The New Jersey Legislature’s top elected official defended a provision in the language of a state corporate tax incentive that may have ultimately killed plans for a Camden supermarket and denied the amendments were made to benefit politically-connected competitors of the site. But, he conceded that the matter would still come before a Senate economic incentive task force.
“We weren’t getting anywhere and we wanted to bring a supermarket to Camden,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, said at a press conference Wednesday in Trenton. “It was Wakefern’s decision not to put a store in the city.”
Wakefern Food Corp. is a cooperative whose brands include ShopRite.
Politico last week reported on a provision of the Economic Opportunity Act – the 2013 bill creating the now-expired Grow New Jersey corporate tax breaks – that would have given tax credits to one supermarket project in the city while disqualifying another. Ultimately neither moved into Camden.
According to the Politico report and a task force Gov. Phil Murphy put together to scrutinize the state’s tax breaks, Parker McCay attorney Kevin Sheehan wrote an amendment that the tax credit could only go to retail projects in Camden or Atlantic City that are over 150,000 square feet with at least 50 percent occupied by a grocery store.
Both reports said Parker McCay’s client, the proposed ShopRite, met the exact specifications.
Randy Cherkas, wanted to build the competing grocery store in Camden – though Wakefern rejected the plans because it would be at a disadvantage without the tax break, Politico reported. He told the outlet he believed the end goal of the ShopRite project’s owners, the Ravitz family, was for neither grocery store to be built so that a Camden site would not compete with their Cherry Hill location.
“His project died on its own and it’s just a fact,” Sweeney said. “Saying that we killed a project that couldn’t get funded for four or five years, how come it didn’t get funded? … Normally you announce a project, you announce it and six months later you’re on the ground doing it. He couldn’t get financing.”
Sweeney and Sen. Bob Smith, D-17th District, who chairs the Senate task force, said that a hearing on the supermarket will be held in the near future.
The task force’s first hearing was held in July, where lawmakers heard from business officials largely in support of Grow NJ, as well as former lawmakers who crafted the program.
The question of the Camden supermarket was only briefly raised by Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District, but lawmakers were otherwise mute on anything discussed by the Murphy task force.
“Smith, he’s doing hearings on this, this will be part of it,” Sweeney said Wednesday. “It will be brought up and corrected.”