NEWARK, NJ — An ordinance transferring a swath of properties in the South Ward was advanced by Newark City Council on Tuesday, making Brandywine Acquisition & Development the owners of a site slated to be redeveloped into a training facility for police and fire recruits.
Formerly owned by the Newark Board of Education, two now-defunct schools sit on the planned redevelopment site of the Bergen Street Fire and Police Academy, the Bergen Street School and the William H. Brown Academy. The Dec. 21 vote was the second passage of the ordinance permitting the sale to Brandywine, as well as another ordinance allowing the city to purchase the properties from NBOE.
Councilmember-at-large Carlos Gonzalez raised questions regarding why the properties had to pass through the city in order to be sold to Brandywine, rather than Brandywine buying it directly from NBOE. Newark residents also raised concerns regarding the sale of the contract, which was reportedly set at $10.
“I’m not 100% sure why there was an agreement (for the city to purchase the property and transfer it to Brandywine). I’m sure you know, given real estate, there are multiple ways to get land to a redeveloper. Sometimes it's a simultaneous closing, sometimes it’s a multiple transaction, and that’s part of what we’re doing here,” said Allison Ladd, Director of Economic and Housing Development.
The ordinances include BLOCK 2687, lots 14, 16, 17, 25, 40, 41, 42, 43 and 60, which also encompasses parts of Chadwick Avenue. The lease agreement, which was awarded to Brandywine in May, makes the developer the owner of the parcels for 25 years, upon which they will be transferred back to the city.
Kenyatta Stewart, Corporation Counsel for the City of Newark, said the proposed training academy will become an avenue for the city to seek business from other municipalities who need space to train their fire and police recruits. Currently, Newark sends its own trainees to other sites due to a lack of facilities in the city.
The city is looking to incorporate facilities for training in property and evidence, ballistics and general training.
Calvin Souder, a lawyer representing Brandywine, said that the lease agreement with Brandywine was made before the city became aware that the several parcels were not in the city’s possession. Due to local redevelopment and housing laws, as well as laws from the Department of Education, NBOE was unable to sell the parcels directly to the developer without undergoing a bidding process.
A loophole would allow for the sale of the property to the city, which could then transfer ownership to the developer.
“Since the city of Newark had already selected a developer for this land and already entered into a lease agreement to develop this land, that is why Brandywine did not go directly to the Board of Education,” Souder told the council. “We needed the city to be there in order for this to function properly per the law, otherwise it would have been a lot easier to just buy it from the NBOE.”
According to Souder, a number of agreements have been made between the NBOE, Newark Housing Authority and the city of Newark as a result of ownership issues. He said that although there appears to be little money being paid for the property, the deal is ultimately a benefit to taxpayers.
“How it really should be viewed is that taxpayers won’t have to pay more money unnecessarily for the city to be able to build this building,” he said. “This series of projects will cost hundreds of millions of dollars less by using this financing mechanism versus going through the typical way.”
Council passed the ordinance bequeathing the property to Brandywine with one abstention from East Ward Councilmember Augusto Amador and one absence from Councilmember-at-Large Eddie Osbourne.