WESTFIELD, NJ — Two sites emblematic of Westfield are being eyed for redevelopment.
The town council on Tuesday declared the now vacant Rialto Theatre, the Lord & Taylor property and two nearby parking lots as “areas in need of redevelopment.”
“It enables you to do more planning on these properties to potentially work with the private parties that own them and come up with a redevelopment plan,” said Phil Abramson, principal of Topology, the redevelopment planning firm that the council hired to study the properties.
With a redevelopment plan, the designation could pave the way for tax incentives — including agreements for payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, intended to entice real estate development while giving the town greater input into that development.
“I would never tell you to do a PILOT unless it’s more than what you’re getting currently in terms of tax revenue,” said Abramson.
Council members approved the designations 8-1 with Councilman Mark LoGrippo casting the lone dissenting votes for both designations.
“I feel this is a gateway into PILOT programs, and I feel we should have more discussion on this,” LoGrippo said.
Mayor Shelley Brindle countered that while the measure allows for the possibility of PILOT agreements, it does not guarantee them.
“This only allows any conversation to happen which could or could not include a PILOT,” she said.
Abramson detailed for the council how the areas meet New Jersey’s statutory criteria for being declared areas in need of redevelopment including by falling into disuse or beginning to fall into disuse.
The Rialto Theatre, which the town hopes to develop as a performing arts center, is nearly 100 years and the last tenant, according to the owners, removed equipment that makes the building useful.
“There was no seating,” Abramson said. “There was no projection equipment. Everything was sort of taken by the prior operators.”
He also described The Rialto Theatre and the Lord & Taylor building as obsolete based on the market conditions. While competing nearby theaters have updated themselves, Abramson said, “This theater doesn’t have the infrastructure to do that.”
In the case of Lord & Taylor, the designation comes shortly after the store’s parent company, Le Tote, filed for bankruptcy, the latest among a series among national retailers to do so.
Brindle said the Lord & Taylor property is owned by Hudson’s Bay Company, which has been in conversations with the municipality about the potential for redevelopment of the locations.
“We have had an active dialogue with HBC over the last two years in anticipation of this scenario as the retail landscape shifted, well before the pandemic,” she said. “Considering they are one of our largest taxpayers, we have a very vested interest in working with them to ensure that we maintain and ideally maximize the potential tax revenue from their site.”
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