New options eyed for long-term municipal office space needs

SAMSUNGMayor Dave Fried says the township will advertise a request for quotations (RFQ) from developers who may have commercial space to sell in either existing or planned buildings that could be suitable for Robbinsville’s municipal offices.

Fried said two developers have contacted the township with offers in the wake of the publicity over the cancelled Roma Bank building project, which was supposed to have provided the township with one floor of municipal office space in 2014 at a cost of $3 million. Roma Bank cancelled the three-story commercial condo project after its announced merger with Investors Bank.

“Both new opportunities that have recently come our way are less expensive than the original Roma deal,” Fried said April 22. “One we would take condo space in an existing building and the other is someone building a building where we we take a floor.”

Advertising for an RFQ would enable the township to flesh out the proposals from these two developers, whom he declined to identify, as well as two different options recently presented by Investors Bank, which is expected to finalize its merger with Roma Bank at the end of the month.

“If we did an RFQ, we’d ask the two developers who are pitching their idea, we’d ask Roma to pitch their idea, and ask anyone else who might want to pitch an idea to make a formal quote,” Fried said. “Then we’d take all those quotes, compare them and be able to have a better understanding of what we want to do.”

The township, which currently leases 8,000 square feet of office space in the Sharbell building at 1 Washington Blvd., made a deal to purchase the third floor of a new mixed use commercial spec building on Route 33 that Roma Bank broke ground on in October. However, Roma scuttled the project after its announced merger with Short Hills-based Investors Bank. Investors $452 million all-stock buyout of Roma is expected to be finalized at the end of May.

Fried said on April 22 Investors had sent the township a written proposal with two options: Lease municipal office space in a part of the 48,000-square-foot Roma headquarters that Investors may not need because it is keeping its own Short Hills headquarters, or buy the vacant parcel where Roma had planned to build the commercial condo building until Investors required it to nix the project because Investors didn’t want to be part of speculative real estate development.

Roma did not yet have a buyer for the two floors below the municipal offices at the time the building project was cancelled.

The mayor said that on the advice of Township Attorney Mark Roselli he could only talk about the two new proposals from Investors Bank in general terms. A spokesman for Investors Bank CEO Kevin Cummings declined on April 24 to release the bank’s letter to the mayor.

“They gave us what seems to be a very favorable price for the property,” Fried said, “but then we’d have to build the building and sell the other two floors. While it’s a very interesting price, I don’t know that the township should be engaging in real estate speculation (and) development.”

Fried also declined to reveal the specific leasing terms Investors proposed for the commercial space inside the Roma Bank headquarters building, saying only the offer was “cheaper, but not significantly cheaper” than the township’s current lease with Sharbell that expires in 2014.

The Township Council authorized spending $3 million in 2012 to buy third floor office space in the planned Roma building, but the contracts were never signed and no money was exchanged before the project was scuttled several months after the groundbreaking.  The $2.5 million in bonds were not sold, and the required $150,000 cash down payment is still in the budget.

“The money sitting in budget would either be transferred for a new purchase or we would have to cancel it,” Fried said.




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