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TEANECK, NJ-New Jersey’s commercial real estate market is in the midst of a “perfect storm,” and prospects for an upturn appear bleak for the near future. That was the message delivered by Town Hall Meeting panelists who shared their thoughts with 600 attendees at Incisive Media’s RealShare New Jersey Conference here yesterday.

Those panelists were David Cohen, regional director of the Northeast for GE Real Estate; Mitchell Hersh, president and CEO of Mack-Cali Realty Corp.; Charles Klatskin, managing director-industrial for Jones Lang LaSalle; Ray Sohmer, senior managing director of CB Richard Ellis; and Peter Sudler, president of Sudler Management Corp. The discussion was moderated by Eric Peterson, editor of Real Estate New Jersey.

Asked how New Jersey is coping with current conditions, Sudler remarked bluntly, “the credit markets have gone to hell in a handbasket. The office market is horrendous. The industrial market is nothing to write home about. And retail is going to be disaster. While his company has had success in the data recovery market, “now that has gone off the page,” Sudler said. “Right now everything is on hold. I don’t see the bright light.”

Hersh agreed that, “we are in the throes of a very significant economic downturn. There is no question this going to be a long, protracted period of first intermediation, then a rebuilding of our economy.” He added that government intervention will help restore confidence, “but this problem is very serious and will take a long time to fix.”

“This will pass, but we don’t know how long it will take,” added Klatskin, who advised the audience to, “Batten down the hatches.” One way to generate business in the state: “Get rid of our Governor and legislators–the whole ball of wax,” Klatskin said.

New Jersey has taken a hit in the business image department before, but being critical of the state is not the way to go, said Carl Goldberg, principal of Roseland Property Co. and chairman of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, later on in the program. In a one-on-one discussion with Michael Desiato, Incisive Media’s group publisher, Goldberg said, “to successfully retain and relocate businesses to New Jersey we have to be advocates for the state.”

Specifically, he pointed to Gov. Corzine’s efforts to keep investment firm BlackRock from moving 1,200 employees to Pennsylvania. “The government has the obligation to create incentives, but we as leaders of the real estate community have the obligation to be there side-by-side with the Governor.”

To increase business attraction, the government needs to address the housing affordability problem, asserted Goldberg, adding that the state needs to offer a “wide diversity of price points to house middle-level management.” He claimed that recent legislation creating more affordable housing opportunities “makes no commitment for creating housing for the population that earns 120% to 140% of the median income. “We have to figure out a way to house that segment or we’ll never attract that business to the state.”

Goldberg pointed to one bright spot among the doom-and-gloom: Redevelopment activity at the Meadowlands Sports Complex, which is operated by the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. He noted that 1,800 construction people are “gainfully employed” at building the Xanadu retail/entertainment complex, the new Giants/Jets stadium and a new rail station,

“Over the past three years, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has sponsored more than $4 billion of new construction in Northern New Jersey,” he noted. “One of the fundamental obligations of a state agency like the Sports Authority is to be an economic engine for the region. I would put forth that the Sports Authority has fulfilled that obligation, and continues to fulfill that obligation.”

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