NO KNOCK DOWN

Christie’s plan to tear down state of­fice build­ings in Tren­ton punted to Mur­phy

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - FRONT PAGE - By David Foster dfos­ter@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @tren­to­nian­david on Twit­ter

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.

GOOGLE MAPS

Health and Agri­cul­ture Build­ing at 369 S. War­ren St. in Tren­ton.

TRENTONIAN FILE PHOTO

New Jer­sey Tax­a­tion build­ing at 50 Bar­rack St. in Tren­ton.

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