Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration successfully secured the City Council’s ratification of a lease agreement on Tuesday night giving developers site control of the historic Hinchliffe Stadium for a $76 million restoration project.
Council members voted 5-4 to ratify the amended lease agreement between the city and the school board. School board members approved the agreement in early June, but the ratification had been held up at the City Council over questions.
“This money is once in a life time opportunity,” said Lilisa Mimms, councilwoman at-large, referring to the $50 million state tax credits earmarked for the project. “I don’t want to be the Debbie Downer.”
She had voted against the measure two weeks ago. On Tuesday, Mimms said developers and Sayegh administration officials provided answers to questions she had about the project.
Another changed vote was Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman. He had voted against the measure two weeks ago, but changed his mind.
Mimms, Velez, William McKoy, Ruby Cotton, and Al Abdelaziz voted in favor while Michael Jackson, Shahin Khalique, Flavio Rivera, and Maritza Davila voted against.
Davila and Rivera had voted in favor of the measure two weeks ago, but changed their minds. Rivera said he supported the measure to move it to a public hearing and final vote. At the public hearing on Tuesday six people spoke, mostly in favor of the project.
Davila cited “lack of transparency” on the Sayegh administration’s part to vote against the measure. Sayegh’s people jeopardized the project by failing to advertise and seek multiple proposals. Sayegh hand-picked the developers, including Baye Adofo-Wilson. He only provided details of the project after the City Council rejected the lease agreement in June.
Council members decided to reconsider the measure after the developers made several changes. Under the changes, the city will no longer be required to take on debt to support the renovations. The low-income housing component has been changed from family to senior housing. And a daycare center has been added to the proposal.
The developers also had to provide cost details. The 7,800-seat stadium restoration will cost $31.37 million. A six-story building with 75 apartments will cost $24.65 million. A four-story parking deck, 314 spaces, will cost $16.37 million. And a restaurant with exhibition space will cost $4.28 million.
Project is funded through state and federal tax credits, including low-income housing tax credits and historic preservation credits.
Jackson complained the project does not create enough jobs and it is unlikely to revitalize the area. He also disliked the 30-year tax abatement associated with the housing portion of the project. He also called the project “grossly overpriced.”
“Who is tied to the bankroll?” asked Jackson nearly accusing the mayor of corruption. Velez requested a list of the principals of the companies involved in the project on Tuesday night.
Council members still have to approve the redeveloper’s agreement. Davila said the measure will be discussed and voted at a special meeting on Oct. 1.
Meanwhile, the mayor said he expects the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) to consider the project’s tax credits at its October meeting. Developers hope to break ground on the project in mid-2020. Stadium portion is likely to start first, said Baye Adofo-Wilson.
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