Meeting with Cooper’s Ferry and City of Camden.
Novela Henson: On behalf of Mayor Redd I want to thank you for coming to try to move this Martin Luther King project forward, on a local level, and what we can do to try to stabilize and help with the restoration. Is that the goal, did I miss something?
Mary Cruz: That’s the goal.
Novella Henson: OK, because you were looking at me like that wasn’t the goal.
Mrs. Hunt: No I’m waiting.
Patrick Duff: I think what it is, is you know, this is kind of a little bit fresh, the meeting, so she doesn’t exactly know what it is, so…that’s where we’re at right now.
Novelle Henson: Ahh, you want to explain?
Mary Cruz: yeah, we can start whenever.
Novella Henson: You have an attendance sheet?
Meishka Mitchell: Yeah, we’re about to send that around right now.
Novella Henson: Meishka is going to explain, what I hope the intent is. But you may want to go around the room and introduce?
Meishka Mitchell: Sure, we can do that.
Novella Henson: Start on that side before I have to step out for a minute.
Candice Jefferson: Candice Jefferson, Office of the Mayor and Camden Promise Zone Director.
Kelly Francis: I’m Kelly Francis from the Camden County NAACP
Novella Henson: Lovely.
Mrs. Hunt: Mrs. Hunt, owner of 753 Walnut Street.
Patrick Duff: My name’s Patrick Duff, I’m the person that’s done the research and put the property up for the historic registry.
Mary Cruz: Ahh, Mary Cruz, Congressman Norcross’s office.
Meishka Mitchell: Meishka Mitchell with Cooper’s Ferry Partnership.
Rowena Madden: I’m Rowena Madden, from the department of state, Trenton.
Eldridge Hawkins: Eldridge Hawkins, department of state.
Novella Henson: Novella Henson, chief of staff for Mayor Redd, and at the request of the Mayor and the Congressman, we wanted to see what could be done at our levels so that resources could be used to stabilize, uhh, the project, and in order to do that we need a local designation. To free up resources for stabilization, and also as a result of some recent demolition..(turns to speak to someone else)..of some city properties on the side that maybe, could be considered to go along with this should we all come, all hearts and minds agree. At this point this in no way stops the State designation, that you want, there’s some explaining that needs to be done. Mark Mandio is our city attorney, Robert Corrales is our city business administrator, Cooper’s Ferry has done restoration for the Walt Whitman House, for the um, on behalf of the city, for the parks down there, Johnson Park. So they have the experience and the capacity to do some, some,…some things for this, and our requirements, our local requirements are not as stringent, and the Mayor’s been in conversation with, ah, Phoebe Haddon, the Chancellor to see if we could also get Rutgers involved with some researchers to help. But in the meantime we can’t let that property destabilize and get worse, so that, because by the time maybe all the designations do come through with the state level, that property needs to be restore, or stabilized, some minimal..
Kelly Francis: That’s what we been trying to do, that’s what we been asking.
Novella Henson: Well that’s…
Mary Cruz: Great.
Kelly Francis: We’ve been to the city historic commision and we presented to them, the Planning Board…
Novella Henson: Can I say something?
Kelly Francis: The City council.
Novella Henson: The Historic Commision, as a result of the Mayor and Congressman are ready to vote on this pending the outcome of this meeting. There will be a vote to take place, because this now is something that is considered very important. OK?
Kelly Francis: Mmm, We’ve been trying…
Novella Henson: That’s why I called…
Kelly Francis: In January it will be two years since we, uh, Patrick and I, uh, got together and started the process..
Novella Henson: Thank you for your patience, we’re ready to move forward.
Kelly Francis: It will be two years in January, and we’ve gone to everybody humanly possible that we know of for assistance, but uh, I don’t know? Maybe the trigger was John Lewis, I don’t know? Now that he came to town everybody is on board.
Mary Cruz: Maybe it was congressman Norcross, because (inaudible) he’s the one, who really sort of..
Mrs. Hunt: Yes..
Kelly Francis: I don’t know, but…
Mary Cruz: He took a big..
Kelly Francis: You still have to do the research..
Mary Cruz: Yeah, no, absolutely, let me just say..
Kelly Francis: Without the research, nothing happens.
Mary Cruz: Yeah, on behalf, on behalf of Congressman Norcross, I could tell you, like, um, this is, he was. Patrick actually came to a meeting, let me just give you some background. Came to a meeting, Town Hall meeting, Right?
