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ASBURY PARK, NJ-Redevelopment is a challenge, but it’s a key to New Jersey’s future, and public/private partnerships are at the heart of the matter. That was the overview of the New Jersey Alliance Program here yesterday, an event produced by the International Council of Shopping Centers and co-sponsored by several other trade and business groups and government agencies.

While the event was subtitled “Retail Development Through Public/Private Partnerships,” the program reached beyond retail to discuss the whole redevelopment issue. As Ted Zangari of the Newark-based Sills Cummis Law Firm put it, “New Jersey is becoming one giant recycling cell.

“Each project requires government involvement, because of the environment and other issues,” said Zangari, ICSC’s 2005 New Jersey Alliance Program Planning Committee co-chair, who opened the program. “Each project requires a public/private partnership to deal with the many hurdles.”

The setting itself, this oceanfront city, was appropriate. It’s in the relatively early stages of a long-awaited makeover under the aegis of master developer Oceanfront Asbury, and city manager Terry Reidy touched on that.

“There is no more perfect place to have this conference and wrestle with the issue of redevelopment,” said Reidy, who’s held his position for less than three years and freely admitted that he needed all 25 years of his experience “to prepare for this.” He urged all involved in the redevelopment process anywhere to, “understand the history of the community, take your time and get the feel of the community–what’s worked and what hasn’t–be flexible, and establish clear lines of communication.”

Rep. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), whose district includes highly urbanized Hudson County, addressed the issue of transportation as it relates to the redevelopment issue. He called transportation “an engine of opportunity, a catalyst for New Jersey for the 21st century. Transportation isn’t just about ‘getting there,’ it’s about economic development and jobs.”

Menendez also outlined his vision for what he termed “Liberty Corridor,” an initiative to attract people to the Garden State to develop, make and sell new products and ship them globally through the state’s ports. “It’s taking a world-class location and adding value to it,” he said.

Menendez also urged that with the impending closing of Fort Monmouth, the state take steps to “tap into the intellectual capital there. The largest concentration of scientists anywhere in the country is at Fort Monmouth, and most have already told us they won’t move to the new location when the base closes.”

The bulk of the program was a discussion by more than two dozen public- and private-sector panelists, moderated by Adam J. Zellner, executive director of the NJ Highlands Commission. While the discussion was shaped by a hypothetical approval process entitled “Strange Things Happened on the Way to Redeveloping Edgetown, NJ,” panelists offered views on the broader topic.

Skip Cimino of the consulting firm of Schoor DePalma, for example, opined that “at the end of the day, for elected officials, redevelopment is a matter of attracting quality of life for residents. That’s more important than size.”

Marge Della Vecchia of the NJ Housing & Mortgage Finance Agency termed the redevelopment process in the state “a steamroller. It’s politically charged, and the process gets compromised by the steamroller.”

Christopher Paladino of the New Brunswick Development Corp., meanwhile, said that “redevelopment without a broader public policy is doomed to failure.” But even within the context of a broader policy, “people don’t like change–that’s why they challenge it,” said Robert Goldsmith, who heads Downtown New Jersey, a public policy group.

“Government should recognize that you can’t please everyone,” Goldsmith continued. “The investment should be for the greatest number of people for the greater good.”

Joel Schwartz of Landmark Communities brought up the stigma of the “D” word–development. “It’s a negative mindset.” Richard Johnson of Matrix Development Group brought up the other “D” word–density. He advised against selling a proposed project on the basis of density: “Do what makes sense. You have issues of scale. It gets back to design.”

Johnson also urged developers to “get public involvement at the beginning, or you’ll meet them at the end. That’s a recipe for disaster.” Ronald Ladell of AvalonBay Communities urged bringing in “people in the community who understand the financial scale of it,” as part of the process of educating the public.

For John Inglesino, a Morris County official, “it comes down to a shared vision among people, government and the redeveloper. It’s a matter of consensus-building.” At the same time, “the process of picking a redeveloper is seen as inherently political,” and he urged the establishment of local redevelopment commissions to help sidestep that.”

Mayor Jim Kennedy of Rahway agreed on the value of a redevelopment commission. And while admitting that there is plenty of frustration involved with the process, “at the end of the day, economics prevail, and trust is incredibly important.”

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