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Grapevine: Fresh Grocer deal sours?

Efforts to secure Fresh Grocer as an anchor for a key Camden redevelopment project may be in jeopardy, a tipster said, but two people involved with the plan say that's not the case. Fresh Grocer reps, however, stayed silent last week.

Grapevine Development managing partner Randy Cherkas, whose firm is spearheading the $76 million project on Haddon Avenue, disputed the notion that the deal was falling apart. He said negotiations with the regional supermarket chain are ongoing after the parties signed a letter of intent last year.

Meanwhile, Coopers Ferry Partnership President David Foster said he makes contact with the project's planners "almost daily," and that "as far as I'm concerned, we're fully expecting the lease … to be finalized shortly." The partnership, a nonprofit focused on economic development in Camden, is among several entities affiliated with the project.

But Fresh Grocer remained tight-lipped about the situation last week. Messages left for Fresh Grocer's Grant McLoughlin, executive vice president, and Carly Spross, marketing director, were not returned.

The coalition, which also includes Camden County and Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, seeks to redevelop a blighted 20-acre site near the city hospital with a new, 55,000-square-foot grocery story, 34,000 square feet of office space and structured parking. In September, the state Economic Development Authority awarded the project a $50.3 million tax credit under the Urban Transit Hub program.

Crashing the scene, again

It won't sink her gubernatorial campaign, but Barbara Buono endured an embarrassing news cycle last week after suffering minor injuries in a car crash in Franklin Township. The cops even ticketed her for not wearing a seat belt.

But a different traffic stop just over the border in New Brunswick in 1994 created a whole different news cycle for Buono, one that helped vault her into the state Assembly. In 1994, Buono looked like she had an uphill battle in a special election against incumbent Republican Joanna Gregory-Scocchi for the 18th District seat.

Then, New Brunswick law enforcement stopped a van used by Gregory-Scocchi's temporary employment firm and found it held illegal immigrants, according to PolitickerNJ archives. A few weeks before the election, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization agents raided Gregory-Scocchi's place of business, those reports said.

The Democrats made the most of it, running border-themed campaign ads, and Buono cruised to victory.

Jon Corzine famously made his "I should be dead" commercial after his no-seat-belt crash.
But somehow it seems like the 2013 Buono campaign won't spend TV money on this latest
traffic stop.

Unsure on insurers

New Jersey's new health insurance exchange opens for business Oct. 1, under the federal Affordable Care Act, and it remains to be seen how many health insurers will sign up to sell health plans.

A close watcher of the health insurance industry tells Grapevine that national health insurers probably will participate in some state exchanges, but not others, because some states will present a more favorable business opportunity than others. This source predicted that some insurers may bypass New Jersey, but the state could see the entrance of new players who have not sold health insurance here in the past.

"I think it will be very interesting in New Jersey," this source said. "You may have some of the traditional players not playing in the New Jersey market, and some of the nontraditional players may try to step into New Jersey."

Under the ACA, open enrollment begins Oct. 1 on the exchange, and the health plans take effect Jan. 1, 2014. The ACA requires most Americans to have health coverage by 2014, and low- and moderate-income individuals and their families will receive federal subsidies on the exchange to make their health plans more affordable.

The subsidies are on a sliding scale and are more generous for those with lower incomes, and they phase out at four times the federal poverty level, or about $92,000 a year for a family of four. The Rutgers Center for State Health Policy estimates that more than 300,000 New Jerseyans will be eligible for some level of subsidy on the exchange.

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

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