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Grapevine: Incentives running on empty

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The state's Urban Transit Hub and Grow New Jersey tax credit programs are running dry, and a source said the business community is now asking what happens if more “big-time” commercial development opportunities come along.

About $330 million is left to be awarded under the popular incentive programs, and $100 million has been earmarked for residential projects, according to the Economic Development Authority. Agency spokeswoman Rachel Hartman last week said there "are currently applications in house that could potentially use up the re-maining (Urban Transit Hub and Grow New Jersey) allocations," but they are on a first-come, first-served basis and are not allocated until the EDA's board approves them.

But rumors are now circulating that the program will be maxed out after the next one or two EDA meetings, an insider said. Without action by lawmakers, that would leave the state without two of its biggest weapons in the fight to lure companies to New Jersey.

The source said brokers are discussing several large-scale economic development opportunities, including some business facility needs resulting from Hurricane Sandy. The list also includes "the perennial favorite" — the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market in The Bronx, which in recent years has mulled relocating to New Jersey.

The person also pointed to the EDA's recent request for bids for the $100 million set-aside for residential projects under Urban Transit Hub. With bids submitted for 11 projects, the sum of the tax credits requested eclipsed the allocation by nearly $180 million, and some finalists are now "rowing in place" because of the uncertainty of what comes after the current pot of money runs out, the person said.

Reaching the limit for Urban Transit Hub and Grow New Jersey could be a moot point if a new bill finds success in Trenton. In mid-January, Al Coutinho introduced a measure that would overhaul and renew the state's incentive programs, in part by consolidating five of the programs to two.

Atlantic courts St. Clare's

Two sources have let Grapevine know that the Atlantic Health system is on the verge of yet another expansion. The two health care executives said the Morristown-based system is about to close a deal with St. Clare's Health System to become the new owners of the four-hospital chain.

According to St. Clare's spokeswoman Stephanie Galloway, the system's parent company Catholic Health Initiatives is in discussions with Atlantic Health — as well as other organizations — for the possibility of a transfer of ownership.

"It is premature to speculate on the outcome," Galloway said a statement. "Details will be publicly announced should a final decision be reached.

Atlantic Health confirmed St. Clare's statement through spokeswoman Pam Garretson, who said there was no additional information available.

This is the second time St. Clare's has had a serious courtship in as many years — a deal with national for-profit system Ascension HealthCare Network fell apart last fall.

No change with exchange

Chris Christie has made it clear that he won't create a state-run health insurance exchange, citing a lack of information from the federal government when he vetoed legislsation in December.

Small businesses and individuals will use the exchange to shop for federally subsidized health plans this fall under the federal Affordable Care Act.

But Christie has until Feb. 15 to decide whether to create a hybrid exchange — a partnership between New Jersey and the federal government.

A close watcher of health policy in Trenton doesn't see Christie going the hybrid route. "He has already announced that he will do a federal exchange," the source said. "He could reverse course, but I don't think it's likely he will."

New Jersey will still have the option of running its own exchange in future years, and this source predicted that "Christie will do a federal exchange for the first year and then see how it works, then make a decision about what to do going forward."

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

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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