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Greystone May Be Salvaged by Nonprofit Saviors

Some Parsippany Board members express support in saving the iconic asylum from the wrecking ball.

Jonathan Cloud of from the community engagement branch of the Greystone Community Innovation Team speaks with the Parsippany Council
Jonathan Cloud of from the community engagement branch of the Greystone Community Innovation Team speaks with the Parsippany Council

The Historic Greystone property may be on life support, but it isn't quite dead yet.

Not if some nonprofit organizations have anything to say about it.

At the last Parsippany council meeting, members of two nonprofit groups came forward in an attempt to save the centerpiece of the Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. The old Kirkbride Building sits at the Morris Plains-Parsippany border, and was formerly known as the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum at Morristown.

Gov. Chris Christie announced plans in late 2011 to remediate and convert Greystone Park in Parsippany—about 165 acres—but things have been at a stand still since then.

Jonathan Cloud, from the community engagement branch of the Greystone Community Innovation Team, told the council there was potential for the property to be developed into a 21st century community with ecological and other benefits to it and not to be convinced by the state of New Jersey that there is no other option for this property.

“We’re much better giving the building new purpose than giving county parks more land,” said John Huebner, President of Preserve Greystone.

Huebner said that public sentiment was on the side of preservation. 

"I think people just don’t like waste. I think people would prefer that the building be given a new purpose and redeemed. The idea that it should be buried and forgotten is very misguided. There’s this idea that they want to throw money at it to make it go away," Huebner said. "It’s a very complicated project."

Huebner also said he has lobbied for more transparency in the process.

"I know the deliberations are being done behind closed doors. I’ve advocated for a more open process,” Huebner said.

Councilman Jonathan Nelson said it appeared the state wanted nothing to do with the project, and after reading the feasibility report was left at a loss. 

"The state basically said that nothing’s going to work, that anything that’s going to be built there is going to be a major money loss," Nelson said. "The state is going to have to clean up the site one way or another, whether it’s the state and the taxpayers or the developer. I can’t for the life of me know why they’re sitting on this and not trying to give it to a nonprofit, at least from the money aspect, they’ll be able to cut their losses."

Nelson said he hoped the state would reconsider its position. 

Cloud’s background is as a real estate developer and he is the founder of a nonprofit called the Center for Regenerative Community Solutions as well as a senior fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Working alongside architects, planners and builders who have restored other buildings of exactly this type in other parts of the country, Cloud said his team put together proposals to the state treasurer with regards to redevelopment to the Greystone property.

"We have not heard anything from the state so far. There has not been a formal response to us,” Cloud said.

Councilman Michael DePierro said that he spoke with Assemblyman Anthony Bucco about three months ago and that he encouraged Preserve Greystone to do the same.

According to DePierro, Bucco claimed that there was not a single company or agency that stepped forward and expressed interest in rehabilitating that building.

"My point is there is a lack of communication," DePierro said. "Contact should be going to Assemblyman Bucco so that they know that we are serious.”

Administrator Jasmine Lim said the problem might not be communication.

“I think the state made determination that there was no viable proposals offered,” Lim said.

Huebner said he thought the proposals were viable, even if the sticking point was the state claim that they all require some sort of state subsidy.

"What I can’t understand is, if the state is willing to spend $10 million to tear that building down, why can’t they apply that $10 million toward a private investor to offset the cost toward rehabilitating that building," DePierro said. "Those were some of the questions I had with Assemblyman Bucco and he said no one has come forward with a valid offer.”

The demolition cost for the remaining 60 buildings is $50.7 million. A demolition Cloud said would be a costly waste.

“I’m here to urge you to consider that this property represents an enormous amount of sunken investments and energy … in terms of the construction of structure the building,” said Cloud.

Cloud added that there are a lot of complicated issues and financial concerns involved. Cloud brought up PACE, which helps finance clean energy projects.

“We hope that this will bring an enormous amount of private capital there, improvements from an energy standpoint and as a result of current legislation going through the assembly and senate,” Cloud said.

Huebner said that including the private sector will bring to the table “other ideas to make it work.”

“The state definitely chose to put forward the infeasible scenarios,” said Huebner. “There is a recipe for success within the state’s own feasibility report, but the presentation of the results left everyone and the press with the impression that it can’t be done.”

DiPierro said that the history contained within the walls of Greystone was staggering and that it would be a shame to lose 100 years of history, a sentiment Huebner echoed.

“It’s very lavishly and robustly constructed," Huebner said. "It’s a very strong structure, one that will last a very long time, if it’s taken care of. The task of teaing down something so enormous and a waste.”

Cloud said that he’ll follow up with Bucco.

For more about Greystone, which was built in 1876, go to this Patch article.

Also, check out Margo D. Beller's Blog ‘Ghosts of Greystone’

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