Monday, May 12, 2008

Don't just take our word for it

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result."

The Sunday edition of the Times (of Trenton, not that other one) ran two interesting articles regarding development in Trenton's South Ward.

The primary article was an lengthy and sound piece focusing on the impact Waterfront Park and the Trenton Thunder have had on that part of the city.

In short, as the Thunder enter their 15th season, the touted positive economic impact on the neighborhood or city at large has been negligible.

Same can be said for the Sovereign Bank Arena, less than a mile away.

Note: we're happy that both of these venues are here in Trenton and try to support them by attending ball games and events whenever we can. But we are not for one minute fooled into thinking they have provided anything resembling the economic boom for the city as promised by those who proposed and promoted their construction.

The article clearly demonstrates that these large-scale projects are seldom the economic engines they are touted to be. Especially with sports and entertainment venues like the ball park and the arena, people come into town for specific events at that location. They can get their food and beverage needs met while attending the event and then they leave. Little to know spin-off business occurs in adjacent areas.

Yes...there have been some exceptions. Certain concerts at the arena have generated some extra business at local bars and restaurants pre- and post-show. But if it happens once or twice a year, it is not enough to be called an economic upturn.

At the end of the article, developer Bill Cahill offers up a solid quote:
"My philosophy is, take care of the small pieces and eventually you'll have a big piece," he said. "Their philosophy is, take care of the big pieces. Well, that philosophy isn't working."

As a companion piece to the larger article, the same reporter highlights the work of HHG Development in the South Ward. HHG is one of three groups developing first class housing along Centre Street in an example of just the type of "small piece" work that Cahill refers to.

This is the kind of work that needs to be encouraged if the city is to reverse itself from decline to prosperity. Working in small enclaves to redevelop the many wonderful but woefully neglected buildings (residential and otherwise) that exist; preserving and reusing what is already here; maintaining a distinctive "sense of place."

The more of this kind of work that is done, the more stable our neighborhoods will become. From this patchwork of redeveloped areas will grow a more vital city.

Those responsible for overseeing the economic development efforts in Trenton need to step back and assess their approach. For too long they have cozied up to the deep-pocketed developers with big dreams and we have little to show for it.

It's time that they honor and encourage the type of work that HHG, Mr. Cahill and others have been doing. Forget the headlines (and headaches) of dealing with a Hovnanian and sit down with the small developers who know how to capitalize on what is already here.

So many inside and outside of the development community can see this.

Why can't the administration?

Let's table the dreams of 25 story office towers and their fantastical promises of thousands of jobs and try something different. Let's concentrate on:

a) creating a diverse inventory of excellent and interesting housing stock and

b) developing the local retail and services that can support and in turn be supported by the residents attracted to that housing stock.

No comments: