Raising the Skyline? Jones Sells the Benefits of Paterson to Chinese Development Investors
Saturday, October 20, 2012 • 9:29am
PATERSON, NJ – Seven representatives of a Chinese development company toured Paterson Friday afternoon, guided by Mayor Jeffrey Jones who pitched his ideas for the city’s future.
“We’re interested in raising our skyline,’’ Jones told his visitors. “Right now we’re at four or five stories. We want to go above that.’’
The developers, from a company called the Guanlu Group in Shandong Province, were on a six-city, eight-day tour looking for investment opportunities in the United States. They had already taken in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New Haven and planned to go to New York City on Saturday.
What chance did Paterson stand going up against places like San Francisco and Chicago? “We’re very interested” in Paterson, said Ricky Lee, the member of the Guanlu contingent who spoke English. “It’s not always good to do investment in a big city. It costs more.’’
Often during the visit, Jones brought up the possibility of the group financing a new hotel in Paterson. He made that pitch at the site of the abandoned Vista development near Hinchliffe Stadium and also on Alfano Island. Lee nodded with approval. “Hotel is priority,’’ Lee said, “because it’s easy. If everything goes smoothly, maybe more.’’
Another contingent from the Guanlu Group came to Paterson six months ago. Lee said the representatives who came this time were the “decision-making team.’’ Lee said he hoped Jones would come to China in the next several months to meet with company executives. The Guanlu Group likely would decide on its American investments by the Chinese New Year, which is in February, Lee said.
It was clear from some of the questions they asked that the Chinese investors had not done all their homework on Paterson. One asked about the city’s rural area. Another wanted to know if Paterson had any mining operations or a “Chinatown” section.
Jones asked the group about its experience in developing hotels. Lee nodded toward one of his colleagues, saying he was launching a $6 billion hotel complex in China. “Billion, with a b?’’ Jones asked, a broad smile breaking across his face. “That’s substantial.’’
The Chinese city of Linyi’s website says the Guanlu Group is “a large comprehensive joint-stock enterprise group includes real estate development, education, mining, stone processing, building design and construction, cement production and logistics. It owns the First Class Qualification of construction chief contraction. Their buildings are throughout the whole Shandong, as well as Beijing, Hebei, Shanghai and Chongqing.’’
City officials say Paterson desperately needs an infusion of new development. The city’s tax base continues to decline. Last year, for example, Paterson lost $266 million in ratables from tax appeals. That has shifted a greater tax burden on city homeowners, many of whom are struggling to avoid foreclosure.
The man Jones picked to try to reverse that trend, new economic development director Ruben Gomez, attended Friday’s meeting and tour with the Chinese contingent. Gomez asked the group what type of tax incentives it might be looking for from the federal, state and city governments. That would depend, the company representatives said, upon the size and scope of whatever project they choose to do in Paterson. A $100 million project, they said, they would be able to do on their own. But they said they would need some help if they planned something in the $500 million range.
In addition to Jones and Gomez, other local officials who participated in the tour were Tony Perez, the Paterson Parking Authority executive director; Kate Muldoon, regional director of New Jersey Small Business Development Center at William Paterson University; and Hongchao Wu, the city’s traffic engineer who served as makeshift Mandarin interpreter.
Jones and his staff previously have met with officials and business representatives from Yulin Province in China as well. Some council members have questioned the practicality of the mayor’s attempts to lure Chinese investors to Paterson, arguing that he ought to focus his economic development efforts on local businesses.
But Jones has said that the opportunities for investment from China, considered by many experts the world’s foremost economic power, were too good to pass up.
On Friday, Jones did his best to sell the Guanlu Group on Paterson.
“We’re a smaller version of New York City,’’ the mayor told his visitors. “We’re very metropolitan. We’re very urban. We’re very dense. There are places where development can happen. They’re here. You just have to know where they are.’’
Besides The Vista site, Jones took the group to Alfano Island and the train station and pitched the prospects for a revitalization of the Paterson Armory. At one point, he showed the investors an artist’s rendition of Alfano Island rebuilt as a sports arena. “Imagine this hotel with a hotel on top of it?’’ the mayor pitched.
One of the Guanlu representatives asked Jones who has invested so far in the Alfano Island and Armory projects. So far, no one has.
“It’s a concept, that’s all it is right now,’’ the mayor responded. “We haven’t asked anyone to sign up and do development yet.’’
A Guanlu executive later asked why Paterson’s per capita income was lower than those of surrounding communities. Jones told the Chinese businessman that surrounding towns are “bedroom communities” with larger numbers of professionals and people with higher education levels.
Jones told the Guanlu Group that Paterson offers folks entertainment possibilities at a more reasonable price than does Manhattan. He said a family of four might spend $400 or $500 for a night out in New York, while “the same experience” would cost about $150 in Paterson.
“We’re a city that entertains, evenings, weekends, holidays,’’ the mayor said.