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Development community shares sigh of relief as incentives overhaul seems poised for passage

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Months of waiting on what would — or would not — become of the Economic Opportunity Act finally seem at an end, with a special seminar today offering the development community the chance to collectively breathe a sigh of relief on the legislation's likely passage.

Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the legislation Monday, with the Assembly adopting Christie's changes that same day and the Senate expected to do likewise on Thursday.

The bill would consolidate five corporate incentive programs into two, expand eligibility for tax credits and place a greater focus on job creation.

Today, in New Brunswick, a panel of industry experts from across the state heralded the potential of the bill to offer new development incentives to existing New Jersey companies, in addition to attracting out-of-state interest.

"This legislation is really transformative, and is really going to make New Jersey one of the most business-friendly states in the country," said Clark Machemer, vice president of public affairs for the New Jersey chapter of industry group NAIOP, and vice president and regional director of development for The Rockefeller Group.

Ted Zangari, a real estate attorney with Newark-based Sills, Cummis & Gross who also serves as chair for the firm's redevelopment law practice group, called the bill "a free market-style program" that doesn't punish companies unwilling to leave the suburbs. The massive Urban Transit Hub tax credit program was signed to offer tax breaks to spur development, but was originally limited to nine cities.

Under the Economic Opportunity Act, "a business — the customer — can move wherever the heck it wants," he said.

While some areas will still offer more favorable incentives over others, the choice between them will be less polarizing, Zangari said.

But urban advocates are also hopeful the legislation will provide plenty of incentives to their areas, as well.

Anthony Perno, CEO of Cooper's Ferry Partnership, a Camden-based nonprofit real estate developer, said he believes the bill will level the playing field between the city and nearby Philadelphia, where tax abatement policies and other incentive programs have helped to grow its population and commercial business sector.

"It's a real opportunity for us to move this forward," Perno said.

Gil Medina, an executive vice president in brokerage services for CBRE, said he believes once the Senate follows suit and adopts the bill, development will hit the ground running.

"There's going to be a tremendous amount of activity out of the gate," Medina said.

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