How does a new, expanded municipal complex for the Township of Montclair sound, with more parking and the tantalizing added benefit of reducing municipal debt without a tax hike?
That’s just what Mayor Robert Jackson has his sights on. Baristanet caught up with him this morning to ask about points he raised in a media briefing earlier this week. His preferred idea is to develop a new municipal complex on the parking lot now occupying the east side of Grove Street between Bloomfield and Glenridge Avenues, behind the TD Bank building across from Lackawanna Plaza.
The location is appealing for many reasons, one of which is that it would relocate the police station to an area of higher crime in the township.
“That land is on the top of my target list, but there are other possibilities too,” Jackson admitted, without naming them.
Both the Police Department and municipal offices would move into a new complex. The current police building he explained, is too small and overburdened for the demands of 21st century law enforcement, and its HVAC systems are not up to par.
The bigger issue however, is that the building’s land, at the corner of Valley and Bloomfield Avenues, “is probably the most valuable piece of real estate in town right now and for that to be off the (tax) rolls doesn’t make sense.” He cites the current Municipal Building on Claremont Avenue and North Fullerton, as the second most valuable piece of land in Montclair right now, and also not generating tax revenues.
“We’re losing millions a year in tax dollars and also there’s the pure value of those two pieces of land we haven’t tapped in to. There are other places in town we could be,” Jackson explained.
If development proceeds the way he envisions, the result would drive down the township’s current $220 million debt load.
Jackson talked of building a parking deck with a facility on top of or adjacent, involving the two target pieces of land with a current combined value of about $25 million; if accomplished through a lease, that would reduce the township’s debt servicing. “Right now we have $16 million in debt service and that’s going to cut one eighth of that (so) you have $2 million free that you can use for a number of things.”
He anticipates the project generating $2 to $3 million in a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) deal, if the complex were privately owned and leased back to the township. He also expects commercial uses for the facility would generate additional revenue, and that Montclair could save money via shared services with a nearby community, such as sharing a court and/or jail cells with one or two other towns. The driver of the deal, he noted however, is the value of the land and the PILOT payments and the tax payments from the resulting development. Those funds could then be spent on maintaining and upgrading township streets, parks and other amenities.
The next step, Jackson said, is to convene the Facilities Task Force Committee and “get them to start looking at the logistics of it, see if it physically would work, talk about deal parameters, look at the fiscal and financial aspects. We’ve done this preliminarily, but we need a more refined, detailed look. Based on comments and conversations thus far, I have the sense that this is something all parties would like to see happen, and now we have to see if we actually can.”
In a Montclair Times article yesterday, the Montclair resident whose company owns the parking lot and Lackawanna Plaza, is quoted as being “open and receptive” to the proposal.
In addressing other issues, Jackson again dismissed the idea that the selection of an all-male Facilities Task Force was gender-biased, and at last Thursday’s meeting, he noted that membership on the committee stems from who asks to serve at the time; and compared it to the Board of Education, with a female superintendent and only one male member.