Trenton's Only Real Entertainment District is 319 East State Street

In what is likely to be the Last Hurrah for Trenton’s Housing and Economic Development Department under the Eric Jackson Administration, City Council will tonight consider an Ordinance to create two new Entertainment Districts on the City.

Too bad the Administration is going about this in a totally ass backwards way. Oh, and illegal, too.

Housing and Economic Development Diana Rogers is extensively quoted in a David Foster article in the Trentonian, selling her vision for these two new districts:

“We are doing the entertainment districts primarily to begin to encourage economic development through entertainment in certain areas of the city,” Diana Rogers, the city’s housing and economic [sic], said Wednesday in a phone interview. “It’ll be an evolving process over a period of time but the idea is to begin to encourage the development of sort of destination areas in the city for both our visitors as well as residents to participate in entertainment venues.”

Mr. Foster goes on to report, “The city’s economic director said she has not received a response yet from any business about the plan.”

Hmm, I wonder why? What do businesses and developers know about this plan that Ms. Rogers and the Administration do not?

This won’t take long.

Here is a link to the Proposed Ordinance that Council will discuss this evening. It’s a very short text, let me show you the whole thing. It will be important to have read this while you read the next section.

18-11 pg118-11 pg2

In New Jersey, municipalities such as Trenton have the ability to designate areas within their towns by virtue of a law passed in 2007. It’s called “The Sports and Entertainment District Urban Revitalization Act,” (N.J.S.A. 34:1 B-190 and following) and you may read it here.

Because “Sports” and “Entertainment” can be such vague terms, and because the economic, social, and political conditions so important to consider, the NJ Legislature 11 years ago created a very careful process for towns to follow to help ensure that municipalities get it right when they make plans for such districts.

Trenton’s plan, as being presented to Council tonight, fails to follow that process. The Ordinance you see above fails to comply with the 2007 law.

Here’s the money quote for understanding why Ms. Rogers’ plan is so defective. It can be found in Section 193 of the state law. I’ve emphasized key phrases.

34:1B-193  Establishment of a sports and entertainment district.

4.   The governing body of any eligible municipality may, by ordinance, establish a sports and entertainment district in order to encourage and promote the development of a project within the district.  A sports and entertainment district shall consist of an area of the municipality designated in a project plan prepared by the developer.  The project plan shall be approved by municipal ordinance, duly adopted by the governing body.

The ordinance shall include or incorporate:

a.   a description of the proposed project, the anticipated period of construction, and a description and map of the proposed sports and entertainment district;

b.   an estimate of the amount of  tax revenues that are anticipated to be generated annually within the sports and entertainment district for that period of time covered by the project plan and an estimate of those revenues to be allocated to the project;

c.   an assessment of the economic benefits of the project, including a projection of the value of private investment that is anticipated to  be generated, directly or indirectly, in the sports and entertainment district as a result of the undertaking of the project or other proposed development within the sports and entertainment district;

d.   documentation as to the necessary approvals relating to the project;

e.   demonstration that at least $20 million in private investment has been committed to the project; and

f.   documentation that the district has been identified in the appropriate plan.

L.2007, c.30,s.4.

To summarize, in order to create a legal sports and entertainment district in a New Jersey Municipality, a town, among other things, must first have a viable project committed to by one or more developers, proof of adequate funding, the necessary approvals needed to begin the project, and analyses of the benefits such a district would provide including estimated tax revenue.

Trenton’s proposed Ordinance has none of these things. Oh, it does have two maps. Here’s one. Here’s the other.

The approach that Director Rogers and the Jackson Administration are taking to this idea is the “Field of Dreams” approach: Create the district, then developers, businesses and customers will flock to it.

That’s not how it works in New Jersey. This is a laughably poorly thought-out idea. You will see the City’s Law Director Walter Denson’s signature on the Ordinance above, attesting this as “Approved as to Form and Legality.”

It’s not even close to being legal.

You want to see a legal Ordinance for creating such a district? Read Millville’s. Here’s a taste.

millville1Millville’s law has everything that Trenton’s does not. Such as:

  • a Real Developer!
  • a Real Plan!
  • Real Funding!
  • A Real Estimate of tax income!

Trenton’s proposal is slipshod, amateurish, and illegal under NJ law.

David Foster’s article on this plan concludes, “The director [Rogers] said the city has done research on other entertainment districts in the U.S. to “see how successful they’ve been.” Rogers said the city looked at places like Miami and Austin.”

Rather than look at Miami and Austin, I think they should looked more closely at Millville, New Jersey.

At the very least, this boondoggle (I was going to write “debacle,” but that term is taken) proves that we already have one entertainment district working full time in Trenton, and that is City Hall, 319 East State Street. With the Ringling Brothers Circus now gone, we have plenty of clowns to keep us amused.

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