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Developer's bad dream

Re: "Developer's vision in limbo" (Forum, March 26 -- see below)

In response to Glen Fishman's op-ed concerning the City of Paterson, I must correct the record.

I could fill the entire newspaper with verifiable information regarding the misrepresentation and falsehoods that were presented by Mr. Fishman in his publicity release under the guise of a personal letter.

The idea of Mr. Fishman and his cohorts is to acquire property through the purchase of tax liens and inducing local government to use eminent domain to take the property of its residents. In the case of Paterson's Great Falls District, he found out the hard way that savvy property owners like the Alfano family, Kessler Properties, Longstreet Development and A.P.S. Contracting will not be robbed of their property.

I was impressed with the way these elected officials disseminated the information and saw through the Dornoch's veiled attempt to control an area that is already being developed in an orderly, ethical manner. Three generations of the Alfano family have proudly operated their furniture business, serving Paterson since the 1930s. The council would not allow this family, or any family, to suffer the fate many people in other urban areas face because of eminent domain.

The Herald News articles about exclusivity in the bidding process were accurate.

The fact that only two out of 38 developers responded to an RFP that will use eminent domain to achieve its goals speaks volumes about the integrity of 36 developers that would not want to participate.

I commend the Herald News for sending a reporter to Asbury Park to see how devastated the oceanfront redevelopment looks. With our region experiencing the greatest real estate boom in history, how could a mile of oceanfront sit largely undeveloped when it is a one-hour drive from Manhattan? Asbury Partners, Glen Fishman's company, has been admonished by the New York Times, New Jersey Monthly and every Yahoo group dedicated to Asbury Park. After the Dec. 27 article in the Herald News, an amazing transformation took place:

The Asbury Park Press wrote an editorial criticizing Asbury Partners for stalling redevelopment in Asbury Park; the mayor and council of Asbury Park gave Asbury Partners a mandate to move forward with development or risk being removed.

As the developer of 19 Market St., a 20-unit condominium building being constructed in the Great Falls Historic District, I thank you. The city has welcomed me and my historic development team as a member of its community. Most important, I will do whatever possible to protect that community from fraud, misinformation and redevelopment that deprive its hard-working citizens of their right to develop property.

Richard DePetro, director of development, Preservation Partners, Brielle

DePetro is one of the many underwriters keeping Asbury Radio on the air.

Developer's vision in limbo
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Sunday, March 26, 2006

 

The proposed redevelopment of the Great Falls Historic District of Paterson, a win-win proposition that was designed to become the much-needed catalyst for this city's rebirth, has reached a standstill. The Herald News, along with other voices in the community, have disseminated a myriad of misrepresentations that have discouraged Dornoch Holdings and our talented redevelopment team from pursuing the project.

It is a disappointment that our dream for the Great Falls will go unrealized. Our expertise and passion is restoring underutilized properties, to bring them back to their market value and to make improvements that have a positive impact on the community as a whole.

In the case of the Great Falls Historic District, our dream was a virtual mirror image of the redevelopment plan unanimously approved by the Paterson mayor and City Council in October 2003. It included new housing and retail, new recreation, improved pedestrian and vehicular movement and new access to the Great Falls and river. Our plan called for the building of 973 residential units, 60,000 square feet of retail space and an 83,000-square-foot hotel and convention center.

We shared our vision with Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres and the council, and our proposal reflected their vision. The key was restoration of the neighborhoods surrounding the falls in a way that would enhance access to the greatest natural attraction in North Jersey. We envisioned the Great Falls Historic District as a site that people would flock to year-round.

We also envisioned the positive impact the redevelopment would have on Paterson's economy --the jobs and income it would create during and after the redevelopment. The totals were significant: an estimated 1,980 person-years of construction-related employment over the seven-year period it would take to complete the project and another 220 permanent retail jobs upon completion.

Our experts projected the redevelopment would contribute an additional $6.6 million in net tax revenue to the city and school assets each year, based on an increase of $274 million in market value once the project was completed. All of this was planned without the taking of any properties through eminent domain and with us paying market value for all city-owned property.

The plan was conceived to improve the quality of life for the people of Paterson, something that already is being realized in our development activities on land we own. On Ellison Street, our work is producing a new public access Cablevision studio on a site that sat vacant with rusting steel for the past decade. Now, in addition to the studio, the property will include a computer resource center and retail outlets as well.

Quite simply, the Great Falls Historic Redevelopment was something that would breathe new life into Paterson culturally, financially, physically and socially.

Everything was on track until November, when some people began questioning our intentions. The mayor and council postponed action on the City Redevelopment Agreement with the Dornoch Paterson redevelopment team.

