Hill: Mrs. Anderson, thanks for joining us. Please tell us what is the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority.
Anderson: The New Jersey Redevelopment Authority is an independent financing authority. We were established in 1996. We provide financing to projects in New Jersey’s most distressed communities. We’re the first in to provide direct financing, we do site acquisition financing but we also provide technical support. Very early on in my job at the Redevelopment Authority as executive director I felt that people needed to learn about the redevelopment process, so as a result I created the training institute 10 years ago. Since that time, we’ve trained over a thousand people in the areas of redevelopment — attorneys, municipal officials, we do project finance, redevelopment law and tax abatement. That’s a big part — and also tax credits so that people understand how to use them in their projects.
Hill: When people hear of New Jersey Redevelopment Authority I bet they might get it confused with the EDA — the Economic Development Authority. Do they?
Hill: And what’s the difference?
Anderson: What I like to focus on is that we’re complimentary agencies. So we’re the first in, we prime the pump, we get the ground ready. So a lot of times when we move into projects there’s nothing there. Or if there isn’t something there, it’s environmentally compromised or it’s an underutilized building and we go in and provide the resources to turn it into something so that a business can go into that building or housing can be built on that site. So we go in and we take that initial risk. We’re also neighborhood-based. We look at impact on people’s lives as well as the impact on the community. So by doing that neighborhood-based type revitalization we support the business that EDA ultimately brings into the community.
Hill: Your biggest success stories as an organization?
Anderson: I think I would look at three success stories. First is IHOP in Paterson. This was after the downturn in the economy and everyone had to look at financing different. This project was brought to me. It was in a mall in Paterson however it was critical to the overall development in Paterson. It took us out of our comfort zone but we decided to support it. What we were able to do is keep jobs in the community and also bring a viable franchise business into the Paterson community. We also were awarded new market tax credits in 2014. We used a part of our $20 million investment to invest in the Kroc Center in Camden. That’s the Kroc Foundation and the Salvation Army.
Hill: I’ve been there.
Anderson: So then you understand to look at that full-scale, comprehensive facility to support that community is tremendous so I count that as one of the top pieces of what were were able to do. And there was one last project and I’m excited about it. It’s just getting started but it’s in Plainfield and it’s going to support at-risk youth that are aging out of the foster care system. Kids who age out of foster care really don’t have anywhere to go and we were able to provide financing for 30 efficiency apartments that will support young people aging out of foster care. So they’re going to get support services from the Plainfield YMCA, but as well they won’t find themselves out on the street when they turn 18.
Hill: When you say the redevelopment project in Paterson took you out of your comfort zone, what do you mean by that?
Anderson: Usually we build the real estate and in this particular case we financed the business that was going into the real estate. And we worked with IHOP national, we worked with the owner of the franchise to structure the financing so that we were collateralized but at the same time the project could move forward in Paterson.
Hill: What’s your goal? Improving people’s lives? Economic generation? Creating jobs? What’s the goal?
Anderson: I think you have to look at all of that because at the end of the day our goal is to improve the quality of life in New Jersey’s most urbanized communities. So everything that you mentioned is critical to improving lives. At the end of the day what we’ve really hoped for is that it’s a better neighborhood, because the bottom line is people live in neighborhoods. They don’t live in commercial buildings, they live in neighborhoods. So we want to make those neighborhoods the best ,whether it’s in an urban area or suburban area. People deserve to live in a place that’s safe and has quality housing.
Hill: You’ve been there now for what, 20 years, as you said, through different administrations both Democrat and Republican. What’s the difference if there is any?
Anderson: There’s not because at the end of the day when you’re looking at redevelopment and real estate development it really comes down to the numbers and the people. So not that politics are not important, but our focus has to be on the project. How is the project going to impact the community? How is our investment going to make the community better? And you keep your focus there and you center on those goals then you’re always going to be successful.
Hill: I’m curious, when you had this training institute that you started back in 2006, and it’s still going strong as I understand it, and you’re training attorneys, developers and others, what do you tell them about what the authority does in terms of who initiates this contact to get the ball rolling to get projects done?
Anderson: New Jersey is what we call a home-rule state which means that the redevelopment is always generated at the local level. So the municipality generates it. But what we teach them are the nuances of the process so that we don’t get started on a redevelopment plan, or redeveloper agreement, and a project doesn’t move forward. So if you understand the process upfront better then at the end of the day we can assure that the project’s going to get done.
Hill: Challenging right now because of resources in the state?
Anderson: I would say yes, but what we do is take that upfront risk. We’re there first and by us going in first we can attract that private investment. The economy is absolutely turning in New Jersey and it’s getting better and what we’re able to do by going in first with those resources is to make the private market comfortable to go into these areas and make the investment that we’ve already started.
Hill: Because they think that if the state is going in and has invested in educating itself about this project and the benefits and so forth, if the state is going in first it must be okay.
Anderson: Absolutely, absolutely. And that’s what we’re best at — getting in there first and calming the waters, being the catalyst for that redevelopment effort whether it’s through the education or the direct investment through our financial resources.