square-foot building that was set to house the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, the Betty and Milton Katz Jewish Community Center and other Jewish groups, according to Howard Cohen, who chairs the effort.

Several people involved with the project said the construction firm, Costanza Builders, walked off the job with about six weeks left of work. The construction company was told that the JCC Campus Council was about $8 million short of the needed $28 million, and had run out of money to pay for the job. The builders have already filed a lawsuit to collect more than $4 million they say they are owed.

The campus sits on land in West Windsor Township that was once a cornfield. It had been expected to open by the end of 2012. 

The Delaware River, which divides the Keystone State from Jersey, flows just a few miles from the site. Planners envisioned that families in parts of Bucks County would be likely to take advantage of the facilities.

The area has been without a JCC since 2006, when the former JCC building in Ewing Town­ship, N.J., was sold.

Relations appear to have completely broken down between the project’s leaders and Matthew and Staci Wilson, the 30-something Jewish couple that loaned $11 million to the project and for whom it was to be named.

According to Cohen, the JCC Campus Council lay president, half of that loan was due back at the end of the year. Since the campus council didn’t have the money owed the Wilsons, that all but doomed the project, he said.

“We have spent the past six months looking at possible options. At this point, there aren’t many options left on the table. It isn’t 100 percent over, but it’s getting there,” Cohen said.

In the end, he added, there just aren’t enough big donors to sustain the project.

In a posting at njjewishnews.com, the Wilsons disputed Cohen’s account, saying the lend­ers had agreed to restructure the debt if the council could manage to collect on more than $4 million in unfulfilled pledges, which they haven’t been able to do.

“After nine months of virtual silence,” the couple wrote in a lengthy response to Cohen, “it’s time for the leadership of the campus council to be open and transparent with the community about the project status.”

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