Patrick Duff: Town Hall meeting, Cherry Hill…
Mary Cruz: Town Hall Meeting, addressed this issue to the congressman, congressman said, “Let’s see how we can help”, and (Patrick) gave us all the research, then there was an opportunity for a letter. Wrote the letter, and then second congressman lewis, came, or told us he could come in, because he was coming, we said we have a great event for you to do, right, and so..you all did the, the groundwork, right? And so, what the congressman wanted to do, um, and the Mayor’s office, was sort of bring people to the table that we thought might actually have the ability to begin sort of moving the process forward of making this a really great site for people to visit, and students to learn, and you know, just really try to start building that capacity, because you were talking a lot about cleaning it out, and cleaning it up, and so I going to, I think let’s move it over to Cooper’s Ferry..
Meishka Mitchell: I’ve introduced myself, but um my title, I run, I’m the Vice President of neighborhood initiatives at Cooper’s Ferry. So I run all the things that we do, sort of in the cities neighborhoods, and so we are new to this table, and so first, I know, thank you for all the work that you’ve done already, up front, so I recognize, so I know how difficult it is to get, especially historic projects in particular, some projects off the ground, in doing the initial research to sort of get the ball moving. So I can’t speak for everything that’s happened before, you know, myself sitting at this table, but at the request of Congressman Norcross’s office, since you guys have been able to, um, really I think get his ear, and have a supportive role there. And at the request of the mayor’s office, um, begin to start thinking about, you know, some opportunities and some ways we can begin to utilize our, um experience in doing some other projects in the city to help to move the ball forward for the, um, MLK House and the property that we’re about here today. So, um, you know I want to give you guys an opportunity to, you know, sort of let us know what your initial thoughts are on some of the current state is, and sort of, what your plans are. Um, but, I think that there is a few things that the mayor’s office wants to make sure that they’re, um, willing..willing to..to move forward after this meeting. One is with the designation of the property as historic by the cities historic commision, and I know that you guys are on sort of parallel paths to get the state historic designation as well. Um, having the city designation will actually help that application, as well. Um so, being able to move that forward…
(Mrs. Hunt’s Daughter enters the room and people stop to let her take a seat and everyone introduces again)
MM: Um, let me see where I left off, that the city is..is, um, prepared to, uhhh, present this, or have you guys present for the cities historic commission for the designation at the city level. Um, which can help you with your state designation as you continue to push that forward, and see if we can help in anyway possible, um, to move that forward as well. Um, the city is also trying to figure out, and sort of all the things haven’t been worked out, you know, exactly about, you know what other resources for the actual stabilization of the property can be, um, undertaken. Um, one of the issues I think that, um, (taps on table) really helps to figure out how much resources the city can put forward with the project is the..the, what’s happening with the ownership of the property, um whether or not Mrs. Hunt is interested in selling that property? Or whether or not you want to keep it into private ownership, as you guys are undergoing the designations and things like that. Whether or not some public ownership so it remains, sort of a public space, um, that’s going to be a historic site, is something you guys been thinking about at all?
Patrick Duff: Yeah, well we’ve, um, we were going to form a non profit. The problem is when we form the non profit without the historical designation from anybody, it’s difficult to..get grants and other things for a historic property, so?
Patrick Duff: So in the sense of forming it, we’ve been technically waiting for a year and a half since I filed, I filed February of 2015 and they told me it would be three months.
MM: That you filed for the State?
Patrick Duff: For the state application. So I was told it was going to be 3 months, you know, so it’s been almost 2 years. So, um, they, the actual non profit itself, Rutgers agreed to set up the nonprofit, and I have a lawyer named Brian Donnelly, who’s agreed to set up a nonprofit. I think the ultimate goal is that we want to see it, you know, stabilized, and you know we do want to form a nonprofit that we can have for the building itself, or find some way of having the home put into a non profit that’s going to be beneficial for everybody.
Patrick Duff: So, it’s not my home.
Patrick Duff: But I can tell you that she…
Mrs. Hunt: He can speak for me.
MM: OK. (laughing)
Patrick Duff: What she really wants is to make sure that the project moves forward.
Patrick Duff: Because it was the hopes of her Father in law, too.
Patrick Duff: So it’s not like it’s been, this has been kind of in her lap, for a while..
MM: Right, right.
Patrick Duff: And there was one article written in 1981, and that was well before the King holiday was even enacted, and uh, and that was with her Father in law in it. It’s funny but, she thought that article was enough to kind of, put it out there.
