Consultant: Sports Complex Could Be Boon For Corporate Business Zone

Economic development consultant Todd Poole told the Township Council Feb. 7 that a sports complex could help jumpstart a revitalized corporate business zone in the Davidson Avenue area.

The township’s dream of having a thriving corporate business park will probably take 20 years to 25 years to realize, the Township Council was told during a special Feb. 7 meeting.

And to ensure success, that corporate park should include affordable housing as well as amenities such as restaurants, the council was told.

The recommendations came from Todd Poole of New York City-based 4ward Planning, who the township hired to do an economic development assessment of primarily the Hamilton Street Business District and the township’s corporate business development zone. Poole appeared at the meeting to give the council an update on what the company has found so far.

As far as Hamilton Street is concerned, Poole’s suggestion was that the township continue what it’s doing. Several redevelopment projects for multi-use buildings have been approved, and more are in the pipeline.

“The Hamilton Business District is becoming hot,” he said. “My recommendation is don’t get in the way. There’s no real need to come up with new regulations, I think that market is coming into itself.”

Poole said it will probably take about five years for the district to “reach its full potential.”

Poole had a less rosy picture of the township’s hotel industry. Township officials have often said that the township is second in New Jersey to only Atlantic City in the number of hotel rooms offered.

The abundance of hotels in Franklin was a source of mystery to Poole, who said some of them are “hanging on for their lives.”

“You don’t need any more hotels,” he said. “I don’t know why you have so many here. There will be a day of reckoning for at least one of them,” he said.

The corporate business district – the area roughly encompassing Cedar Grove Lane, Davidson Avenue and Elizabeth Avenue – “is going to need some help,” he said.

“The township is likely to see an investment in multi-family housing,” Poole said. “Businesses want to know if you have quality housing stock. It’s important that you have it, but having more is not a bad thing.”

He said the township will also need “a strong inventory of workforce housing,” which “could make sense in your corporate park.”

“If you put enough workforce housing in and hit a critical mass, they say that retail follows rooftops,” he said.

Affordable housing would be a plus for a corporate area, Poole said, because increasingly workers do not want to travel far to their jobs. Also including amenities such as restaurants in the corporate park is good, because the workers like to be able to walk a short distance for food, he said.

Any kind of transit would probably have to be started by a consortium of businesses, Poole said, because NJ Transit probably would not start a route in that area.

“New Jersey Transit will go where there’s a critical mass that will ring the fare box,” he said. “Right now, you’re not there yet, so they’re not coming.”

“You have to sit with business that would benefit the most from this and say, ok, how do we make this work?” Poole said.

In response to a question from Township Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (D-At Large) Poole said that a major sports complex would be a perfect fit for the corporate business area.

“I think a sports and recreation center makes a lot of sense,” he said. “It certainly would create a destination for the corporate park. There’s certainly enough land to do it, it would be a boost for the hotels and would attract eateries.”

“If it’s done right, it could be tied into Rutgers and high schools and things of that nature,” Poole said. “The business of sports continues to grow Tournaments are crazy. Indoor facilities in particular are in short supply.”

“A recommendation is gong to be that you do explore that concept,” he said. “It’s a home run type of project if done right, and done by people who know how to do it right and have deep pockets.”

The township should also be prepared to offer enticements to businesses to set up shop in the corporate business area, Poole said.

Poole said he will have fuller reports for the council later in the year.


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