Mayor Andre Sayegh took his controversial Hinchliffe Stadium renovation and low-income housing project plan directly to residents in a town hall meeting at John F. Kennedy High School auditorium on Monday evening.
Sayegh’s push follows the City Council’s rejection of a lease agreement that would further the $70 million proposal put forth by Essex County developer Baye Adofo-Wilson of BAW Development and his co-developer RPM Development Group.
“We feel this is the opportune time to do this. We feel the stars are starting to align,” said Sayegh to about 100 people, mostly his supporters, at the high school auditorium. “We don’t want Hinchliffe Stadium just to be a memory. We want to make more memories at that stadium.”
Sayegh was successful in getting a long-term lease agreement approved through the Board of Education which owns the stadium that has been in disrepair for 22 years. But has stumbled in getting the same agreement through the City Council for his administration’s failure to release key details about the proposal.
On Monday night, Sayegh administration officials and the developers, for the first time, made public financial details about the project.
The project has a $71.38 million price tag.
$22.23 million for 64 low-income apartments on Lot 7 on Block 801, site of the existing Elysian vegetable garden. $30 million for the stadium renovation. $4.36 million for the restaurant at the site. And $14.73 million for a 300-space parking deck.
Developer fee for the project is $7.91 million.
Funding sources include a $5.62 million mortgage, $9.2 million in federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), $36.94 million in state tax credits, $5 million in federal historic tax credits, $2.85 million in state historic tax credits, $6.37 million in new market tax credits, $3.54 million in city government funding (existing), and $476,279 in redevelopment area bond.
The project will generate 950 temporary and 170 permanent jobs, according to information made public at the town hall.
Sayegh took questions from the audience after the developers and administration officials delivered their pitch.
One woman asked whether the firms involved have experience restoring historic structures.
Joseph Portelli of RPM Development Group said his firm has restored an opera house in Woodbury and a bank building in Camden.
Other firms involved in the project are Mid-Atlantic Alliance, which lists football star Mike Adams as a partner, for the operation of the exhibition and restaurant; Pike Construction for construction; and Clarke Caton Hintz for architectural services.
“Why are you asking for a tax abatement when you are getting $40 million in tax credits?” asked activist Ernest Rucker.
Portelli said the 30-year tax abatement is needed to ensure tax stability to please private investors.
Will the stadium construction start first or the housing portion? asked Rucker. Both will begin “simultaneously,” replied Portelli.
Sayegh faced some criticism for keeping the public in the dark. His administration has yet to release the redevelopment agreement.
“One of the reasons you failed was because there was no transparency,” said Rucker. “You’re not going to get support if this is done in the dark. As long as it stays in the dark, you’re going to have problems with the City Council.”
“There will be complete transparency,” said Adofo-Wilson. His credibility as a developer came under question after a report stated a non-profit he led defaulted on a $2.6 million a decade ago. His organization later paid back the loan.
“We provided transparency,” said Sayegh referring to the town hall. Rucker demanded the mayor release the redevelopment agreement.
Community activist Casey Melvin expressed disappointment that the mayor did not take more questions from the public. Sayegh’s presentation and pitch lasted an hour. Officials took questions for 30 minutes. The developers and officials remained after the town hall to take one-on-one questions.
Five members of the City Council attended the town hall. Council president Maritza Davila and vice president Michael Jackson, both of whom delivered a severe tongue-lashing to the mayor last week, for attempting to force a vote on the lease agreement by invoking an “emergency” provision in the law, were present.
Council members appeared unmoved after the town hall.
Sayegh said his administration will submit the tax credit application to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) without the council’s approval of the lease agreement.
“That’s all we’re left with,” said Sayegh. His administration has to submit the application by the Jul. 1, 2019 deadline.
Some council members said the mayor’s administration is to blame for the current crisis. Officials had a full year to make their case, but waited until the 11th hour.
“This is really the only option for Hinchliffe Stadium. There isn’t a back up plan,” said Brian LoPinto, president of the Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium.
The city spent $3.7 million in renovating the stadium, but lacks the funds to undertake the full rehabilitation.
“I want to make sure this stadium is done right,” said city resident Regana Bracey.
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