EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park’s board wants to execute a lease transfer, lock in the terms for a developer and start construction of a first building by year’s end.
Board members moved Wednesday to approve a memorandum of agreement with New Vistas Corp., the Northfield-based real estate firm selected in January to develop the site. The move is one of many the board hopes to take this year toward its goals.
However, the agreement shows just how much work is left to be done. Both parties have had 90 days to develop the agreement, but it includes no hard deliverables, dates or dollar amounts. Instead it lists 36 items that need to be addressed in a future developer’s agreement.
Among the items: Agree on a budget, establish a tenant search plan, identify which party is responsible for the park’s management and provide requirements for developer equity, commercial lending and gap financing.
The final agreement should address a plan for capital reserve for infrastructure maintenance, establish rates for subleases and address whether architectural plans already developed by the South Jersey Economic Development District will be used by New Vistas.
Park Executive Director Ron Esposito, whose contract was extended for another year at the meeting, said the park in its current state is the most complex project he’s ever been a part of.
“These are just the initial terms we are discussing. Things can be added or things could be deleted. We’re working hard with the cooperation of all the parties involved,” he said following the board’s executive session, which lasted more than an hour.
The parties now have 120 days — stretching to late August — to negotiate a developer’s agreement, which is likely to include firm financial arrangements, schedules and marketing plans. That date, however, falls nearly two months after a deadline to use a $9.5 million construction bid for the first building from Hunter Roberts Construction Group.
Two previous deadlines to use the bid have passed, but last year the company agreed to a third extension until June 30. Ed Salmon, the park board’s president, said the board may need to approach the company to request a fourth extension, or it may need to accelerate negotiations of the developer’s agreement with New Vistas to allow for the start of construction by June 30.
“It amazes me, the challenges this creates,” Salmon said. “Still, the most important thing is that we’re now in a position where we have cooperation from all parties involved.”
Progress with the park has crawled since it was first announced in October 2005 as a venture that would bring 2,000 high-paying jobs to the region. Since then financing opportunities have been missed, timelines for progress have been altered and tenants would not commit. The first hint of a potential tenant came from New Vistas, which last year provided a letter of intent from a St. Louis-based company interested in the park.
The South Jersey Economic Development District, which holds the lease for the park’s land with the Federal Aviation Administration, fell into hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt while leading a $7 million infrastructure installation on the park’s grounds. The district’s executive director, Gordon Dahl, was ousted earlier this month after board members said he had made decisions without the board’s knowledge. He has since threatened to sue both the district and the park’s board.
Meanwhile, the district still controls the lease for the park’s land, making it difficult for a new developer to make headway until the lease is turned over.
On Wednesday, members of the park’s board were reluctant to discuss the specifics of the potential lease transfer aside from saying the district is cooperating with the process. SJEDD Interim Executive Director Steve O’Connor was invited to give an update on the status of the lease transfer during the board’s executive session. The district is entitled to a new representative on the park’s board now that Dahl is no longer involved. However, O’Connor is not being permitted to vote on issues because of the pending litigation between Dahl and the park’s board, Salmon said.
Before the lease can be transferred, the district must settle about $500,000 in debts to contractors who completed the infrastructure work. A $2.5 million U.S. Economic Development Agency grant must be closed out and a $350,000 mortgage against the park’s land must be addressed.
Also at the meeting, the board discussed potential changes to its bylaws that would increase the board’s membership from 11 members to 13. The additional two members would be representatives of the park’s tenants after tenants are secured.
“If we have a major tenant come in like Boeing or another major player, it’s a bargaining chip or a negotiation chip where we can say that we have something additional to offer as an asset,” Salmon said.
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