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Steve Liberati
07-29-2007, 09:38 AM
Hey guys,

I recently started a non-profit, youth athletic fitness club in a very bad, Section 8 housing complex in Camden, NJ. For those who never heard of Camden, it is one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the country. Itís not a safe place to live say the least. The entire housing project is loitered with crack dealers day and night. Boarded up units, gunfire, and police sirens are a regular occurence. Anyway, going in and out of the units over the years I got to know many of the people living there. Quickly observed it wasn't the kids who were to blame but the street life trap they eventually got caught into as they got older and more exposed to the environment. Besides, hard not to when its all you know and see everyday.

So about a month or so ago I got the manager's okay to use the community center to run classes and train many of the young talented athletes and (non-athletes) in the local area. To make a long story short, they loved it. Word got out and within a week or two I had well over 20 athletes to train in only 2 hours of time a day. At 25 athletes, I locked the doors and closed off enrollment.

Now just last week the apart manager told me they have an after-school program for the young kids at the same time as my club that she accidentally forgot to tell me about. So basically come Fall, we have to find a new place. Sucks but I refuse to just pack up and go home at this point. Good thing is going here...and truly believe it could only get better (making a HUGE impact on the community and on the lives of these kids).

So...(sorry for the long post!)...I saw this garage below for sale (walking distance to the complex) and I'm seriously considering buying it and using it for our gym. Only problem is the garage doesn't have a Certificate of Occupancy permit and getting one is not something I'm ready to pursue. Went through this process about a few months ago only to give up after I needed to shell out over $3k to get the building up to code. So I'm debating whether to just open up shop (easier to ask for forgiveness later than permission now) and take a chance with the city zoning and all? Any other suggestions? Any loopholes I should know about it or ways around the occupancy thing? Any advice or personal experience here is greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Steve

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Dave Van Skike
07-29-2007, 09:51 AM
Hey guys,

I recently started a non-profit, youth athletic fitness club in a very bad, Section 8 housing complex in Camden, NJ. For those who never heard of Camden, it is one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the country. Itís not a safe place to live say the least. The entire housing project is loitered with crack dealers day and night. Boarded up units, gunfire, and police sirens are a regular occurence. Anyway, going in and out of the units over the years I got to know many of the people living there. Quickly observed it wasn't the kids who were to blame but the street life trap they eventually got caught into as they got older and more exposed to the environment. Besides, hard not to when its all you know and see everyday.

So about a month or so ago I got the manager's okay to use the community center to run classes and train many of the young talented athletes and (non-athletes) in the local area. To make a long story short, they loved it. Word got out and within a week or two I had well over 20 athletes to train in only 2 hours of time a day. At 25 athletes, I locked the doors and closed off enrollment.

Now just last week the apart manager told me they have an after-school program for the young kids at the same time as my club that she accidentally forgot to tell me about. So basically come Fall, we have to find a new place. Sucks but I refuse to just pack up and go home at this point. Good thing is going here...and truly believe it could only get better (making a HUGE impact on the community and on the lives of these kids).

So...(sorry for the long post!)...I saw this garage below for sale (walking distance to the complex) and I'm seriously considering buying it and using it for our gym. Only problem is the garage doesn't have a Certificate of Occupancy permit and getting one is not something I'm ready to pursue. Went through this process about a few months ago only to give up after I needed to shell out over $3k to get the building up to code. So I'm debating whether to just open up shop (easier to ask for forgiveness later than permission now) and take a chance with the city zoning and all? Any other suggestions? Any loopholes I should know about it or ways around the occupancy thing? Any advice or personal experience here is greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Steve

138
139

Steve,

I'm not from NJ but I have a disturbing level of professional familiarity with these sorts of issues. PM me the details of the facility, address, parcel number, jurisdiction, and current use of the property.

The short answer is that the City can probably shut you down in a redhot minute and fine you a certain dollar amount per day for the violation. Without a C of O, you won't get insurance and likely won't get a business loan; personal loan is a diff. story but you'll need to have more collateral/equity.

Dave Van Skike
07-29-2007, 09:52 AM
also....

One possible idea you can research yourself is whether the jurisdiction has a temporary use provision that allows you to get a temporary approval to use the building without bringing it up to current IBC standards...I have used this in the past to permit indoor skate parks run by non-profits.

Neal Winkler
07-29-2007, 10:33 AM
I have no advice, just wanted to say good luck with that, it's a very good thing you have going.

Steve Liberati
07-29-2007, 10:41 AM
Dave-just sent you a pm.

Thanks Neal.

Chris Rice
07-29-2007, 12:43 PM
You might try going to a city official or council meeting and presenting it as a program for disadvantaged and troubled kids. It's possible that you might even be eligible for some financial start up help thru the city or other state or federal sources. I serve on the village council in a very small village in rural Appalachia and several of the programs we achieved here started just like yours - with a dream and a person willing to do the work for next to nothing. We have a multi purpose rec center with weight room, skate park, and a climbing wall, all funded in the beginning by state and federal grants and built and run mostly by caring volunteers such as yourself. You might also approach the police department officials - anything that helps decrease crime in such an area will be viewed as a good thing by them. The goodwill of public officials can be a very good thing as they control grants, public funding, etc as well as the permits etc they you desire. If you can find the right "friend" in public service - they can make life much easier on you.

Steve Liberati
07-29-2007, 01:14 PM
Very good suggestion Chris. The city is in such disarray right now that every other Wed night the mayor and city officials hold a public meeting at the town hall looking for ways to stop the violence and "bring back the streets" as they like to say. I thought about this before but quickly wrote it off figuring it would be nothing more than a waste of time asking the gov't to try something that didn't have to do with setting or enforcing stronger regulations. Afterall thats their job. However, with your advice I think I may just give it a shot and see what comes out of it. I'll keep you posted on this. Thanks again, Steve

Frank Needham
07-29-2007, 01:46 PM
I work for the City of Las Vegas, now in the Environmental Division, before in the Bldg & Safety Dept. Most City officials love the sort of thing you are doing and you would do well to enlist them as they have the power to get you all kinds of help from those that can smooth out the process of getting that C of O, no small matter. They'll absolutely go nuts over the political mileage you can give them. You have all the elements they are looking for: getting the kids off the streets, making them productive, and in short, changing things for the betterment of the community. In Camden that should go over huge. Also find out if the Police have a Gang Unit and get them on your side, they'll love you for doing this sort of thing. Anybody you can get off the street that might otherwise become a banger is one less they have to deal with. Basically lay it all out for the officials to take credit for and they'll lap it up. You've got your work cut out for you since you'll find that more than anything you'll be doing a whole bunch of promoting. I sincerely wish you the best with it.

BTW, those same officials throughout the City can lend a hand financially through using thier contacts to get you equipment, etc. As long as they are asking for stuff to be used by someone else they can ask for just about anything from their contacts.