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Friday, August 8, 2008

Interesting deal...

Urban Word LLC was set to receive the go-ahead from City Council on Thursday to take control of city-owned property at 100-114 South Warren Street, for $180,000. Urban Word LLC was said to be on the receiving end of $150,000 in Urban Enterprise Zone money that would effectively make the whole thing a $30,000 deal.

This one looks similar to some of the good deals handed to developers enjoying the favor of Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, along the lines of those given to Bob Torricelli.

Now, Urban Word LLC has done some good things in Trenton - the Trenton Makes complex, which boasts a few viable businesses. There's also another building that has so far enjoyed success further down on Warren Street, although that one was sold to Urban Word for $1 by the city, according to people familiar with the deal.

But a principal in Urban Word also has an interest in 11 W. Front Street, which is a hop, skip, and a jump from the newly-acquired property, where a viable cleaners business will likely shut down as renovation of the building goes forward.

But the Front Street property, formerly an eatery known as Utopia, has remained vacant for over two years. Those living and working nearby have apparently called the city about the condition of the property - overrun with garbage, weeds, and vermin.

It has been said that several prospective buyers have approached the ownership about a possible purchase of the building, which, along with a liquor license, the owners bought for around $200,000, years ago. But ownership has turned away those interested parties, looking for a better deal while a potentially viable property remains fallow, among others in downtown Trenton.

Presently - and nearly simultaneously as the city sold the property to Urban Word and handed over $150,000 in UEZ money - Trentonians will see that Urban Word's principal has been handed a position on the Trenton Train Station redevelopment committee, which will be holding what are billed to be closed meetings on the various station-related projects.

Also, it is all very well and good that renovations at Urban Word's new Warren Street property may be costly - the excuse given as to why the UEZ money is necessary - but this is a city, and not a financial institution created to help underwrite developers.

To this observer, this appears like more special treatment for those who have supported Mayor Palmer in the past, which is a group that includes Urban Word.

Hopefully it works out well for Trenton.

*(The council item memorializing the deal was apparently pulled for more consideration on Thursday, at the request of Councilman Manny Segura.)

7 comments:

Nicholas Stewart said...

Interesting news of the Front Street property. That does not seem the norm for Urban Word, of which I am a fan. Although I am opposed to selling anything for $1, my knowledge of Urban Word's endeavors has always been positive. I encourage developers such as Urban Word and HHG Development to attempt more frequent and larger projects. Regarding Mr. Pott being appointed to the Advisory panel, I am encouraged further that Trenton's interests will only be better served.
[I think a minimum of $20K is appropriate for a city owned property - I am considering the fact that a structure may not be inhabitable or fit for business, but there is STILL land beneath the structure. AND LAND is the most important. If I were involved more in city policy, I would encourage our Acting Director of Housing and Economic Development to seek as much as possible for each property. The aforementioned $20K is, to me, an appropriate starting point for a residential, single family strucutre/parcel. Price should be adjusted, increasing rather than decreasing, to account for larger property, better condition, commercial zoning, etc.]

Anonymous said...

It's about time someone criticized Roland Pott and Urban Word LLC. He could be referred to as the small business exterminator (Conduit, Urban Word Cafe', Mind and Soul Bookstore, Affordable Framing, A New You Boutique, etc. all out of business.)He is a Palmer supporter, and gets the special deals that come with that position. Let's see him fill his S. Broad St. storefronts with something besides a tattoo parlor and non-profit offices before we give him any more $1 buildings or UEZ money!

Anonymous said...

There is no denying that Roland Pott has recognized Trenton’s potential for redevelopment and acted on it. He’s made an investment and his home here, as well as married and started a family here.

His track record as a believer in and promoter of Trenton is a matter of record.

However, when the proposed sa le of 110-114 South Warren Street to Mr. Pott’s Urban Word, LLC accompanied by a pledge of a nearly equal amount of government money towards the renovations of said property, eyebrows will be raised and questions will be asked.

How does a private development entity warrant the purchase of a city owned property at a discount and then gets further government underwriting for the project?

Would this deal be available to any viable developer walking in off the street or only one that has a strong alliance with/allegiance to the current city administration?
&nb sp;
These are the legitimate questions that Greg has framed in his post.

What of Mr. Pott’s business track record?

While he can’t necessarily be held responsible for the failure of the various tenants in his Trenton Makes complex, there are stories to be told. His transformation from business owner to developer has not been without its dark side.

As Greg noted, Mr. Pott and his partners that own 11 W. Front Street have let the property sit fallow for a couple of years. They neglected conditions there enough to have to have neighbors contact city officials in an effort to get things cleaned up.