Patrick Duff: So for her I think it’s been a big surprise, you know? But at this point I think we have everybody at the table that we need and we can, we could, what we’d like to do is create the ability to use a pass through until we get a nonprofit set up.
Patrick Duff: So we could use maybe Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, because your a holding corporation anyway, and, and use it as a pass through so we can get some types of grants through the county, and maybe the CBG grant from the county and fix the roof, because the roof is the big problem.
Kelly Francis: Well the city, the city also has CDG funds.
Kelly Francis: So if the city historic commision votes to, to ahh…
Patrick Duff: Designate it.
Kelly Francis: Yeah. Votes to designate it a historic site, a city historic site than we can access city CBG funds.
Candice Jefferson: That’s not necessarily true, we’re going to have to look into that one.
Kelly Francis: Well they, but…
Mark Riondino: We’re going to look for all funds.
Kelly Francis: They should…
Inaudible people talking over each other..
Patrick Duff: I’ve been getting a lot of private people who want to give finds too but I have to tell them that there is no where to give it to.
MM: Yeah, there’s nowhere to give it. So we actually just completed, really, just like a month, less than a month ago we completed a very similar project where we just did a stabilization on the roof, um, for the Benjamin Cooper House, um, located at the end of Delaware Avenue and Erie Street .
Kelly Francis: Erie Street, yeah.
MM: Um, and so, not sure you how familiar you are with that property, but that’s one of the oldest houses intact houses…
Kelly Francis: George Washington visited there.
MM: Umm, inside the city. It was in great shape until about 3 years ago when there was a fire there. There had been squatters who lived in that house, and it had been intact, like from 1890 something. It’s a pretty old house, and um, the fire destroyed the roof and so ever since then there has been, you know, lot’s of damage to the home. Um, the neighborhood residents really wanted to see, and this is actually, it’s been vacant for a very long time. But it’s actually a privately owned residence, um, that we were able to get an agreement with that, the owner to, um, lease that house and we were able to take it over so that we can do..we actually got grant funding from both the county and the 1772 Foundation through the NJ Historic Trust to put on a new roof to stabilize it, and than do solar powered, um, venting in the property to keep the air out so we can then begin to build the….to raise money for the future, you know kind of complete restoration of that project. I think that probably be something that we would be looking to do for that property. But first it’s about making sure no further damage happens, right? And then as we are coming up with a plan for, you know, raising funds and doing all those other things to get this process rolling. So, um, I mean I think there’s a commitment on lot’s of different levels. I think everybody sort of has the same goal, right? Let’s just see how we can work together to move forward. So, um, trying to figure out what that best way is going to be, as you guys are still working out some of the details for both designations and organization status. I think that Cooper’s Ferry is in a good place to sort of step in and be that intermediary organization, um, if Mrs. Hunt is willing to do that? Um. then, you know, after that it’s really just a matter of paperwork, you know? And we’ll that up to the people who do the paperwork, because I am not good at that part. Umm, (Laughing at herself) um, in order to sort of make that happen and then figure out the best steps on the stabilization process after that.
Mrs. Hunt: Could you restate what you would like to see happen?
Mrs. Hunt: Yes.
MM: So I think ahh, specifically it would be, um, I guess there is two, there’s two questions. One is, we could have Cooper’s Ferry, you know, certainly just step in and, and figure out how to be sort of an owner’s agent and get things done, um that we’re limited in that way without any property rights, if you continue to own the property.
Mrs. Hunt: I understand.
MM: The other part would be if you were willing to sell the property, um, and then which case raising funds for the property becomes a little easier from the nonprofit prospective. And so those are, so either way we can still do the same thing and work toward the same end goal. We can raise money, we can try to work to do things, um who owns the property I think is sort of the biggest question here as to whether or not you were thinking about selling, um or whether or not you wanted to keep it as a privately owned home up until then?
Mrs. Hunt: No I hadn’t not intended to keep it as a private owner.
Kelly Francis: Now when is the historic commision meeting? The city historic commission meeting.
Patrick Duff: It’s on the…I’m meeting, or appearing at the end of the month. I presented first there in February.
PD: And than march I went back again.
PD: So it’s been basically sitting in limbo, so at the beginning of this month I contacted them and I said, listen, you give me a decision, you know, whether it’s a yes, or a no, give me a decision.
