Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces

 

From Opera House to Senior Housing

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Project Name: G.G. Green Senior Residences
Refitting an endangered historic building for use as retail and senior and veterans’ housing

Partners: New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, RPM Development Group


Smart-Growth Challenge: How can the City of Woodbury preserve a treasured landmark while meeting a need for affordable housing and spurring economic growth?

GG Green slideshowThe opulent G.G. Green Opera House, built in 1880 by patent medicine tycoon and Civil War Colonel George Gill Green, once brought grandeur to the city of Woodbury and vibrancy to the heart of its downtown. The 1,100-seat facility, with its ornate Victorian architecture, was this southern New Jersey community’s crown jewel, drawing thousands of visitors in its heyday. In later years, the G.G. Green Building served the community variously as a movie theater, a National Guard headquarters, a school gymnasium, and as retail space. The building’s luster had largely faded by 2001 when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2002, in substantial disrepair, it closed its doors.

The building’s future, and indeed that of the downtown, was still in doubt in 2011 when a rare earthquake struck, threatening the building’s structural integrity and knocking part of its façade into the street. Some called for the building’s demolition, but many in the community fought to save this treasured city landmark, and through grassroots fundraising efforts raised $50,000 to kickstart a building preservation initiative.

That same year, RPM Development stepped forward with plans to purchase the G.G. Green Building along with two adjacent, vacant buildings – a former Chinese takeout restaurant and a Christian Science Reading Center – and create the G.G. Green Senior Residences, a mixed-use, age-restricted residential complex with contiguous retail and community space. The innovative rehabilitation-redevelopment project restored and adapted the historic building and replaced the other two buildings with contemporary structures modeled after the original G.G. Green Building’s architecture.

The project saves a historic landmark and brings a new energy into the downtown, supporting local merchants, and it creates needed affordable housing options for Woodbury’s older residents. The G.G. Green Senior Residences provides 55 apartment units, restricted to residents 55 and older with an income at or below 60 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), with six units set aside for homeless veterans with incomes at or below 30 percent of AMI.

The project has also stimulated substantial economic growth, including over $21 million in immediate economic output and an anticipated $2.3 million in ongoing economic output, as well as more than 120 full-time jobs and an estimated 13.5 full-time jobs annually going forward.

In addition to housing, the project features approximately 7,000 square feet of retail space and a 3,500-square-foot community room. The complex, which covers an entire block along South Broad Street, the city’s busiest main street, also includes an outdoor courtyard to provide open space for residents.

The project was constructed to minimize environmental impact and has achieved LEED Platinum certification, the highest level of green building awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. The development is located near public transportation, including several NJ Transit bus routes and the proposed Glassboro-Camden light rail two blocks away. Residents of the complex will be within easy reach of many retail amenities, and to the Underwood Memorial Hospital, County Justice Complex, the public library, and numerous public parks.

The success of the G.G. Green Senior Residences shows what can be accomplished with coordination and dedication from many stakeholders. Support from the community, the commitment of Woodbury’s political leadership, strategic financing from the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, and the vision of RPM Development Group have all combined to return a once-grand opera house to its former glory and to bring renewed vibrancy to downtown Woodbury.

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