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South Jersey hopes to prove that an earthquake can't bring down an old opera house

Like many South Jersey cities, Woodbury used to offer a thriving Main Street, punctuated by the G.G. Green Block. Dreamed up in 1880, The G.G. Green Block was a block-long building that served as an opera house, theater, and shopping destination for the Gloucester County seat. Yet, in 2001 the store that called the Green Block home shuttered, leaving the building to collect cobwebs for the next decade. Many observers thought the final straw for the building was the earthquake this past year, which caused inspectors to deem the building unsafe. Defying the odds, city officials may have worked out a deal to save the building.

As recently as this past autumn, all hope seemed to be lost for preserving the G.G. Green Block. City council members and code enforcement officers felt as though the building needed to be demolished because it was structurally unsafe and an eyesore. The state Department of Environmental Protection agreed, which many thought was the death knell for the historic building. However, mayor Ron Riskie says that the cost of demolition turned out to be pricey (around $1 million).

Stung by the high price of demolition, Woodbury once again looked at preserving and re-developing the Green Block. In late December, city council announced it had found an eager re-development partner in RMP Development Group. Mayor Riskie says the building could be preserved as mixed-use development. “If the current plan is followed, we would see retail space on the first floor, and living units on the second and third floors,” says an encouraged mayor. Of the new housing, 20 percent would be affordable, while the remaining 80 percent would be priced at fair market rates.

Understandably, the Woodbury community is excited by the chance to save the fabled building. “The community is overwhelmingly pleased,” reports Riskie. “We saved the ‘centerpiece’ of the City.”

While city officials and residents are hopeful that the proposed preservation and re-development comes to fruition, it’s not a guarantee. The mayor admits that funding for the re-development still needs to be settled, although he anticipates that the city would purchase the building for a dollar, and then transfer it to RMP. Unfortunately, past proposals of re-developing the building have failed, including a popular proposal just a year ago to turn G.G. Green into a performing arts center.

Source: Mayor Ron Riskie, Woodbury
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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