Christie’s of­fice build­ing plan ram­rod­ded through last minute, de­spite no res­i­dent sup­port >>

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - FRONT PAGE - By David Fos­ter dfos­[email protected]­tu­ry­media.com @tren­to­nian­david on Twit­ter

TREN­TON » Cap­i­tal city res­i­dents re­ceived an un­ex­pected early Christ­mas present from Gov. Chris Christie — whether they wanted it or not.

Af­ter de­cid­ing last month to hold off a plan to tear down and con­struct two new state of­fice build­ings in Tren­ton un­til Gov.-elect Phil Mur­phy takes over, the State House Com­mis­sion unan­i­mously voted Thurs­day morn­ing at a spe­cial meet­ing to forge ahead with the $220-mil­lion project dur­ing Christie’s fi­nal month in of­fice.

In Septem­ber 2016, Christie out­lined his vi­sion to bull­doze the state’s Tax­a­tion build­ing at 50 Bar­rack St. and Health and Agri­cul­ture build­ing, which is lo­cated at 369 S. War­ren St., to free up space in Tren­ton for re­de­vel­op­ment.

A new seven-story, 175,000-square-foot build­ing will be erected at the north­west cor­ner of John Fitch Way and South War­ren Street to house Tax­a­tion, and a five-story, 135,000-square­foot Health and Agri­cul­ture build­ing will be con­structed on the south­west cor­ner of North Wil­low and West Hanover Streets. Both spa­ces are cur­rently state-owned park­ing lots.

“It is now less than a 5-minute walk through the State Street cor­ri­dor so that the busi­nesses in that area would be pa­tron­ized,” said Christo­pher Chi­anese, the state’s Di­vi­sion of Prop­erty Man­age­ment and Con­struc­tion di­rec­tor. “The end re­sult will be more peo­ple walk­ing around the streets of Tren­ton.”

How­ever, that sen­ti­ment was not shared by Tren­to­ni­ans.

All of the city res­i­dents who spoke at the meet­ing op­posed the project, clas­si­fy­ing the idea as a “1950s model of ur­ban de­vel­op­ment” that would re­sult in Tren­ton re­main­ing a “week­end waste­land.”

“There’s no plan, no thought at all into this city,” Assem­bly­man Reed Gus­ciora (D-Mercer/Hun­ter­don) said. “We’re treated like a stepchild and that’s why I’m op­posed to this project.”

Gus­ciora, a city res­i­dent, led the charge at last month’s State House Com­mis­sion meet­ing to post­pone the vote when he was asked to fill-in as a mem­ber of the board.

Hold­ing up a poster board of the pro­posed state of­fice build­ings’ lo­ca­tion, the assem­bly­man out­lined that both struc­tures landed out­side both the city’s master­plan re­de­vel­op­ment area and the Tren­ton Tran­sit Cen­ter.

“This ad­min­is­tra­tion has had no com­mit­ment to this cap­i­tal city,” Gus­ciora said of the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor. “It’s re­ally a shame that you de­cided to have a meet­ing three weeks later just so you could ram this through in­stead of hold­ing it over to the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

De­spite the ap­par­ent lack of en­thu­si­asm from res­i­dents, Tren­ton’s Hous­ing & Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Di­rec­tor, Diana Rogers, said at the meet­ing that Mayor Eric Jack­son’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is “in sup­port of this project.”

“This will be an op­por­tu­nity for de­vel­op­ers to see that there is sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment by the state,” Rogers said, with­out the mayor present. “We see this as an op­por­tu­nity to lever­age de­vel­op­ment in the down­town.”

Re­spond­ing to ques­tions from Assem­bly­man Paul Mo­ri­arty (D-Glouces­ter), who sits on the board, the city’s hous­ing di­rec­tor said Tren­ton “has not been forced into sup­port­ing” the plan and that con­ver­sa­tions be­gan when Jack­son as­sumed of­fice in 2014.

Union lead­ers also backed the pro­posal that would could cre­ate 1,000 jobs.

Assem­bly­man Wayne DeAn­gelo (D-Mercer), who is pres­i­dent of the Mercer County Build­ing Trades Coun­cil, said the unions build ca­reers on “part-time jobs.”