=0 A
The same group is alleged to have attempted some questionable maneuvers regarding representations of ownership and control of another Front Street property a few years back.

And this isn’t the first time facts have appeared to conflict with statements made by Mr. Pott.

During the spring of 2006 there were some episodes of alleged gang members swarming into local clubs and disrupting operations. According to police sources there was at least one incident at the then open Conduit music club owned and operated by Mr. Pott. In an article in the Times that appeared June 18 of that year, he denied to reporter Joyce Persico that such an incident ever happened.

“That’s just not true,” the article quotes him as saying, “I deny it categorically.”

That same spri ng, during Trenton’s municipal elections, a full-page ad containing names and statements for Trenton notables supporting incumbent Doug Palmer’s re-election was placed in a local publication. Mr. Pott was included in the advertisement…allegedly without his knowledge or permission. That may be true, but there was never any correction or retraction made by the Palmer campaign.

Recently Mr. Pott was named a co-chair of the committee being set up to guide redevelopment efforts in the Train Station area. While a lot of noise has been made to depict an effort to include members of the general public in the group, Mr. Pott has recruit targeted individuals and urges them to join group.

Interestingly, there is word on the street that Pete Lorenzo’s restaurant, which has long held its ground across the street from the train station, was assured new development in the area would not incl ude any establishments licensed to sell alcoholic beverages. Yet the grapevine says that Mr. Pott and associates are angling to get a license approved or transferred to the Train Station premises itself.

The above points support the position that Roland Pott does believe in the potential of Trenton. But the case can also be made that Mr. Pott is not above putting self interest before civic interest.

Making deals with the Palmer administration that favor his personal interest (and income) over public duty seem to be ok with Mr. Pott.

It doesn’t have to sit right with the rest of us.

Dan Dodson said...

We need more Roland Pott’s, not less.

Greg, I’ll start by thanking you for putting your blog out their and for your efforts at Council. You’ve made Trenton a better place, kicking and screaming. Also I’ll thank those that have commented on your posts for taking the time to care.

But Greg, if you’re going to criticize someone, call them by name. By using the term “Principal at Urban Word LLC” rather than the man’s name you seem to be distancing yourself from your words. His name is Roland and he lives just down the street from you. Do you need an introduction?

As for “anonymous”, to criticize someone and not even give your name is cowardly. Hopefully, there was some technical issue. Greg, I encourage you to moderate your comments to not allow anonymous quotes. Just like we complain about lack of transparency in government, lack of transparency in blogs is equally harmful.

I’ll be honest, I’m a good friend of Roland’s and have known him for seven years. He was in my Leadership Trenton class. He was on the founding board of the Trenton Film Society with me. He’s on his civic association board and lives in Trenton. Over the year’s we’ve discussed numerous business ventures to develop Trenton.

Let me assure you that this level of civic and business involvement does not describe the typical Trenton developer. Most of them don’t even live in Trenton.

So who the heck are you to criticize a guy for seeking out good business deals where he can get them? I’ve got news for you (though I’ve written about this before). EVERY developer in Trenton has to suck up to the Mayor.

Can a guy walk in off the street and do a deal. Sure they can and do. Bayview Holdings bought the Bought Street Bank Building without the Mayor’s permission. However, given the way the city works, you absolutely have to negotiate with the city to do projects like 114 S. Warren. However, this is a problem with the city, not with developers like Roland who’ve invested themselves in learning the city’s politics.

The developers don’t like it though they’ll never admit it. Would you like it if your Mayor extorted campaign contributions from you all the time? I think not. To the degree Roland and other developers have to play along, it’s their price of doing business with this administration.

On the particular criticisms you and your anonymous posters have lodged I actually share some of them.

11 Front probably wasn’t a good business deal. Unfortunately for Roland, he can’t be excused for letting the building get run down. I support fining owners who let their property sit vacant and that would include my friend Roland.

Train Station Redevelopment will be manipulated by the Mayor. I don’t blame Roland for agreeing to co-chair the committee. I’ve already called into question his and Taneshia’s role in a post on TrentonSpace.com. In a recent Old Mill Hill Society Meeting I also called him out on how representative this appointed committee would be. I’ve formally asked Sasa to be on the committee. I’m certainly not a Palmer supporter so let’s see how it goes.

As to Roland’s relative success, almost no one has been successful investing in Trenton, especially when their investments relied on promises made by the city and county, like the Trenton Makes building did. The number of misleading statements made by government officials about that area is staggering (e.g. Performa, Manex, The Foundry, Sovereign Bank Arena). You really have to decide that government can’t be trusted at all, which Roland refused to believe, because he’s an optimist.

