Another voice is added to the chorus supporting the proposal from Thomas Edison State College (TESC) to construct a property tax-exempt Nursing Education Center on the site at 301 West State Street in Trenton, currently occupied by the rotting Glen Cairn Arms apartment buildings. Former Public Works Director and 2010 mayoral candidate Eric Jackson this morning adds his support to the project, in an Op-Ed piece in the Trenton Times.
Mr. Jackson presents the usual arguments in favor of TESC’s plan. “This project will create construction jobs, materials purchases and permanent jobs… A new, occupied site creates much-needed safety, the school’s workers and students will support new lunch and dinner purchases downtown, and a new, gleaming building will be a testament to the future of our city.”
However, Mr. Jackson provides no data or argument for these claims, and casually repeats the claims made by other supporters as if they are self-evidently true.
They are merely generic platitudes and assertions, sad to say. In fact, if one took the entire text of his opinion piece and used the “Find & Replace” function of a word processor, today’s article could have been used word for word for any of a number of projects over the last two decades. Let me use one sentence as an example.
From today’s piece: “Furthermore, the [TESC] project will encourage businesses that now hesitate to reconsider investing in the West State Street corridor, which will lead to new ratables for the city.”
Alternately: “Furthermore, the Arena project will encourage businesses that now hesitate to reconsider investing in the Roebling Complex area, which will lead to new ratables for the city.”
Or, “Furthermore, the Hotel project will encourage businesses that now hesitate to reconsider investing in downtown, which will lead to new ratables for the city.”
Or, “Furthermore, the Ballpark project will encourage businesses that now hesitate to reconsider investing in the waterfront corridor, which will lead to new ratables for the city.”
We have heard this pitch before. We have bought the arguments before. Where is the payoff?
Mr. Jackson’s arguments ring hollow because of necessity he must use incomplete sentences. He writes, “A new, occupied site creates much-needed safety, the school’s workers and students will support new lunch and dinner purchases downtown,” but CANNOT finish the sentence by saying, “as all of the existing State buildings and the current TESC campus currently help these same businesses downtown, contributing to a vibrant nightlife and much-needed safety in evening hours and weekends.”
His statement, “The current proposal for Thomas Edison State College to redevelop and revitalize the site where it stands is the perfect opportunity to create the necessary catalyst for redevelopment along West State Street,” would have been far more persuasive had he been able to conclude with something like, “as we have seen this week Downtown, when Wells Fargo Bank not only renewed its lease for its space on East Front Street near the Hotel, but expanded its presence to take over the entire 46,000 square foot building.”
But he just can’t say something like that, because not only did Wells Fargo not expand its presence, but this week announced they are leaving its current space and leaving Trenton entirely, for West Windsor.
It is kind of awkward to make sweeping assertions about a gleaming new project in the same week that a huge building a few blocks away announces it will soon stand utterly empty.
So, I am unmoved by Mr. Jackson’s assertions today. They are not supported by facts or data, and there is too much recent experience at several locations around the City that unfortunately argue all too well against his claims about the project’s potential benefits to Trenton.
Look, what TESC proposes is a good plan, for the college. It will help the school expand its mission, and provide educational services for current and future nurses that will surely contribute to better health care for hundreds of thousands of people in the greater Trenton region. I don’t dispute that, and wish the school great success.
I simply don’t believe that the City of Trenton is in a position to absorb another large tax-exempt development on one of the City’s potentially prime development sites. The taxpayers of this City should not bear all the burden of hosting a project like this, which will benefit the entire region directly, but Trenton only slightly.
I simply do not believe the claims and promises being made by the project’s supporters. They offer no tangible, significant, direct, continuing benefits for our city. This is a great project for TESC, but not for Trenton.
One final example. Mr. Jackson suggests that “the school’s workers and students will support new lunch and dinner purchases downtown.” When even our Governor hops across the Calhoun Street Bridge for lunch at Cafe Antonio in Morrisville, PA, what are the chances faculty, staff and students will stay downtown, when they can simply jump in their cars (parked in the proposed onsite garage) and cross the bridge?
I like Mr. Jackson. He is a smart guy, and was a good public servant when he worked for Trenton. By all accounts he is doing good work as Director of Public Works in Plainfield. But his piece today simply does not persuade.