TRENTON, NJ – Details of the plan to redevelop Flemington’s Union Hotel and its surrounding properties continue to emerge, some of them the result of a state hearing on Wednesday.
That’s when the state’s Historic Sites Council, an advisory group to the state Historic Preservation Office that is part of the Department of Environmental Protection, held a review of redeveloper Jack Cust’s plan for 90 Main St., the so-called “bank building.” The circa-1870 structure is a key component of the redevelopment plan and the review ended with a “temporary denial” for proposed changes to the bank building.
A 22-page draft report prepared for the Historic Sites Council contained information not previously available to the public.
- According to the report, the liquor license purchased by the redeveloper for $1.2 million will not be used on Main Street unless the Union Hotel project is approved. Without the project, the license “will not generate the return needed given the cost of the license.” The report confirms the long-time rumor that Bottle King, described as a “highway liquor outlet,” is interested in buying the license, were it to become available.
- The redevelopment application states that the borough “has repeatedly attempted to sell the property at 90-96 Main Street, to no avail.” But when the state sought documentation of the claim, it was told as a Borough Council "we discussed selling the property and building on several occasions, although we did not officially list it.” Prospective buyers did emerge, however, including a theater group in 2015 and a former then-designated hotel developer, borough officials said.
- “The applicant did not provide an economic analysis that demonstrated the need for the redevelopment project size and scope,” the report states, “or a comparison of the proposed redevelopment project with an alternative that includes rehabilitation of historic buildings on the site and construction of new four-story buildings.”
- Because the plan includes what would be the county’s only institute of higher learning, the state Historic Preservation Office sought documentation regarding the college’s interest. The applicant responded there are “four colleges that we are having conversations with ... It would be inappropriate to publically name those institutions at this time.” But in his remarks, Bob Wise, who is CEO of Hunterdon Medical Center's corporate parent, hinted that Raritan Valley Community College and New Jersey Institute of Technology are interested.
- The cost of rehabilitating some of the historic structures in the plan is a matter of debate. The report cites a National Trust for Historic Preservation claim that “if no demolition is required, rehabilitation costs are roughly the same as building new, costing between 12 percent less and 9 percent more than new construction.”
- Flemington’s own Historic Preservation Commission - which was the subject of controversial mayoral appointments on Monday - opposes “demolition of 78 Main St. and the extensive changes proposed to the Union Hotel and bank building.”
- Although the redeveloper has said that the project is not eligible for historic rehabilitation tax credits, the Historic Sites Council report states, “It is unclear why utilization of the historic rehabilitation tax credit is not viable ... the application did not consider the viability of the rehabilitation tax credit as a tool in the context of the larger redevelopment project.”