Redevelopment officials tout public-private partnerships as a means of helping cities such as New Brunswick and Atlantic City battle urban blight.
New Brunswick has capitalized on its relationship with Rutgers University-New Brunswick, the state university’s flagship campus, while Atlantic City is benefitting from Stockton University’s expansion into the seaside gambling town.
“You have a new corporate office, you have Stockton, you have your traditional [casinos],” said John Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce.
Kelly also cited a potential boom in the area’s health care industry, in addition to the proposed economic growth zone surrounding Atlantic City International Airport and Stockton’s National Aviation Research & Technology Park.
“This whole thing, everybody is working together with those public-private partnerships,” Kelly said.
As they exist today, public-private partnerships enable state and county colleges to enter agreements with private businesses, who in turn assume responsibility for construction, redevelopment, repairs, maintenance and operations of a project for the benefit of the public.
They are operated out of the Economic Development Authority following a law enacted in 2009. Right now, public-private partnerships are for use solely by state and county colleges, and by extension, the towns which they call home.
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority provides the regulatory framework for how the partnerships and projects operate.
“This is another tool in the tool kit available in order to advance projects,” said Mike Cerra, assistant executive director at the New Jersey League of Municipalities.
Towns and public entities often are limited in what projects they can undertake, Cerra said, and these kinds of partnerships can be a windfall for them.
In New Brunswick, Rutgers University and the New Brunswick Development Corp. (Devco) teamed up on the $330 million College Avenue Redevelopment Initiative. The project includes a 14-story, apartment-style student housing facility known as The Yard @ College Avenue; the Sojourner Truth Apartments; and a new academic building and residential honors college.
Just down the road, also on College Avenue, the New Brunswick Theological Seminary constructed a building to serve as the base for all of its functions.
“It was a win-win for everybody,” Devco President Chris Paladino said at the time. “The seminary got a brand new state-of-the-art, modern seminary building, plus we were able to put a significant amount of cash into their endowment. And Rutgers was able to have a home for a high-priority program, that being the residential honors college, and to dramatically increase the quality of educational space on the College Avenue campus with the new Rutgers academic building.”
Devco, Rutgers University and New Brunswick are also utilizing the public-private partnership to fast-track the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, a 450,000-square-foot, $172 million project at the former sites of the George Street Playhouse and Crossroads Theater on Livingston Avenue.
NBPAC, scheduled for completion in fall 2019, will house the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, American Repertory Ballet, George Street Playhouse, Crossroads Theater, 30,000 square feet of office space and 207 apartment units.
Further out into the future, city officials and developers are eying a potential project called The Hub @ New Brunswick on a 4-acre redevelopment site across from the New Brunswick Train Station.
Gov. Phil Murphy said in March he envisioned The Hub as an incubator and research space for next-generation companies and an academic research facility to attract corporate entrepreneurial tenants.
Cerra said many smaller towns might have less extensive, but more hyper-local ambitions.
“If we can find a way to put those tools in the hands of smaller communities, then maybe we can make upgrades to smaller infrastructure without hurting the taxpayer,” he said.
Redoing or widening main roads, building a new ramp, improving public buildings, construction of a teen recreation center or high school sports stadium – the list goes on. Lawmakers have been mulling over proposed legislation, Senate Bill 865, which would extend those tools to municipalities to work on these kinds of smaller-scale projects.
“What it … does is it provides flexibility to towns to work with the private sector to develop or improve public buildings, roads [and] other facilities by leveraging private-sector funding and resources,” Cerra said.
The league is supportive of S865 at a time “when budgets are tight,” Cerra said.
“I want to see the same results in our public schools, highways and government buildings as a benefit to our taxpayers,” said Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, D-6th District, an S865 sponsor. “Now is the time to use these successes and empower the private sector so that we can address our state’s infrastructure issues and ensure these projects are completed in a structured, timely and cost-efficient manner.”
Said another sponsor, Sen. Steve Oroho, R-24th District: “Governments on the local, county and state levels should be permitted flexibility in financing their capital needs given proper oversight. These partnerships are an important way to stretch scarce public dollars to complete needed projects that will benefit our residents and create jobs and economic growth.”
The Assembly approved the measure June 21, and the Senate on June 25. It awaits Murphy’s signature.