The almost-built Betty and Milton Katz Jewish Community Center on Clarksville Road stands empty. Just two months away from completion, the 80,000-square-foot, $28 million facility faces litigation and foreclosure. It was supposed to open in January, but it might not ever open at all. Unless some “heroes” step up to help in a big way, the project will be terminated, says Lee Rosenfield, CEO of the Jewish Community Campus of Princeton Mercer Bucks.
What caused this financial debacle? The JCC started with $18 million — including the profits from the sale of its Ewing building, a major contribution from parking lot magnate Lewis Katz, resources from the Jewish Community Foundation, and a multi-million short-term loan from Pennington-based Matthew and Staci Wilson.
From the formal statement issued by Howard Cohen, president of the JCC: “This campus project is and always has been a fundraising operation, requiring the full support of the community to ensure its financial viability. We made some progress, but not enough to give us confidence that the community will step up and fully support the completion of the project.”
Monies pledged have not been paid. “Pledges have not been fulfilled in a timely way,” says Rosenfield. Assets of $6 million are on the books but are not liquid and available. So at least $6.5 million must be found before the final two months of construction can continue. Meanwhile the Wilson loan must be paid off — $6 million by the end of the year and $5 million eventually, for a total of $17.5 million.
Lee Rosenfield, appointed CEO of the JCC in January, 2012, was a communications major at the University of New Hampshire, Class of 1990. He has a master’s degree in public administration from UCLA and one in Jewish studies from a Reform seminary. He has 25 years of Jewish communal experience in fundraising, community organizing and development, and leadership development.
Though a JCC’s activities are strictly secular, Rosenfield said that, “coming to programs at the JCC can be the first step on the path to worshipping in a congregation. It will be a place where we can come together as one, to celebrate the joys of life and share in the sad parts of life and do so as one community.”
Thanking the generosity of previous donors, Rosenfield said there is no typical one. Donors, he said, are “seriously thinking about their own legacy and that of their family and community. They are taking a look at the long shadow of their life, taking stock of their values and what kind of impact they will have.” For $360 your name can be on a brick. For $1 million, your name can be on the health-wellness-fitness wing. The JCC needs a handful of donors aiming for a million dollar impact. In other words, heroes.