Bill’s Point of View:
As you are aware Gloucester City came to an agreement recently to purchase the Amspec Chemical site (22 acres) for $5 million. We just learned that the City has been trying to obtain the ground since December 15, 2005. Under a recent court settlement the City, who had previously deposited $1.68 million with the court, will now pay Amspec an additional $550,000. The remaining balance, approximately $2.77 million will be held until the property’s environmental issues are resolved. The property must be cleaned up at Amspec’s cost.
The City also owns Chatham Square, 100 apartments, Rt. 130 and Klemm Avenue, purchased last year for $4 million. The City wants to sell the site but does not want the new buyer to use the complex for apartments.
The vacant Amspec Chemical property on Water Street was purchased last month by the City of Gloucester City for $5 million. The 22 acres sits in the middle of two private owned plots of ground; on one side is the old NJ Zinc, Gulf and Western property of 120 acres, and on the other side is the former GAF property. click on photo
Government be it local, state or federal should not be involved in the development of real estate. Just look at what happened recently in West Deptford at the RiverWinds site. Instead of selling the ground outright the township leased it to a developer. The developer, Namwest LLC of Arizona filed for bankruptcy last month. The bankruptcy as a whole will result in a loss of $5.7 million of revenue to the township. As a result residents will face a projected tax increase of up to $538 this year to support local services.
Looking closer at home the agreement in the mid 1990’s to give the Holt Corporation a 99-year-lease so it could move its headquarters into the old Coast Guard building on King Street at the Delaware River is another example of a deal that went bad. How this deal happened is beyond me. I remember promises made by City politicians that Holt, who owns an estimated 40 percent of our riverfront now, would not be allowed pass Monmouth Street. A prime piece of real estate, the base located on the Delaware River, was sold to the City by the federal government in 1991 for $1. Several years later the City allows Holt to pass Monmouth Street and move into the base. The building that Holt occupies today was to be a restaurant, and the main foundation for all future riverfront development.
What happens when government stays out of the real estate business? A good example is the old Star Lite Drive-In property, Route 130 and Klemm Avenue. Two years ago 64 homes were built on the site by Beazer Homes. All the homes have been sold for prices ranging between $250,000 and $300,000. And a needed tax ratable was generated for the City.
Another good example, the former GAF property was purchased in 1996 by Gloucester Point for a sale price of $450,000. The Vanquard property next to GAF was acquired by the City for delinquent taxes and sold to the Gloucester Point group. As you know Gloucester Point has paid for clearing those two sites. The GAF property incidentally is adjacent to Amspec; the $5 million property the City purchased last month. Although the development plan (South Port) fell through early in 2008 because of the real estate crash, the owners of the property still have hopes of building on it. In the meantime real estate taxes are being received by the City.
I was under the impression the City owned all the vacant ground on Water Street south of Amspec but that is not so. The former NJ Zinc, Gulf and Western property (120 acres) at the foot of Water Street is owned by Viacom of Texas. The old Atlantic Richfield refinery property located across from Gulf and Western is still owned by Atlantic Richfield. There are major environmental problems if any developer wants to use either property for residential homes.
An area real estate agent, who wishes to remain anonymous, sums it up this way, “The City doesn’t own any of the land they have been trying to develop at the end of Water Street. If they would just step back and let the projects unfold without trying to influence every move this would have been developed by now. The Star Lite was owned by Viacom as well and they managed to sell the property to a developer without the city's help. As for all the empty lots throughout the City why not auction them off for a $1 to any developer who will build single family homes on the lots. He has one year to build on the lot or they go up for auction again. At least this way something would happen within a year. New houses on these empty lots would increase the tax base very quickly”.
Gloucester City residents have been waiting 28 years for their riverfront to be developed. In the 1980’s there was “Hollywood East” followed by the “King Street Corridor Development”, followed by Gloucester Point development and most recently “South Port”. One thing the four projects all had in common, Gloucester City politicians were involved in part or all of the planning of each.
Sounds like our anonymous real estate agent might have “hit the nail on the head” so to speak.