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Grapevine: Inside track, handshake, battle of the boards

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Inside track to PATH upgrade

Redevelopers in Harrison were giddy earlier this month, when the Port Authority approved funding to replace the town's aging PATH station. But there seems to be some disagreement inside the real estate industry about just who helped bring the funding home after a wait of more than 10 years.

A tipster told Grapevine that Peter Cocoziello, CEO of Advance Realty and one of several redevelopers active in the town, has made it no secret that he helped get the agency's board to pull the trigger on the $256 million project. Another source says Cocoziello was in fact one of the driving forces, along with Harrison Mayor Raymond J. McDonaugh, and that any credit to the Advance CEO would be "reasonably well deserved."

But another person with knowledge of the project dismissed the idea that one party was responsible, noting that a half-dozen developers have been lobbying for the project for years. The plan to replace the 76-year-old train station has been on the table for several years, but held back by the economic downturn and other roadblocks along the way.

Through a spokeswoman, Cocoziello declined to comment.

Handshake doesn't shake out

Jon Corzine's name surfaced recently, and it wasn't related to the MF Global mess. Turns out, the medical school piece of this university merger morass might already be done if Corzine had kept his word a couple years ago.

In 2009, Corzine signed an executive order to create Cooper Medical School at Rowan University. Some felt Corzine bequeathed the medical school to Rowan because of ties to George Norcross, but apparently, Corzine was trying to make friends up north, as well: A tipster says the then-governor also made a promise to return the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School to Rutgers in a similar fashion.

The source says Corzine made the promise again in September 2009 — by shaking hands with a certain elected official — and said he would make it happen in the upcoming lame-duck session. When the elected official went back to Corzine after the gubernatorial election, the losing governor said he wouldn't do it, according to the source. Why not? "It's relatively simple. It's Jon Corzine," the source replied, grumbling that the former governor has a reputation of going back on his word.

Corzine could not be reached last week.

Now, Rowan may get Rutgers-Camden as part of a package deal in which Rutgers finally gets the New Brunswick medical school. Why the extra bonus for Rowan? "George Norcross needs to be fed again," the source said.

Battle of the boards

Dr. Robert L. Barchi was well received last week — so much so that some observers suggested Rutgers take over Rowan, with Barchi as the new president of Rutgers. The argument made was that Barchi's experience at a medical university and his interactions with Camden from his time in Philadelphia would help him oversee Rowan's new medical school and the rest of the Glassboro-based university. This plan would also be favored by the passionate people who want the Rutgers name retained in South Jersey.

It is an interesting idea but one that seems unlikely because it would greatly disrupt the current plan.

A Trenton source tells Grapevine a key piece of the puzzle is Rowan University's board of trustees. Steve Sweeney controls Rowan's board, the source said, but he's got no power — or hope of power — over Rutgers' boards.

The source — a merger opponent — said the goal of building a top academic research hub in South Jersey could be achieved "better, faster and cheaper" if Rowan simply partnered with Rutgers-Camden. The problem, however, is that wouldn't increase the Rowan board's power. On the other hand, a full merger would not only give Rowan the ability to leverage Rutgers-Camden's assets, it also would widen the scope of the Senate president's power.

As always with this contentious merger issue, it looks like we just have to sit back and watch it play out.

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Sharon Waters at swaters@njbiz.com.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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