“The men and women of

the build­ing trade unions here in Cen­tral Jer­sey, Mercer County and es­pe­cially Tren­ton, are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing un­em­ploy­ment rates in the dou­ble dig­its,” the union leader said. “It’s just the na­ture of the beast. We live job-to-job. And this job is im­por­tant to us. De­lay­ing this project fur­ther puts the men and women in Mercer County here in the city of Tren­ton longer on un­em­ploy­ment.”

Fred Du­mont, who is the business man­ager of Heat & Frost In­su­la­tors and As­bestos Work­ers Lo­cal 89, pre­vi­ously called out Gus­ciora for “sab­o­tag­ing” the project at the Nov. 14 meet­ing.

The two Democrats serv­ing on the State House Com­mis­sion on Thurs­day, Mo­ri­arty and Robert M. Gor­don (D-Ber­gen), ap­peared to buckle to the union pres­sure as mem­bers packed the meet­ing. Both backed the con­struc­tion project that will ben­e­fit the unions.

The board went against the ad­vice of two former lead­ing eco­nomic lead­ers in New Jer­sey.

In­grid W. Reed, a found­ing chair of the Cap­i­tal City Re­de­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion

(CCRC) from 1987 un­til 2010, sug­gested the com­mis­sion post­pone the vote un­til an im­pact state­ment was com­pleted. The CCRC en­sures that state-spon­sored projects take into con­sid­er­a­tion the im­pact on the city and its re­de­vel­op­ment, and the gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion pro­duces a re­port.

“It’s not all set­tled,” Reed warned. “Un­til you have that (im­pact state­ment), it seems to me it’s pre­ma­ture to make an ar­range­ment to fi­nance.”

The former head of the state agency that is fi­nanc­ing the project also cau­tioned com­mis­sion mem­bers.

“The way the state is go­ing about cre­at­ing these new of­fice spa­ces is go­ing to cre­ate very lit­tle eco­nomic value and re­de­vel­op­ment value for the city,” said Robert Pow­ell, the first ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the New Jer­sey Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Author­ity. “Such value is vi­tally needed now. The project will cre­ate no new hous­ing, no new re­tail, no new com­mu­nity space. Vir­tu­ally noth­ing about this strat­egy could be char­ac­ter­ized as smart growth.”

Pow­ell, of Prince­ton-based Nassau Cap­i­tal Ad­vi­sors, rec­om­mended a pub­lic/pri­vate Health and Agri­cul­ture Build­ing in Tren­ton.

part­ner­ship to con­struct mixed-use build­ings for the state of­fices that would spur the de­vel­op­ment of mar­ke­trate apart­ments and new re­tail space.

“At the end of the day, you’re go­ing to have a mixe­duse walk­a­ble down­town project that will ac­tu­ally do some­thing valu­able long term for the cap­i­tal city,” Pow­ell said.

Of­fer­ing up one in­cen­tive for the project, Chi­anese said the state would not put a cafe­te­ria in the new Tax­a­tion build­ing.

“The idea is with no cafe­te­ria in the Tax­a­tion build­ing, it would cre­ate foot traf­fic in Tren­ton,” the Trea­sury De­part­ment of­fi­cial said, not­ing the state has al­ready in­vested $4.5 mil­lion on the project.

Chi­anese, who called the op­po­si­tion to the plan “small,” also touted that there would be no ac­qui­si­tion costs be­cause the state is build­ing on its own land.

The mes­sage, how­ever, fell flat with res­i­dents.

“If you build in the way and form that it’s be­ing pre­sented to­day, it’s be­ing done in uni­son for state work­ers only,” said Paul Perez, who is run­ning for mayor and fin­ished sec­ond in the 2014 race. “We don’t get any ben­e­fit. It sounds good ... but how far does it go re­ally and how much does it im­pact the true res­i­dents of this city?”


Hold­ing up a poster board of the pro­posed state of­fice build­ings’ lo­ca­tion, Assem­bly­man Reed Gu­siora re­jected the pro­posal at Thurs­day’s State House Com­mis­sion meet­ing and out­lined that both struc­tures landed out­side both the city’s master-plan...


New Jer­sey Tax­a­tion Build­ing in Tren­ton.


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