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N.J. must stop exodus of residents or suffer tax consequences
New Jersey is known for many things ... Carl Goldberg serves as co-chair for the Center for Real Estate at Rutgers University and is nanaging member of Canoe Brook Investors.
By Jersey Journal Guest Columnist
By Carl Goldberg
New Jersey is known for many things, and not all of them are wonderfulWith due respect to Bruce Springsteen and Tony Soprano, New Jersey's No1 claim to fame since World War II is that we are the most suburban state in the country.
The United States suburbanized rapidly in the years following the war and nowhere was that more true than in New JerseyWe produced rapid development and became a haven for millions of white-collar residents and their families, making New Jersey the wealthiest of the 50 states.
"What exit?" wasn't just a punchline, but a way of life.
It still is - but in a very different wayAccording to PlanSmart NJ, New Jersey is the most exited state in the nation, with owner-occupied home ownership down by 100,000 in the years since the Great RecessionWe need a new policy approach, one prepared to grapple with the following realities: New Jersey has five new renters for every three homeowners; New Jersey has 14 million square feet of empty office space; New Jersey has seven million square feet of empty retailAt our current rate, it will take more than 20 years to re-tenant these stranded assets.
Jim Hughes, the dean at Rutgers University's Edward JBloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, and co-author Joseph Seneca put it most succinctly in their recent work on New Jersey's postsuburban economy: "New Jersey's core advantage in the late 20th century - a suburban-dominated, automobile-dependent economy and lifestyle - is (now) regarded as a disadvantage."
Hughes and Seneca are proposing a challenge for the next administration when they write: "New Jersey will have to adapt and reinvent itself yet again - this time to a postsuburban digital economy that is being shaped by increasingly sophisticated mobile technology and the workforce that employs it."
According to the American Community Survey, telecommuting doubled from 2005 to 2014 and employers in 2017 were more likely to be looking for live-work-play communities that offer affordability as well as lifestyle benefits for their employees.
Our current stock of office buildings lacks the technological capabilities as well as the downtown amenities most sought-after by new corporations and entrepreneursMeanwhile, our municipalities and taxpayers are shouldering the burdens of these white elephants through continuing infrastructure maintenance as well as a diminished tax base, as empty buildings continue to receive tax appealsThey are the grayfields of New Jersey that will drag down our economy and make an already tax-expensive state more prohibitive to current and prospective residents.
Hughes and Seneca propose a solution, one that is backed up by the research of PlanSmart NJ and other groups: Huge suburban office and retail parks must be repurposed into new uses that match the changing economyAmong the key questions raised are: What to do with this vast inventory? What are acceptable models to maximize environmental benefits with effective re-use? What is the best way to attract, and keep, a new workforce in New Jersey to propel our economy forward?
Smart, creative planning builds on existing regional assets and transportation options; offers price point diversity and variety and choice of housing stock for all income levels; provides new open space opportunities for residents; and enhances a municipality's tax base.
So I am left with only one question: What is holding us back from repurposing?
Carl Goldberg serves as co-chair for the Center for Real Estate at Rutgers University and is nanaging member of Canoe Brook Investors.
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