Maybe that’s the difference between people like Roland and people who spend their time criticizing, like you and me. Like most developers, Roland is an optimist. He has to be in order to put his and his investors’ money into Trenton. If left to pessimists like me, no investment would ever be made.

Finally, to Nick Stewart, who I know supports Roland and his efforts and is an asset to the community in his own right, you’ve got it wrong about what the city’s strategy for selling real estate should be. You don’t have analytical support for suggesting that there should be a $20,000 minimum. Nor do the rest you have any support for suggesting that $30,000 is too little for the building at 114 S. Warren. Basically, the city is funneling $150,000 in state UEZ money through Roland in order to get a price for that property far in excess of what it’s worth. Because the building has remained unsold for decades, I seriously doubt it’s worth $30,000 much less $180,000.

I’ll soon publish an article on reinventtrenton.com dealing with the subject of real estate values. Quite frankly, I’m sick of Trentonians having the false notion that the city should hold out for high prices. Isn’t that exactly what Greg is faulting Roland for? The city is wrong and so are you. Difference is that I’m going to back up my answer by showing the math.

Greg Forester said...

Thanks for the comment Mr. Dodson.

I like your blog, and have always liked Trenton Lofts, the site that got me to move into Trenton in the first place.

To the matter at hand:

First, you have been a friend of Roland's for seven years, but I have not.

I do not know how many people make up the business known as Urban Word LLC.

Maybe there are others involved.

I don't know.

When I originally wrote this I included the name, but after doing some fact-checking I thought that using the name of the man leading a company that could include others seemed to personalize this issue, when it comes down to development and business and not if someone is a "good" person or not.

I personally feel that when the city uses UEZ money to accomodate a development company including someone who has supported the current city administration, people deserve to know about it.

They also deserve to know about some of the developer's past successes and failures.

And I am a concerned resident who wants to see this place improve, as far as the "who are you" question.

That being said, I agree that Trenton could use more Roland Potts, in the sense that he is infinitely better than most developers. But then again, that isn't saying much.

The fact that his company, Urban Word, has done some good here in the past does not put its business dealings and his support of the mayor out of bounds as far as being written about or discussed, especially with the potential use of UEZ funds to sweeten the particular deal.

Also, about any statements that developers have to play ball with the mayor to get things done:

On the one hand, it may be unsavory and other companies have succeeded without it, but it does give someone a business advantage and that's what business is all about I guess.

But while it may be the status quo, look where it has gotten Trenton.

It has gotten us nowhere, and just because others play ball with Doug it does not necessarily make it right.

I personally think the mayor is responsible for much of this city's nonexistent or negative progress.

Until people - especially those who live here - stop "playing ball" and start making an all-out effort to be rid of him, I think things will continue to stall.

This city has had 18 years of these business practices and investments, and look where that's gotten us.

Dan Dodson said...

There is nobody who has done anything of any substance in Trenton that hasn't played ball with Palmer.

Nobody.

With your rule nothing would have happened.

So it's a matter of degree. I prefer to have HHG and Urban Word LLC who do good projects and serve on the occasional committee. Than Leewood who does terrible projects and throws thousands of dollars into the campaign fund.

As for the UEZ money, the state has essentially made that money available to Mayors as a slush fund. Short of the public understanding how the money is misused, it seems to deal was pretty public. The city could have simply sold the building for $30K which is closer to what it's worth, instead they decided that they could get $180K if they sweetened the pot with UEZ money. Roland's not getting a deal, the city is simply liberating UEZ money by claiming the property is worth $180K, which it is NOT.

The only non-public thing about this is the many months of Roland pitching the project to the city. What's the alternative? Should the public vote on developer pitches?

That sounds pretty clunky.

114 S. Warren has been a mostly vacant pit since well before I moved to Trenton. Here we are with a deal in place to fix the darn thing and people are spitting on it. I wasn't even this harsh with Bob Torricelli (a known ethics problem) when he developed the abandoned building across the street.

Greg Forester said...

"There is nobody who has done anything of any substance in Trenton that hasn't played ball with Palmer."

I believe Bayview told Doug and his wife to shove it, and they are doing fine now.

It seems some people take the side that people in a town deserve to know the relationships, backgrounds, and the environment that business deals are being made in, between their government and developers.

Others disagree I guess.

I hope the Warren Street property is a great success, but I would love to see the day when developers won't feel pressure to "play ball" with the mayor, support him, donate, or anything else, in order to create a more favorable situation in which to get deals done.