Pleasantville begins $150 million redevelopment effort
By ERIC SCOTT CAMPBELL Staff Writer | Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pleasantville launched a $150 million effort on Thursday to transform the heart of the city’s business district into a “transit village” where casino workers could live and shop.

Surrounded by area politicians and power brokers, Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle and the head of a Monmouth County development company brimmed with excitement as they signed a 400-page contract they negotiated for nearly two years. Both men hope to see the new deal transform an aging Main Street commercial district into a vibrant new mix of residences and retail outlets.

“Whatever black hair I had left” before the negotiations, “is now gray,”said Warren Waters, the principal in River Development.

“I haven’t been this nervous since my wedding ceremony,” Tweedle said.

The mayor was in a celebratory mood after the signing, but on a deeper level, he acknowledged that he remained a little nervous.

That’s because it will be another year of land buys, government approvals and demolitions before groundbreaking begins — and at least two more years of construction before anybody sees homes or stores, according to Waters’ estimates.

And that work is just for the first phase of three. Urban Enterpise Zone Director Roger Tees has estimated the whole 30-acre project could take as long as 10 years.

Still, Waters said he’s confident his private funding sources are committed to the project.

“This is nothing short of a miracle, in this economic climate,” state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, told project leaders at the signing ceremony in the Atlantic City Convention Center.

The city is paying to relocate the zone’s many current property owners, which will cost about $6.7 million in the first phase. That money comes from Urban Enterprise Zone funding, which is generated by state sales tax revenue.

River Development is footing the remainder of the cost, a burden cushioned by a graduated payment plan for local property taxes. The contract estimates the developer’s first-phase costs at $43 million.

The first phase involves replacing the block at the southwest corner of Main Street and Washington Avenue with 300 rental homes and 20,000 square feet of retail business, all four stories high, according to the contract.

The homes would have one or two bedrooms, and as targeted workforce housing would likely rent for 30 to 35 percent of the tenant’s salary, Waters said.

Homes would be built first, and some could be inhabited before other homes and the stores are built, Waters said. River Development hasn’t formally enlisted businesses for the retail strip, but Waters said he envisioned resources for residents close by, such as a coffee house and a UPS store.

Officials have discussed pursuing a grocery store, but for space reasons, that must wait for a later phase, Waters said. The remainder of the project will unfold on either side of Main, north of Washington. The fourth corner of the intersection will remain home to the five-year-old One Stop Career Center.

The city and contractor had haggled over what to build and how to pay for it. A draft proposal in January 2008 envisioned for the first phase fewer homes and more retail businesses, plus office space, costing about $60 million, about $10 million more than the current version.

“It’s been an arduous process, and we still have a long way to go,” said Marvin Hopkins, Pleasantville’s city administrator.

The success of the workforce housing could depend in part on the completion of Revel, the casino being built on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Revel has gotten half the $2 billion it needs for construction. It’s targeted for opening in 2011 at the earliest.

Tweedle said he has faith in Waters to steer Pleasantville into a new era.

“I knew I got the best when I got this guy here,” Tweedle said at the signing. “I’ve seen him walking the streets, talking to residents. He’s got the pulse of what they want and what we want.”

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Posted in Atlantic, Breaking on Thursday, November 19, 2009 9:00 pm Updated: 11:12 pm.