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Experts at Rutgers real estate conference tout public-private partnerships in building Gold Coast

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Carl Goldberg, left, co-Chair of the executive committee, moderates the panel discussion,
Carl Goldberg, left, co-Chair of the executive committee, moderates the panel discussion, "Is the Gold Coast turning Golden?" during Rutgers Business School Center for Real Estate's New Urbanism Conference at Hilton Short Hills on May 1. - ()

Carl Goldberg knows it takes stability and support from a local government to bring a development project to the finish line — and he has a walking, talking case study named Richard Turner.

“(Turner) has been mayor of the township of Weehawken since 1990,” Goldberg said. “And since 1990, he has had a vision for what the redevelopment of the Hudson River waterfront would look like and what — most importantly — it would not only mean to the new people that move to Weehawken, but … to the current residents of the township of Weehawken who had been there for many, many decades.”

That staying power helped drive a partnership with Goldberg’s former firm, Roseland Property Co., as it has transformed the northern Hudson waterfront in recent years. And that partnership was on display Friday at the inaugural conference hosted by the Rutgers Business School Center for Real Estate.

During an hour-long panel discussion, experts touted New Jersey’s Gold Coast as a success story for redevelopment and a model for other urban markets in the state. In every case, they said, the common thread has been public-private collaboration.

“Every time we’ve had to come forward and bring an idea, that idea has always been pushed around and molded so that it met the needs of all the parties at the table,” said Andrew Marshall, executive vice president of Roseland, which is now a subsidiary of Mack-Cali Realty Corp. “And that’s where the relationships grow from, and that’s where the successes grow from.

“And then once you establish a pattern of success — and, more importantly, a pattern of doing what you say every single time — that’s when you really garner more support and momentum from the community as well as the political base.”

The panelists, a mix of public officials and private-sector experts, also said the Gold Coast is still an unfinished product, citing the new construction pipeline for Jersey City’s inland neighborhoods. They pointed to the six residential high-rises slated for the city’s Journal Square section or the 21-story tower slated for the McGinley Square area — projects driven by changes in the city’s tax abatement structure.

“The mayor’s policies have encouraged development going further west, and developers have seen the value of that,” said Eugene Paolino, a real estate attorney with Genova Burns, referring to Mayor Steven Fulop. “They are moving further west as well and the market is there.”

Fulop, who also was a panelist at what Rutgers dubbed the New Urbanism Conference, said partnerships with the private sector are behind efforts to strengthen the city’s existing assets. In the case of transportation, the city is exploring whether to offer developers “density bonuses” — essentially allowing them to build more units — in exchange for financing new light rail stops.

He said his office is weighing such a policy for sites near as Hoboken border, just north of where cars exit the Holland Tunnel.

Fulop also noted that the city is working with developers and other business sectors to market the city. He pointed to a nearly $1.5 million marketing campaign, which he said is split between the taxpayers and the private sector, aimed at promoting assets such as the Loews Theater and the Liberty Science Center.

 “We are moving forward … highlighting a lot of the different communities in order to create that sense of place,” Fulop said. “(We’re) not only building big buildings, but also really promoting Jersey City not only internally so people can leverage it, but also externally as well.”

Turner, the Weehawken mayor, said enhancing the amenities and assets for a municipality’s existing residents is central to a successful redevelopment process. If local leaders can show that they will benefit from the new construction, it becomes a key selling point.

 “(It) becomes a very arduous conversation, but you can sell it — it just takes a lot of time and a lot of effort,” Turner said. “We wouldn’t have their walkways, we wouldn’t have their open space … we wouldn’t have the affordable housing (funds), we wouldn’t have the mass transit.”

Even so, to call the process “arduous” might be understating its complexity. Turner noted the Weehawken’s main developers had come up with a master plan by the mid-1990s, but it wasn’t until 2002 that the plan was finalized, following what he estimates were 300 public meetings and hearings.

“It took a long time for the residents to realize that fighting development hurts themselves,” he said. “Developers will not get everything they want, realtors cannot have everything they want, the community will never get everything it wants, so you reach a compromise. And from there the development went forward."

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