And on Dec. 27, this newspaper published a story that identified the disgruntled builder as the same individual who, over the past few years, had filed a number of lawsuits in Asbury Park, challenging the Asbury Park Waterfront Redevelopment Plan without success. The claims denied the progress that has been achieved in the waterfront redevelopment in Asbury Park and diminished the success of the public/private partnership between Asbury Partners LLC and the city of Asbury Park. And it seriously misrepresented the process and proposal that resulted in Dornoch Paterson.

It is time to set the record straight.

First: my brother, Larry Fishman, who has a minority interest in Dornoch Holdings, manages Asbury Partners. I have a minority interest in Asbury Partners. The connection between Asbury Partners and Dornoch ends there. We are neither affiliates nor sister companies.

Second: The renaissance of the waterfront redevelopment in Asbury Park has progressed at a record pace. The developers rebuilt the city's famed boardwalk and launched the first phase of $60 million in infrastructure improvements that have resulted in new roads, sidewalks and utilities in the oceanfront Asbury area.

Asbury Partners brought in three prominent sub-developers to build a major component of the 3,100 housing units proposed in the plan: Already two are well along in the first phases of construction, adding hundreds of units of new housing that are being sold as fast as they are being built, with occupancy slated for many by year-end. And the summer of '05 has been called a turnaround year when thousands of visitors filled the boardwalk, beach and downtown areas to enjoy the season and witness the progress. All has been achieved with step-by-step direction outlined by the Oceanfront Asbury Master Plan.

Third: Articles published in the Herald News suggested that we were granted exclusivity without competitive bidding. In fact, Dornoch Holdings' involvement in the redevelopment of the Great Falls Historic District began when the city of Paterson issued a request for proposal for the project. We were one of 38 interested parties that picked up the RFP and one of only two developers that responded, in effect making a bid for the business. Ultimately, we were advised that our plan was preferred. That certainly looks like a competitive process; we cannot be held responsible for the fact that developers were hardly racing to get on board.

Now, with regard to our plan: we created an illustrative plan that used the city's 2003 plan as a model. We were prepared to carry out the redevelopment in total, including the needed improvements to the infrastructure in streets, curbing, utilities and sewers. Our plan requested affirmation of existing zoning control of the area and sought to make everyone interested in developing within the zone responsible for the off-site contributions, infrastructure, housing, incubator services, trees, and other components that would contribute to the growth of the Great Falls Historic District and First Ward Redevelopment Area.

All we asked in return was the right to develop property that we already owned and the right to purchase other properties in the district at fair market value.

We came to Paterson with $35 million in capital to establish our readiness to begin building on the land we already owned. We pledged to provide employment for the people of Paterson on our land. And we demonstrated our willingness to work with community organizations as part of our outreach program. At the same time, we invited participation from other builders.

We stood ready to improve a property that once had been a dump and a home to hazardous waste recyclers on land we owned. We were prepared to restore buildings that were in such disrepair that they needed to be demolished, this on land that had sat fallow and vacant for 15 years before we bought it. We were committed to funding any needed improvements in the infrastructure without asking for tax abatements in return. We proposed one of the few privately financed market-rate housing projects in Paterson in many years that did not require government subsidies. This apparently wasn't enough for the City Council and others.

It is clear that a project of this scope and complexity requires a master plan and a designated developer to succeed.

This was our dream, and we were especially optimistic about the opportunity for transformation of the Great Falls Historic District, to make vision a reality and spark positive long-term revival for the future. It was Dornoch's intention to make a significant impact on Paterson and to help turn this city around.

While we still will be involved in development in Paterson, on property we already own, it's not going to be what we envisioned the creation of a vital center to Paterson and to Passaic County. And it's not going to be what the mayor and council envisioned a catalyst to Paterson's rebirth and an economic engine to help power Paterson's future.

What is most curious is that the only public comments against the plan at the November televised meeting involved the erroneous belief that the plan called for property condemnation. In fact, the Dornoch Paterson RFP clearly states, and we reaffirmed, that no condemnation was involved. Somehow, it appears that our interest in bringing in local joint ventures to participate in our plan led some to misunderstand our objectives. We were excited and wanted others who would be just as excited, and capable, to have the chance to participate.

Although Dornoch would still welcome the opportunity to make the Great Falls Historic District dream come true, the prospects are dimming. It's not to say that this city will not survive; it will, and the waters of the Great Falls will continue to flow. We will develop our properties with pride on Jasper Street, Ryle Avenue and Ryle Road. Others will find ways to build independently, without the benefits of a master plan or the expense of improving the infrastructure.

It is unlikely, however, that the city will be able to implement the full vision of the plan that was conceived in 2003 for one of New Jersey's most beautiful natural resources. Unfortunately, the people of Paterson will have to settle for less.

Glen Fishman is the managing director of Dornoch Holdings LLC.