Gusciora: Trenton deserves better state building plan

By Reed Gusciora

Robert McNamara once said, “Poor planning … is simply to let some force other than reason shape reality.” Reason was not shaping reality this past week when the Christie Administration and The Economic Development Authority offered an 11th hour plan to tear down two state buildings in Trenton and rebuild them outside of the downtown core. Sitting on the State House Commission, I voted alongside six other members to postpone the decision until the incoming Murphy Administration had time to review the project. Prior to the vote, there were no public hearings and little input on the plans. The Capital City deserves better treatment, and a more thoughtful plan that would serve as an economic catalyst by building in the Downtown Core, rather than on its fringes.

For eight years, our Capital City has been shortchanged by an Administration that has invested woefully little in urban redevelopment. The two state projects the Governor dedicated to Trenton were a $300 million state house renovation, and a $20 million pedestrian bridge to nowhere. He didn’t – and doesn’t – care about developing Trenton productively, in a way would make the city a source of pride.

Because there was no public input on the Governor’s plan – which seems, frankly, like an afterthought at the end of a failed tenure – many of the problems raised were never adequately addressed. Specifically, I asked why only state-owned property was considered for the project. No consideration was given to land within the city’s designated commerce center or near the NJ Transit and River Line hub, both of which are regulatory requirements that EDA ignored. Why would they choose to build outside these zones, yet commit taxpayer dollars to fund the project? Moreover, if future designs are to encourage mass transit options for state employees, why would the plan make it more inconvenient for workers to get from a transit hub to their offices? It seems that EDA commissioners are unaware of their mission to support, rather than hinder, economic development.

It was also clear that the Christie Administration and EDA explored the path of least resistance in terms of planning these new office spaces; only single-use spaces were proposed and considered, rather than mixed retail and office spaces. Mixed-use developments are critical for urban revitalization, as they support the growth and development of the local economy, by providing “nine-to-five” office workers with viable options for dining and entertainment. Single-use, state-owned office buildings on the fringe of Downtown do nothing to stimulate local economic development, but they are the easiest to plan and build. It is clear that with this plan, Governor Christie once again chose the easiest, rather than the best, option for Trenton.

But perhaps most egregiously, the Christie Administration has not introduced a plan to redevelop or replace the buildings they propose tearing down. In effect, their current plan is to leave large swathes of undeveloped property in central locations around the City. When I questioned the representative from the EDA about future development at the sites, I was given speculative answers about future public-private partnerships. After eight years of Governor Christie’s neglect, I felt it was better left for incoming Governor-Elect Murphy, who spoke about the urgent need for urban revitalization in the Capital City, to decide these pressing issues.

Trenton needs proactive leadership at all levels of Government to ensure that it can reach its full potential. This plan was unilateral, short-sighted, last-minute, and disastrous for the City’s future; and it would be better served with a more considerate evaluation of its merits, and a plan that promotes the social and economic development of our State Capital. I have seen progress in our city in the past few years. With a more engaged Governor, Trenton can truly live up to its potential. It should be should be an exciting place to live, work and enjoy for all our residents in our state.

Mr. Gusciora is a New Jersey Assemblyman for the 15th District and lives in Trenton.