Chalkboard offers locals chance to suggest ideas for vacant building

Photos by Rebecca Panico
John Roman, who represents Linden’s 6th Ward, erases some writing on a makeshift chalkboard he installed at 16 South Wood Ave.

LINDEN, NJ — Some passersby have written “juice bar” or “coffee shop” or “dance studio,” while others have jotted down jokes. It’s made for a colorful, if messy, chalkboard outside a vacant building next to the train station on Wood Avenue, filled with suggestions for the space.
City Councilman John Roman installed the makeshift chalkboard April 21, seeking community input in a creative way. Stenciled on the top of the board are the words: “I wish this was a …”

Roman started off the project by scrawling, “a new beginning for Linden” in blue chalk.
“I ran my campaign on … I’m 29 years old, and on a Friday night, none of my friends ever call me up and say, ‘Let’s go to that place in Linden,’” Roman, now 30, said recently.

The councilman’s idea for the chalkboard came from Candy Chang, an artist who first came up with a similar project for vacant buildings in New Orleans. Her project utilized stickers rather than a chalkboard and was inspired by the “limited dynamics” of community meetings, according to her website.

Roman said the Linden property was formerly an auto body shop that has been vacant for about a decade.

Records show Patrick Sweeney and his wife, May Sweeney, sold the property to Win-Don Realty for a dollar in the summer of 1993.
Attempts by LocalSource to reach the owner were unsuccessful. It was not immediately clear if anyone has rented the space.
Linden’s 6th Ward, which Roman represents, has changed a lot since the early 1990s.

Passersby record their ideas for potential businesses in a vacant building along Wood Avenue on a makeshift chalkboard installed by 6th Ward Councilman John Roman.

A 176-unit residential apartment building owned by Meridia Capodagli Property opened about two years ago along Wood Avenue, and the same company is constructing a 145-unit residential building across the street from the first.

Meridia Capodagli Property is also in the process of acquiring the building where the chalkboard is installed, Roman said. The residential developer also includes mixed-use retail properties in its designs.

“I’m writing everything down and I’m going to present it to the developer,” Roman said.
The juice bar idea was written several times on the chalkboard, and is Roman’s favorite so far.
He would like to see something go in that works with the location of the train station, too.

“I would like the juice bar,” he said. “I would like a combination of the juice bar and maybe a coffee shop. That’s what I would really like to see. I like the idea of food.”

Photos by Rebecca Panico
John Roman, who represents Linden’s 6th Ward, erases some writing on a makeshift chalkboard he installed at 16 South Wood Ave.

The chalkboard has endured days of heavy rains and the is losing some of its clear space.
Roman maintains the board by stopping by with a sponge and bucket of soapy water to wipe away layered words and give new passersby room to share their thoughts.

“As much as you say you don’t want it to be a mini Hoboken, you kind of do,” Roman said while scrubbing the chalkboard. “If you’re going to build 200 units there and 176 units here, with the restaurant on the bottom over there, right where the corner is, then why not give people something different?”