NO KNOCK DOWN
Christie’s plan to tear down state office buildings in Trenton punted to Murphy
TRENTON » Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to tear down office buildings in the capital city may have been demolished.
The State House Commission, a board comprised of state legislators and the governor’s staff, unanimously voted Monday morning to hold off on a plan to bulldoze the state’s Health and Agriculture and Taxation buildings. The plan would have shrunk the state’s footprint in Trenton and freed up some space for redevelopment.
However, the state buildings would have been relocated outside of central downtown, drawing concerns from local government, business and nonprofit leaders.
“The Christie administration in the 11th hour tried to get approval for tearing down the Department of Health and Agriculture and the Department of Taxation and then moving the building not in conformity with the Trenton master plan and away from many transit centers and not doing any kind of mixed use, so violating every instance of good urban planning,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon), who opposed the plan at the hearing. “It’s almost as if they took a dart and threw the dart on the map of the city and they both landed outside the bull’s-eye area.” In September 2016, Christie outlined his possible illfated plan outside the under-construction Roebling Lofts in Trenton. It was the first major economic development project he announced for the capital city under Mayor Eric Jackson’s term after deciding to staff away from Trenton during the Tony Mack years.
The Health and Agriculture building at 369 S. Warren St. is known for its rectangular and round shapes. The Taxation building at 50 Barrack St. is a prominent stronghold in the city at the corner of West State Street across the roadway from Thomas Edison State University and the Statehouse.
Christie wanted to build a seven-story, 175,000-squarefoot building on the northwest corner of John Fitch Way and South Warren Street to house Taxation, and construct a five-story, 135,000-square-foot building on the southwest corner of North Willow and West Hanover Streets to house Agriculture and Health. Both spaces are currently state-owned parking lots.
“The city’s master plan is trying to consolidate a capital city district, which would be easily accessible for state workers to revitalize Warren Street by the new Starbucks,” Gusciora said. “Christie’s administration is trying to move outside the transit center zone, well over a half a mile away from the Trenton train station. There’s no public/private
partnership in building these buildings. There’s no mix-use by having offices and retail space on the first floor. There’s no traffic plans other than just to scatter state buildings around the city.”
A spokesman for Christie did not return a message seeking comment about the State House Commission’s decision.
New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) President Timothy J. Lizura appeared before the board
to try to sway the sevenmember body.
Gusciora said he told Lizura not to do “anymore favors” for Trenton.
“The governor’s two economic proposals so far are to renovate the Statehouse for $300 million and then build a bridge to nowhere,” Gusciora said, referencing Christie’s $18.5 million plan to build a new Trenton park along the Delaware River that will be connected to the downtown by the construction of a pedestrian bridge over Route 29. “The EDA head confirmed at Monday’s meeting they had no plan for the lots once they tore down those buildings. There was just no comprehensive plan other than to move around buildings and that was his plan for the revitalization of the city.”
The EDA board was scheduled to vote on the state office buildings plan at its meeting on Tuesday, but that item was held, according to the agenda.
An EDA spokeswoman did not return a message seeking comment.
With the State House Commission slated to meet again after Murphy is sworn into office, it appears the incoming governor will have the last say on the matter.
“These are decisions that the Murphy administration should be making, not the Christie administration on his way out,” Gusciora said, adding legislators on the commission also pressed why the project wasn’t held until the incoming governor’s term. “Murphy has already made a commitment to the capital city. He’s recognized that the Christie administration has been an absentee landlord for the last eight years. Murphy has made commitments on various appearances in Mercer County that he’d like to work hand-in-hand with the mayor of Trenton to really reinvigorate and revitalize this city.”
In a statement, city spokesman Michael Walker said the Jackson administration was “excited by the election of Ambassador Murphy.’ “We welcome the opportunity for him to weigh-in on this important issue for our historic city as governor,” Walker said.
A Murphy spokesman did not immediately respond for comment.
Health and Agriculture Building at 369 S. Warren St. in Trenton.
New Jersey Taxation building at 50 Barrack St. in Trenton.