By Kevin Coughlin
It only took the Morristown council a few minutes on Thursday night to grant what appeared to be the final approval needed for construction of a triangular five-story office being touted as the “Gateway to Morristown.”
As it turns out, however, the council must meet again — and fast — to ensure that the Gateway gets off the ground.
An attorney for The Hampshire Companies, developers of the project known as 55 Market Urban Renewal LLC, informed the council on Thursday that the building’s proposed tenant, the Fox Rothschild law firm, has the right to back out if all approvals are not secured by Sept. 1, 2015.
No tenant, no project.
Technically, at least one town approval still is pending. Council members on Tuesday unanimously blessed a financial agreement establishing a schedule of payments-in-lieu-of-taxes for the property, a wedge of “blighted” land between Market and Bank streets.
A second, binding vote was scheduled for Sept. 8 — beyond the Fox Rothschild deadline. So council members now are juggling summer vacation calendars to see when they can squeeze in a special meeting this month to enact the ordinance.
Thursday’s 5-0 council vote (sans members Michael Elms and Michelle Dupree Harris ) approved the other remaining legal document, a redevelopment agreement spelling out deadlines and obligations of Hampshire.
That agreement memorializes Hampshire’s commitment to install a sidewalk, replace a seedy alley with a pedestrian stairway, create a small public park, and earmark 1 percent of the total project cost for on-site art, among other things.
OPENING TARGET: DECEMBER 2016
Hampshire aims to complete construction by December 2016, said attorney Stephen Urban.
Demolition of existing structures, which include a former knitting shop damaged by a car crash, should be finished this month, according to town redevelopment Attorney John Inglesino.
An environmental cleanup — consisting mostly of hauling away displaced soil, Inglesino said–must be finished by Oct. 31, per the agreement.
Plans for the triangular park await approvals from the state Department of Transportation. Details of the one-percent art project are being ironed out, too, said Phil Abramson, the town’s planning consultant.
Town officials sounded eager for everything to come together.
“Morristown’s got to be one of the only places in the state of New Jersey where there is demand for new office space,” said Council President Rebecca Feldman.
“We continue moving the town forward,” said Mayor Tim Dougherty, praising the council for supporting the project and collaborating with his administration.
The site straddles Councilwoman Alison Deeb’s Fourth Ward. “I see this eyesore every day. I’m looking forward to these improvements.”
So are the developers.
“We have to tidy up a few things, and we’ll go ahead at full speed,” said Urban, Hampshire’s lawyer.