Suburban incentive’s big-city appeal

Executives see use for Grow N.J. to complete certain urban projects

Jessica Perry//January 9, 2012

Suburban incentive’s big-city appeal

Executives see use for Grow N.J. to complete certain urban projects

Jessica Perry//January 9, 2012

A hotel next to a Paterson hospital, the revitalization of a shuttered Elizabeth hospital site and a potential new headquarters for Prudential, in Newark, are among the projects that could move forward under a bill advancing in the state Legislature.

The Grow New Jersey Assistance Program proposed under the bill has been highlighted as an opportunity to expand state tax incentives into suburban areas, but it will be a key aid to some urban developments, according to bill supporters.

Frank Brady, chairman and CEO of Medical Missions for Children, said Grow New Jersey is needed to allow his nonprofit to build a hotel next to St. Joseph Children’s Hospital, in Paterson. Hyatt has tentatively been identified as the hotel operator, he said.

“Without the bill, and without what it does for the program funding, there’s not a way in the world that you could do the project,” Brady said of the proposed 132-room hotel, which would include 34,000 square feet of convention and catering space at the intersection of Main and Levine streets. Brady’s organization expects to apply for $14 million in tax credits to help build the $71 million hotel if the bill is enacted, he said.

Grow New Jersey would set aside at least $200 million from the $1.5 billion allocated for Urban Transit Hub Tax Credits. While the transit hub program is focused on large building projects, Grow New Jersey could benefit smaller projects in targeted areas. Projects that retain or generate 100 full-time jobs would receive up to $8,000 annually per job for 10 years.

When combined with $250 million in hospital capital improvements, the hotel “is an unbelievable jumpstart for Paterson,” said Brady, whose nonprofit plans to use revenue from the hospital to fund its primary mission — providing medical assistance to underserved children in other countries.

Ken Morris, St. Joseph’s director of government affairs, said the hotel is “critical(ly) important to the city of Paterson” since it would create permanent jobs in the hospital area.

A former hospital site that could benefit from the bill is that of Elizabeth General Hospital, now owned by Trinitas Regional Medical Center.

Trinitas President and CEO Gary Horan said while the hospital has heard from several developers interested in the site, Grow New Jersey credits would make the site more attractive.

The building has been vacant since the hospital closed in 2005, with the site originally slated for a new high school. With that project no longer possible, Trinitas is looking for a deal that would meet the city’s needs, Horan said.

“We’re just waiting for the right idea to come across, and we’re talking to a number of different people,” Horan said, adding that the site could accommodate retail or other commercial development, as well as some housing. Selling the property also would benefit the hospital, he noted: “We’re carrying that asset now, and we really need to get rid of it.”

Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage said with limited state funding available, “any new legislation that helps create jobs is a benefit to our city.” He said a mix that included high-end retail would be beneficial, adding that high-density housing would be inappropriate.

“I see this bill being a catalyst for future dialogue with the hospital and the city,” Bollwage said.

Planning advocacy groups have given the bill a mixed review, saying they are pleased it targets funding toward urban and suburban centers, but don’t like the idea of diverting money from the transit hub credits.

Robert Freudenberg, New Jersey director of the Regional Plan Association, said planning groups support efforts to generate jobs. But the state’s biggest needs are in the zones benefiting from the Urban Transit Hub program, which covers a half-mile around rail stations.

“At best, the Grow New Jersey Assistance Program can work side by side with the Urban Transit Hub tax credits,” Freudenberg said.

Assembly bill sponsor Albert Coutinho (D-Newark) said he is confident the bill will become law, noting it was developed with bipartisan support. He said construction on several projects could advance quickly, providing a shot in the arm to the economy.

“We really could be talking about putting several thousand people to work in the upcoming year,” Coutinho said.

Coutinho said one provision of the law allows for the transfer of state land, allowing for the potential use of a future Prudential office tower.

“I just really think that (Grow New Jersey) is a testament that targeted tax credits work a lot better than blind tax cuts” to stimulate job creation, he said.

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