BY TOM CAIAZZA
Hartz Mountain Industries, the redevelopment firm slated to turn the former Ford Motor Plant site into a “lifestyle center,” has announced that it will donate land to Edison Township to build a 60,000-square-foot community center alongside the redevelopment project.
According to Allen Magrini, vice president of law and general counsel for Hartz Mountain, the building of a community center would create a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the lifestyle center, fulfilling Hartz Mountain’s goal of creating a town center that brings back the pedestrian culture of yesteryear, while providing resources to the public.
“It brings a lot of interest and activity to the site,” Magrini said of the community center. “What a great place to be; you can walk down the path to the town center.”
Ron Simoncini, a spokesman for Hartz Mountain, said that there would be no better place for a community center than where people are expected to congregate.
“To me, the test of it is, where would you be more likely to put a community center in Edison than in our lifestyle center,” Simoncini said. “And what would you want to put around a community center more than a lifestyle center? It works for both facilities very nicely.”
Mayor Jun Choi said that while the details had not yet been worked out entirely, the developer and the township have reached an agreement that would create the community center, which would include a full-service YMCA, a six-lane swimming pool, four indoor basketball courts and community meeting space.
Choi also said that the building, if handled right, could come at no cost to the taxpayers.
“We are exploring various financing options that do not increase the tax burden for taxpayers in Edison,” Choi said.
Choi said that this could be possible through a combination of private contributions and dedicating a small portion of the expected tax revenue from the redevelopment area.
“Areas of redevelopment give municipalities various financing options and that is what we are looking into,” Choi said.
The project, known as the Edison Towne Square, will sit on a 97-acre swath of land and will consist of a movie theater, a 150-room hotel, retail, restaurant and office space, all of which the developers hope will create a pedestrian-friendly respite from the strip malls found elsewhere in the area.
“That’s how downtowns get created,” Simoncini said. “It let’s the character emerge in Edison. People would run into each other here where they would never run into each other anywhere else.”
Plans for the mixed-use project began in 2004 when the Ford Motor Co. sold the land to Hartz Mountain. At that time, there were early hurdles in the planning stages. The township and residents were concerned about the possibility of residential housing being put on the site alongside the retail and office.
Hartz Mountain met on several occasions with residents to discuss the project and took from those meetings several major design issues. Magrini said, it seemed the township did not want industrial or residential buildings to go on the property.
“The town made it clear they were not interested in residential, they would not look favorably on it,” Magrini said.
Magrini said that those issues were listened to by the company and they have come back with a plan that they feel will fit with what the township and residents had in mind for the site.
“They were very sophisticated and picky in getting what they wanted,” Simoncini said of talks with the township over the plans for the project. “A great development comes out of that.”
Another obstacle came in the form of contamination on the site from the Ford Motor Plant. Concrete found on the plant tested positive for polychlorinated biphenyls, and the state Department of Environment Protection (DEP) ordered that the site be cleaned.
Magrini said that has been done to the highest level of clean that the DEP offers, the unrestricted development standard.
That standard means the property is safe enough to put residential dwellings on the property.
The next step for the Towne Square project is to have the township accept the redevelopment plan. From there, Magrini said, the plan will go before the township Planning Board for approval. He hopes the entire process will take about three months.
Hartz Mountain Industries owns more than 200 properties in the New York/New Jersey area totaling almost 38 million square feet of space. The projects they create, Magrini said, they maintain. They do not plan on building the Towne Square and selling it off, according to Magrini.
“We build and create assets that you want to own for the long haul,” Magrini said. “We build them to own them.”