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All eyes on Mack-Cali

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It's been nearly three months since Mitchell Hersh last spoke publicly about how Mack-Cali could redeploy its spacious office campus in Upper Saddle River, which Pearson Education will leave behind next year. But that doesn't seem to have tempered the interest inside the commercial real estate industry.

An observer said other companies are eager to learn the fate of the 475,000-square-foot property, largely because of how some local officials have dug in against proposals to redevelop the site.

Earlier this year, Hersh openly floated the idea of repositioning the campus with high-end multifamily units, a notion that hasn't sat well with everyone in town.

"They're going to get an all-out, bloody brawl, but that will be the litmus test for the entire marketplace," the source said.

Hersh last publicly discussed the property in late April during Mack-Cali's first-quarter earnings call. The company has scheduled its second-quarter call with analysts for later this week, though it's not clear whether he'll discuss the 42-acre site.

Light on detail, many red flags

Barbara Buono took the wraps off her campaign's economic development plan last week to little fanfare, but that doesn't mean the business community wasn't paying attention.

Buono's plan is short on critical details and contains multiple "red flags," according to one Trenton insider, with the biggest issue being her support for the constitutional amendment that will go before voters in November. If it passes, the state's minimum wage would be tied to the consumer price index, which is "absolutely the wrong way to go," the source said.

Business owners also take issue with the push to institute mandatory paid sick leave.

"Again, that's an added cost for employers, and in particular small businesses," the source said. "Anything that you do that makes an added cost to business … is a great concern."

Buono also has proposed creating special banks to fund projects in the state. One such bank, referred to in the proposal as a "self-sustaining public-private investment bank," would help entrepreneurs launch businesses in the state. Another would "couple public and private investments" to fund infrastructure projects in the state's transportation system.

But exactly how these banks would work remains unclear.

"The plan doesn't have too much detail on some of the proposals that she's laying out there, with regard to how they're going to be paid for," he said. "We need to see more details because it's the old saying: The devil's in the details."

More medical mergers

Close watchers of the New Jersey hospital scene say more mergers are going to be announced in the months ahead.

One source said hospitals are known to be negotiating potential deals, but the facts are tough to pin down. "It's all rumors, nothing definite," the source said.

Some are worried that further consolidation will create ever-larger hospital systems that will have the bargaining clout to raise prices. An expert said even as the Affordable Care Act tries to bend the cost curve by getting hospitals to join accountable-care organizations — designed to provide higher quality and at lower cost — "hospitals may negate all that by just raising prices, because those with strong market positions are able to do that."

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Tom Bergeron at tomb@njbiz.com.

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