PD. And they said send me all of your evidence, again, so I sent the evidence. And actually I found a new piece of evidence with 753 Walnut Street on it from the Maple Shade incident. So now there’s two primary sources of evidence that have the, 753 Walnut Street..
MC: That’s great.
PD: With MLK’s signature, so, but, it’s the last…
Male City attorney: We’ll follow up to make sure this happens.
PD: Yeah, so it’s the last thursday of the month.
MM: Is that next Thursday?
PD: It is the city Historic Preservation..
Inaudible many people talking.
Kelly Francis: The city commision.
PD Paul Schopp is on it, and Dr. Ed Williams, he’s the one I sent the information to.
MM: It’s the 27th.
Kelly Francis: But uh, if we could get the city in the meantime set up the 501c3, than we would have the same capacity to seek funds, as any other 501c3.
PD: So what we were thinking is to use someone like you as a pass through, and we put a deed reverter into, to put it to the nonprofit, once the nonprofit is set up for the house itself. Is that something you guys would be interested in doing?
MM: Yeah, I think that would be ok, I mean we’d have to talk it over with the Mayor’s office, and just to see if there would be any other restrictions on any funds that the city might have been willing to…
Mark Riondino: Right, it all comes down to funding, and the condition of grants. But I think we are all speaking the same thing. At the end of the day the nonprofit’s going to protect this for the public domain. It may be a question of who the non profit is or not, but we can work through that.
Mark Riondino: The goal for everybody is the same.
MM: And I think from our perspective, as Cooper’s Ferry, um, we wouldn’t be interested in holding on to the property in perpetuity, or beyond the stabilization. So for us, for us, the restoration and stabilization part, we do the capitol. So capitol building is what we’d like to do but not running of the house, and so at that point and time I think that that might be a good transition period to transition to, if you guys have a non profit, and than run it as a landmark, sort of run the tours, and do all that kind of stuff. Um, outside of just capitol…
PD: Maybe even get Rutgers involved at that point.
MM: Yeah. just so outside of the capital improvements.
KF: The ultimate goal is that the state..
PD: And national approve.
Kelly Francis: Well, the state first. (Inaudible speaking) One step at a time. With the state, and at that point if the state designates it a historic site, than it will be there in perpetuity, the same as the Walt Whitman House.
Kelly Francis: Same as the Walt Whitman House, right on, a federal street.
PD So what would..
KF: That’s the ultimate goal.
KF: If we can go further and get the national certification, hey, that’s gravy.
MC: I think that if you get the state designation, the national, because they are going by the national standard apparently on this house, so I think it will, sort of, hopefully it would go much easier once you get the state designations.
KF: The most important thing is to get that state designation so that it’s there in perpetuity.
MC: Yeah. I think everybody is on, I think everybody has the same goal here.
Male city attorney: And the most important thing is to stabilize it.
PD: Yeah, there’s two resolutions now in the state senate.
KF: Yeah, everybody’s had an opportunity to help and nobody’s stepped up until almost two years now….
Mark Riondino: We’re here now.
KF: It’s not that we haven’t been trying to get…we’ve been to every agency that we can, which is humanly possible..
Mark Riondino: But I can say in fairness that the people that are in the room from the city and Cooper’s Ferry have not been involved, and now we’re involved.
KF: well, well, no.
Mark Riondino: But we are 100% engaged from now on.
Mrs. Hunt: Good, thank you.
KF: Well Cooper’s Ferry is not a..
Mark Riondino: No I mean the city.
KF: Oh, right yeah, the city yeah….we’ve been through the historical commision, the planning board, city council, we’ve all made made a plea to all those folks.
KF: And it’s been almost 2 years now.
MM: So just to, just to, I mean my recommendation moving forward would be that there’s an agreement of sale for the property, to Cooper’s Ferry, we could stabil…you know, put language in there that it’s strictly for the stabilization and restoration of the property, um and that we would continue to work with you guys through that process, as well as the community actually. To make sure that we’re working through the stabilization and restoration with the goal that after the property is restored, that it would be turned over to some non profit, right? We don’t necessarily know who that nonprofits going to be at the moment, even if it’s a partnership with Rutgers or someone else, that it would be turned over at some point to somebody to run the actual property itself.
PD: Who runs the Walt Whitman House, the state, right?
MM: Um, the historic commision? The state’s historic commision. So and I know like the county historical society, they might, like they’ve been, no?
(Discussion of the walt whitman house)