Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes gave his annual “State of the County” address yesterday, to an audience consisting of the Mid-Jersey Chamber of Commerce meeting at a Hamilton restaurant. Mr. Hughes, as is customary for speeches such as this, described the economic growth in Mercer County over the last 12 months, talking about recent developments and in some cases making announcements about new projects.
River Horse Brewing is moving from its Lambertville birthplace to expanded facilities in Ewing. Howdy!! Robbinsville will be the location of a huge new Amazon warehouse and distribution facility. Other large companies such as Sparta Systems and McKesson Corporation will be new corporate residents. All are most welcome developments, contributing to the overall health of the County and regional economy and helping drive the local unemployment rate in Mercer down to 7.4%, as compared to the statewide New Jersey average of 9.6 percent.
Great! you say. All good, in fact even a little bit of Terrific! What does Trenton get?
Mr. Hughes, according to the Times article by Jenna Pizzi, “said that the New Jersey Association of Realtors (NJAR) will construct a new headquarters for themselves directly across from the SunCenter arena… NJAR will purchase the county owned plot and build a 20,000 square-foot building to house their headquarters and a retail space.”
Well. It’s nice to hear about such a development in the City. But, and this But is a big But, the New Jersey Association of Realtors is… a non-profit organization.
Which means that this new structure, to be located on a prime lot across from the Sun Bank Arena, next to the Mercer County Improvement Authority, another non-profit agency, will likely be entirely exempt (depending perhaps on this announced retail store) from city property taxes.
Capping a week that featured a lot of news and discussion about the other new development project, the proposed Thomas Edison State College’s (TESC) Nursing Center on West State Street, this announcement is further demonstration of what we’ve been talking about this week.
We now see on the part of the County the same mindset we saw this week from the City: that economic development for Trenton means further expansion of the non-profit sector, on prime parcels of city real estate.
Remember, we’ve heard for years that the presence of the Arena would lead to all kinds of commercial re-development revitalizing that neighborhood of the Capital City.
The same exact kind of promises we heard this week from TESC.
More than a decade later, we haven’t seen much revitalization at the Arena, and today’s news seems to indicate that what future development there may be is not likely to be commercial, nor taxable.
I do hope that members of City Council who were so unquestioningly receptive on Tuesday night – and who voted 5-2 last night to approve the first reading of the ordinance to approve TESC’s approval – will hear this news as a wake-up call.
Now, I do believe that Mr. Hughes truly believes what he said yesterday, when he was quoted by the Times as stating, “The commitment to Trenton is a commitment to all Mercer County residents… A strong capital city makes for a strong capital county, and this is an investment that will pay off for us all.”
The trouble is, as nice as it would be to see a nice shiny new NJAR building near the Arena filling up a long-vacant lot – just as it would be nice to see a nice shiny new Nursing Center replacing the Glen Cairn Arms eyesore – neither of those buildings will make Trenton “a strong capital city.” They will earn nothing in taxes to help the residents and taxpayers of this town, and likely will discourage the kind of private commercial development we urgently need.
When Oh When, will our public officials, in the City of Trenton and now in Mercer County, understand that what we need are Ratables???
This has not been a good week for Trenton taxpayers.
UPDATE: I am told by Dan Dodson that he has information that the NJAR building may in fact be developed as a tax ratable. He will find out more information, and I will pass that along. I also have a call in to the Mercer County Improvement Authority, and to NJAR.
I hope that’s true for a few reasons. I will be glad to be proved wrong about the exempt nature of the Arena property! And the nature of the arrangement for that development may provide a model for the TESC Proposal.