Assemblyman Reed “Wrecking Ball” Gusciora is at it again.
Fresh off his victory as one of the key politicians leading the charge to rebuild Trenton Central High School, Gusciora has crafted a bill — expected to be introduced as early as Thursday — that would turn the Trenton waterfront into a true tourist destination.
In short: He’s looking to knock the New Jersey Department of Education out of their offices between Arm & Hammer Park and Rho.
“That’s exactly what the bill would do,” Gusciora told me. “Mandate that they leave.”
There are a few issues at work here for the bill to be successful — notably the commercial lease the state holds with the property owner — but Gusciora is confident it’s a mere stumbling block, not a full-blown obstacle.
Looking at a birds-eye view of the waterfront, it’s laughable — my opinion — how it’s set up. Here’s the wildly successful Yankees double-A baseball stadium on one end, the premier nightclub in the area on the other end, and in between … office space.
“Only Trenton would see fit to put a bureaucracy between two entertainment venues,” Gusciora quipped.
His plan is simple enough: Move the Department of Education from Riverside Plaza to West State Street and refurbish the existing office buildings into something resembling a mall. Or a restaurant. Or a museum. Or a hotel. Or a combination of all of the above. Or something else. Basically, anything except office space.
And as for the other tenants occupying the buildings? Well, they’re welcome to stay — private enterprise and all — but you know: Maybe they can move along as well. Remember: I nicknamed Gusciora “Wrecking Ball,” and for my money, I’d like to see less in the way of refurbishing, more in the way of reducing to rubble and starting over.
“Go to Baltimore, look at New Hope or Lambertville,” Gusciora said. “The harbor, the river, they are prime attractions. All of us want Trenton to succeed and there’s a great potential here. Which is why there should be entertainment venues instead of government buildings along the waterfront.”
I asked Gusciora if he thought his fellow politicians would see it the same way.
“Anyone who wants Trenton to succeed and get real revitalization moving, you’re going to have to shake things up,” he said. “Really, though: Why is the Department of Education using prime real estate?”
I called former Mercer County Executive and current MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Bob Prunetti for some enlightenment. After all, Prunetti was in charge when the Thunder first came to town.
“Those buildings were built in the 1980s, and as far as I know, the state always leased them,” he said.
Well, so much for that. But even back then, Prunetti and county planners saw the opportunities, and crafted a concept to work around the buildings.
“It was a village style concept, mostly where the surface parking is, along with residential buildings on Lamberton and some retail areas as well,” Prunetti said.
The project, obviously, never took off.
And as for Gusciora’s ideas?
“I’m not sure legislation is the way to go, but it’s a fantastic idea to create more destinations at the waterfront,” he said. “He’s right. It shouldn’t be state offices.”
I’m personally fine with legislating the whole thing. Let market-driven forces take over after we kick the government offices back to where they belong.
Gusciora’s notion is so obviously the right thing to do, it’s painful to know there’s going to be resistance.
“If you want to see Trenton succeed, develop that waterfront area,” Gusciora said. “Having the Department of Education there does not enhance or facilitate the success of Trenton. Everyone who works there leaves at 5 p.m. It should be filled with hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues.”
So simple. So obvious. Go get ‘em, Wrecking Ball.
Jeff Edelstein, The Trentonian