Casino Reinvestment Development Authority money has done a lot to make Atlantic City a better place to live and to visit. But outside the city, it's often just more free cash for politicians to funnel into pet projects or those that benefit their cronies. And nowhere was that more apparent than in 2006, when Camden County Democratic boss George Norcross, who owned a hockey team, wanted $16.5 million for a hockey arena at the site of the Pennsauken Mart.
The hockey rink plan died, but the money went to Camden County anyway for 600 apartments at the site. Which have yet to be built.
All this would be politics-as-usual in New Jersey, except for one thing. What makes the story more outrageous is the fact that the county razed the Pennsauken Mart and relocated the merchants who had made a good living there for decades.
The Pennsauken Mart catered to a clientele that might not have been among the country-club set, but were working-class folks trying to stretch their dollars. If just a fraction of that $16.5 million had gone into sprucing up the mart, it would probably be doing a booming business right now as people struggle to find bargains during the recession. Instead, it's an ugly, weed-filled lot.
A recent Inquirer story pointed out that if a substantial number of apartments aren't constructed by June 2012, the county could lose the $16.5 million grant. If the deadline passes, CRDA should not extend it on this loser.
Gov. Chris Christie, of course, is pushing for all casino reinvestment money to be funneled into Atlantic City, where it was initially intended to stay before it got whacked up statewide in the 1980s. The Pennsauken Mart debacle is a classic example of why Christie's plan is such a good idea.