“A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING. A-I-D-A. Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. Attention – Do I have your attention? Interest – Are you interested? I know you are, because it’s fuck or walk. You close or you hit the bricks. Decision – Have you made your decision, for Christ? And Action. A-I-D-A.
Get out there – you got the prospects coming in. You think they came in to get out of the rain? A guy don’t walk on the lot lest he wants to buy.
They’re sitting out there waiting to give you their money. Are you gonna take it? Are you man enough to take it?” - David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross
OK, so maybe the Housing and Economic Development Department of the City of Trenton isn’t the real estate sales boiler-room depicted in David Mamet’s Broadway play of 1984, or the movie adaptation of 1992.
But the details that have come out about the announcement made Friday by the City of Trenton and Thomas Edison State College (TESC) do suggest some pretty intense real estate dealings. Trenton and TESC are entering into a partnership whereby the City proposes to sell the property at 301 West State Street, site of the crumbling Glen Cairn Arms, to the college for a bargain basement price of $300,000. The old apartment building has been empty for over 20 years, but the City bought the place for $1.4 Million taxpayer bucks in 2004.
To hear the City tell the tale, we’ve been trying to unload the place for all of those 20 years, but there have been no takers. The City’s website features a list of all the potential developers that we’ve talked to over the years, and it is a pretty long list.
But you know what? Thomas Edison State College is not on that list of potential developers. Why is that? No one said anything about it during the Friday announcement, nor was is no mention of that in any of the press accounts published over the weekend.
Perhaps – and things now start to veer into Mamet territory here – it could be due to the fact that, according to the Times’ Erin Duffy, “The idea of locating a new building on the Glen Cairn site came from an economic development committee the mayor convened two years ago of which [TESC President George] Pruitt was a member.” [Emphasis mine. -KM]
So the TESC President was a member of the city’s committee charged with, among other things, finding a future for the Glen Cairn site. The same committee which would have seen all the bids submitted from that list of developers. The committee whose members were able to review all the bids, compare them, and discuss them. In Mr. Pruitt’s case, that meant he was in a position to read and comment on the proposals from his competition, and potentially use that knowledge to shape his own institution’s proposal. And, remember, not disclosing on the City’s website that that institution was even among the list of potential investors. Hmmm…
Now, I am not accusing TESC or Mr. Pruitt of anything wrong here. The College is a fine institution which has made a commitment to downtown Trenton, its home. But, we have to remember that the best interests of Thomas Edison State College may not necessarily coincide with the best interests of the people of the City of Trenton. And the optics of this situation certainly do not look great, at this point.
The Administration of the Indicted Occupant of Trenton’s mayor’s office has definitely had more than its share of problems with questionable appearances. Without even taking into account the specific case for which the IO is a federal criminal defendant – which, remember, involves allegations of criminal shenanigans having to do with selling a parcel of City-owned real estate – the Administration and specifically the department of Housing and Economic Development has had a run of questionable transactions.
In addition to the parking lot at the center of federal attention, you will recall the “36-Properties-for-36-Dollars” deal that was proposed two years ago, but which fell apart when the developer was revealed to have been a campaign contributor to the IO. That, and the crucial fact that most of the properties offered for a buck a piece were bundled for the developer/contributor illegally.
And then there is the recent news of a federal investigation involving housing development projects undertaken during the previous mayoral regime of Douglas Palmer, and you can’t help but want to know more – much, much more – about how this latest Glen Cairn Arms deal came to be.
There may not be any fire here, but there surely is a lot of smoke. Since there has been so much questionable stuff happening at Housing and Economic Development recently (let alone all of the other bidding and contracting woes with the IO’s Administration!!), I am rather surprised that this committee did not take more action to make sure that every step they took and every recommendation they offered be insulated from any hint or taint of impropriety.
But that did not happen, it seems. And so, this latest “accomplishment” of the Administration of the Indicted Occupant has been greeted with skepticism and hard questions.
Trenton’s Council at its public meeting tomorrow will consider passing the first reading of an ordinance to designate TESC as the exclusive developer for Glen Cairn. Perhaps Council would be better advised to withhold any judgement on this project for the time being. Put off a vote on this ordinance for a while. Find out what’s going on.
With the late Friday announcement setting the stage for a Council meeting four days later, the City seems to be channeling Mamet’s characters in its rush to Always Be Closing, Always Be Closing.
But there’s one big difference between Mamet’s real estate guys and ours. In “Glengarry Glen Ross” all the salesmen were out to make their deals in order to take as much money as possible from as many gullible customers as possible.
In “Glengarry Glen Cairn” the City looks to have made its deal to take as little money as possible from only one – preferred – customer.
I’m looking forward to seeing the next act in this drama. How about you?