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Grapevine: Like a fly to Honeywell

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With Honeywell International Inc. slated to move its headquarters to Morris Plains, the company's current home in Morris Township could land in the hands of Rockefeller Group Development Corp., Grapevine has learned.

Sources named Rockefeller as the would-be buyer of at least some of the 147-acre campus, though it wasn't clear last week whether other developers were involved. The New York-based company is developing another major site nearby — The Green at Florham Park, the 268-acre former ExxonMobil research center that's now home to BASF's North American headquarters and the New York Jets training facility.

Honeywell spokesman Rob Ferris said in an e-mail last week that the company "does not comment on market rumor or speculation," while a Rockefeller spokesman declined to comment.

Honeywell announced in February it was buying a 40-acre site in next-door Morris Plains from Johnson & Johnson's McNeil-PPC subsidiary. With the help of a $40 million tax credit from the state, the Fortune 100 company plans to retrofit the 475,000-square-foot complex, and move employees there in 2015.

The announcement came after Honeywell previously said it would redevelop and remain at its current home of more than 50 years, in Morris Township, which it said has more than twice as much space it needs. But executives said they were forced to rethink their plans amid lawsuits by opponents of its effort to rezone the property.

Staging a scene

When the EDA recently awarded the last of its allotted Urban Transit Hub funds for residential projects, eight applicants were left out in the cold. Larry Goldman, in charge of NJPAC's losing application, went "ballistic," according to a source, though the NJPAC executive said that's not his style.

"Larry is beside himself," said the source about the president and CEO of Theater Square Development Co., a subsidiary of NJPAC.

The $99 million in awards were made to three projects earlier this month. EDA determined that seven of the 11 applicants, including NJPAC's One Theater Square project, did not meet the program's eligibility requirements. The source said NJPAC's application failed, at least in part, because it could not adequately demonstrate that it had firm commitments for other parts of the funding formula. The source said PNC provided a commitment letter for the NJPAC project, but it contained many contingencies. "If Saturn is in the third house of Mercury, we'll do it," said the source, describing the tenor of PNC's commitment letter.

Goldman released the following statement to Grapevine: "While I, of course, was disappointed that NJPAC's One Theater Square mixed-use development did not receive an allocation of Urban Transit Hub tax credits from the state EDA (earlier this month), I believe that the projects funded in Jersey City and New Brunswick are all very deserving. We are optimistic that bills currently making their way through the state Legislature to expand the tax credit program will permit One Theater Square to complete its financing with strong support from the EDA. The Theater Square Development Company and the developer, Dranoff Properties, are very much committed to a development that will be a giant leap forward for downtown Newark: a first-class residential option in the heart of the city with quality retail shops, and a bustling 24/7 environment around Theater Square."

The statement continued: "Whoever Grapevine's source is does not know me. I don't 'go ballistic.' In fact, I know the EDA worked very hard and selected excellent projects. My reaction is to work even harder for a development which I believe will help NJPAC and be transformative for Newark."

Up and down, not ahead

A close watcher of the state's economy said business owners are mystified by volatile demand for their products and services—and this uncertainty is discouraging them from hiring. "This is a W-shaped recovery, where you can do great in January and February and lousy in March, for no apparent reason. And that is the major impediment to the recovery," the source said.

One theory: customers are deferring spending as long as possible, then placing larger orders than usual. The result is a volatile, unpredictable spending pattern that's wreaking havoc on businesses. Also putting the brakes on hiring is the Affordable Care Act, which requires companies with more than 50 employees to offer health coverage or pay a penalty. The source said businesses tell him they are avoiding adding employees in order to stay under the 50-worker trigger.

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

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