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